It could have been a scene straight out of “Sex and the City.” Sarah Jessica Parker was fluttering around a shoe store like a well-dressed butterfly, admiring emerald green peep-toes, cobalt slingbacks and fierce purple T-straps before moving on to gush over a pair of lipstick-red pumps.
As Carrie Bradshaw, Parker would have had boxes piled sky high at the register. After all, the iconic character was so addicted to fabulous footwear that she once wryly remarked – after learning that she couldn’t afford a down payment on an apartment – that she might “literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes.”
But on this recent day, the actress didn’t purchase a single stiletto. Instead, she’d taken on the reverse role of shop girl (albeit a glamorous one) for the debut of her namesake SJP Collection, created with Manolo Blahnik CEO George Malkemus. Now, fans can literally walk in Parker’s shoes, with 25 styles available exclusively at select Nordstrom locations and Nordstrom.com. (The line also features handbags and a double-breasted trench coat in two colors.)
Shoe prices range from $195 to just under $500 – not exactly cheap chic, but far less expensive than Carrie’s beloved Manolos, Jimmy Choos and Christian Louboutins, some of which can cost more than $1,000. That’s something a gal like Aubrey Brooks welcomes. A sophomore at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the 20-year-old was in class last year when she learned that her idol was coming out with her own shoe line.
“I literally screamed,” she says. “I’ve been saving up ever since then and now I’m ready to shop.”
Since Nordstrom doesn’t yet have an outlet in Manhattan – it anchors one end of The Westchester in White Plains – a pop-up store on West Broadway in SoHo gave admirers the chance to meet Parker and check out her shoes over three days. Brooks is one of dozens of devotees who showed up early the first morning, waiting for hours in the bitter cold for the makeshift shop to open. Nordstrom staffers are on hand, cheerfully serving hot coffee to the waiting throng, but they luckily don’t have to endure the arctic temperature for too long. In fact, the star arrives a half-hour earlier than expected.
Bundled in a floral-print coat, her ombre hair in soft waves, Parker’s appearance prompts the nearly all-female crowd to squeal with delight. “Thank you so much for coming,” she shouts. “I know it’s cold and we’re going to get you inside as soon as we can.”
True to her word, she steps back out within minutes to open the store’s doors, tied with a blush-colored grosgrain bow, a nod to the snippet of ribbon featured on each shoe (inspired by her favorite childhood hair accessory). As the first group of customers makes its way inside, Parker hugs each enthusiastically.
“She’s perfect,” raves one woman, on vacation from Norway. “So beautiful.”
Then Parker – shedding her coat to reveal a black-and-white lace mini-dress, accessorized with her line’s geranium-colored “Anna” sandals (of course) – gives everyone their marching orders.
“Don’t get stuck on black,” she tells the crowd. “Try color.”
And there are plenty of hues on display, from mint and peach espadrilles to business-perfect heels in navy and nude neutrals. Throughout the morning, Parker signs shoe after shoe and poses for endless selfies – energetic and unfailingly polite, she does nothing but enhance her already nice-girl reputation.
No, SJP isn’t here simply to smile and wave from behind a velvet rope, as many celebrities do. She is hands-on with her fellow shoe aficionados, kneeling on the floor to help shoppers try on their favorites personally.
“Those look good,” she exclaims, as a patron smiles and twirls in front of a full-length mirror. “God, I just love seeing them on people.”
Parker acts the part of stylist, too, suggesting that Samantha Matteoni pair a coral clutch with the teal pumps she is considering. She next clips a strap to the bag and transforms it into a crossbody, slipping it across her torso to demonstrate.
“The strap makes it more casual, right?” Parker says. “And it’s roomy. You can fit a magazine in here, or a section of the newspaper.”
Matteoni, a fashion publicist from the Upper East Side who knows her way around a trend, likes Parker’s passion. She also loves the shoes, spending more than $700 for two pairs of sandals – the “Jill” in metallic pink and the multi-colored “Maud” (named after famed French designer Maud Frizon).
“I had to buy these since she put them on my feet,” Matteoni says, laughing.
But what really strikes Matteoni is the quality. “I wear my Jimmy Choos and Manolos every day,” she says, “and these are actually more comfortable.”
This collection isn’t Parker’s first retail venture. She created a low-budget apparel line, Bitten, for the now-bankrupt Steve & Barry’s clothing chain. She had a short-lived stint as president of Halston Heritage after that, and she’s released several perfumes. Designing shoes seemed like an obvious step to many fashion observers, and Parker has said that she turned down offers over the years because they weren’t the right fit.
Finally, she called Malkemus to ask if he’d consider partnering with her.
“Come to my office tomorrow morning,” he said.
Malkemus, who is also at the store for the line’s launch, says he was impressed by Parker’s dedication. She insisted upon well-made shoes from Italy in festive colors and classic styles, not to mention an affordable price point. That was important to the actress, whose family often struggled financially while she was growing up. (They moved from Cincinnati to Dobbs Ferry when she began booking theater jobs as a child.)
And Parker didn’t push the work onto others. Malkemus says that they would order chicken noodle soup, sit on the floor of his office and go over every detail – right down to what the shoes smelled like.
“She was involved with everything. Every color, every heel,” he says. “She is not a celebrity who just wanted to put her name on something.”
For Meredith Mensendiek, who is visiting New York City from St. Louis for her 29th birthday, Parker and her shoes live up to expectations. She appreciates Parker’s genuine interest in her fans, noting that the star told her she knew St. Louis well because a friend had gone to college there. And Mensendiek thinks the grosgrain ribbon detail on her newly purchased turquoise heels is a nice touch.
“Everybody can make a pump, but there’s that little bit of detail that makes these stand out,” she says. “You just know it’s SJP.”