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Sarah Jessica Parker kicks off Fashion@Brown’s star-studded Fashion Week

Parker talks new shoe collection, “Sex and the City” at virtual talk

Fashion@Brown kicked off its Fashion Week ’21 with entrepreneur and actress Sarah Jessica Parker Thursday evening. The virtual event, which was free and open to the public, was hosted by Fashion@Brown President Sasha Pinto ’21.

Parker’s most visible contribution to the arts and culture scene is her career as a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Emmy award-winning actress across the stage, film and television industries. She landed the titular role of Annie on Broadway at age 13, played Rusty Rodriguez and Sarah Sanderson in films “Footloose” and “Hocus Pocus” and gained recognition for her breakout television role as Carrie Bradshaw — a character said to have attended Brown — in the hit HBO dramedy series “Sex and the City.” 

As a New York resident, Parker began by discussing COVID-19 in relation to the city, such as increased access to vaccines and businesses reopening. She and Pinto also talked about an exciting new update for the arts community – the return of live performances beginning Apr. 2, albeit at limited capacity.

“It means that we're getting closer to all of our cultural institutions, our art institutions, having the support and having audiences back which is great news, because it’s a huge part of what the City offers,” Parker said. 

Pinto then transitioned by asking Parker specifically about her business ventures in regards to HBO. After working on “Sex and the City” for ten years, Parker said it “felt peculiar to walk away” because the network felt like home. She shared that she was excited about the possibility of producing television, and at the time, felt that the network was “uniquely equipped” to support her in that endeavor. 

“It's hard to remember what HBO was when ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘The Sopranos’ started, but it was a very different network,” she said. “It was kind of a male-dominated network. It was pretty much about sports events and there were some unscripted shows, so I really wanted to stay there because I loved the way we got to make television there.” 

In 2005, Parker recruited producer Alison Benson and co-founded Pretty Matches Productions, creating the HBO Golden Globe-nominated series “Divorce,” among other works. 

Business endeavors 

Parker comes from a unique background for someone in the field: She grew up without access to a television. She began to explore the medium and “love(d) the pace of it, love(d) its limitations.” 

Because she was raised without TV Parker was brought up in a home that placed an emphasis on reading. When the opportunity presented itself to embark in the publishing industry, she was “terrified” and “didn’t feel deserving,” but she embraced the world of literary fiction to “share the stories of those that are unfamiliar and are not necessarily viewed as commercial.” One of the major successes from her publishing company, SJP for Hogarth under Crown Publishing Group, was “A Place for Us” by Fatima Farheen Mirza, which became a New York Times Best Seller and followed an Indian-Muslim family in Northern California. 

Outside of the media landscape, Parker has also partnered with the New Zealand-based wine company Invivo to develop three wines under the Invivo x Sarah Jessica Parker brand.

Parker and Invivo have also teamed up with FEED, an organization created by Lauren Bush to fight world hunger on behalf of the UN World Food Programme, according to the Invivo website. They have shown their support by donating school meals in 64 countries with the goal of donating 330,000 school meals over the next 12 months. 

SJP By Sarah Jessica Parker

Following the end of “Sex and the City,” Parker was approached by people interested in partnering her within the shoe design industry, perhaps a propitious response to Carrie Bradshaw’s iconic infatuation with Manolos

But every business model Parker was presented with sacrificed quality for affordability. She felt “honor-bound to be part of something that was well made.”

Eventually, Parker approached someone within the industry, taking the initiative to create her own shoe business: SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker. The shoes, which are manufactured in Italy with locally-sourced materials, boast a price that matches the production value. Parker maintains a strong presence in her company, working the floor two to three days a week at her store in New York City. 

“It's been an amazing experience. It's been fantastic. It's been really hard work. It's been enormously gratifying,” she said. “We have an amazing small but mighty team, primarily women, and the best part once again is just being on the floor with a customer. It's the exchange with the customer even in these times.” 

She noted that the customers are vital in the design process, letting the company know what kind of shoe they want to see so they know how exactly to cater to their audience. Part of what (the customer) wants, we learn just through our engagement in social media, just checking in with them, doing videos, asking them to share with us what are the things that they're excited about,” Parker said

As a result of the pandemic, times have been harder for the business, but Parker has tried to compensate for those difficulties wherever possible.

“How do we meet our customers where they are? If that means that I'm dropping off shoes on the way downtown, then that's what I'm doing,” Parker said. “If that means being in the store on days when the numbers have risen in New York and people are scared again I say ‘I'm in the store I will call, I will walk you through, we will have a virtual experience.’” 

Sex and the City 

Pinto noted how “Sex and the City” is “one of the most fashionable shows in television history” and how Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw “changed the way women dressed.” Parker noted that the show’s access to fashion and costumes was not easy in the beginning due to their small budget. In order to make up for their monetary limitations, the team took advantage of thrift stores. 

“We were working within our financial means and it was just ingenuity and industriousness and thrift stores all over New York City,” Parker said. “What changed was access to other items, contemporary fashion opened its doors to us and that just changed everything.” 

The show worked with Patricia Field, an American costume designer. Field’s costumes for the show landed her five Emmy Awards nominations and one win. Bradshaw was a character expressly interested in fashion, and Parker noted how her outfits helped tell her character’s story. 

Parker would spend 18 to 20 hours a day filming, and then proceed to her costume fittings around one or two in the morning, which usually lasted around three to five hours. 

“They were so much fun. I did whatever I was told I would try on anything no matter how ridiculous ... and I just did it because I admired that team of people so much,” she said. 

On Jan. 10, Parker, along with her “Sex and the City” co-stars Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis, announced via their Instagrams that the show was getting a revival on HBO Max entitled “And Just Like That…” The series, expected to be 10 half-hour episodes, is set to begin production in New York shortly, according to Variety

To conclude, Pinto asked Parker questions submitted by the audience prior to the event. One question asked how Carrie would react to the new fashion world dominated by influencers and social media. 

Parker responded by saying that it was an issue executive producer Michael Patrick King and the other writers are trying to discover. 

“I'm sure a lot of it (Bradshaw) would object to, but I think there's a part of her that would love to see other people enjoy fashion as much as she does,” Parker said.

After addressing a few more audience questions about responsibility in social media and some of her other roles, Parker offered some advice to listeners. 

“I would hope for all of you that you continue to be your own people and that you do so with grace and humility, but a lot of excitement,” she said. "I know Brown has prepared you beautifully.”


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