Knight Ridder Newspapers
As we bid a fond ("sniff,"" sniff") farewell to the HBO series "Sex and the City" on Sunday, one thing - besides, of course, the sex - can't be overlooked.
When another beloved show set in New York ended- that'd be "Seinfeld" - our style mementos were along the lines of Jerry's white sneakers and Elaine's urban sombrero. But in "SATC," the only bigger star than the quartet of heat-seeking singletons themselves - Samantha, Miranda, Carrie and Charlotte - was their Sunday night sartorial displays.
While all the ladies always dressed to impress, it was Carrie, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, who was the eyebrow- and hemline-raising leader of the pack. You could always count on the lovable, street-chic sex columnist to hoist up the fashion bar, and then throw it out the window. Who could forget the tutu? The retro shorts with stilettos? The Heidi dress?
Although those rare misfires didn't quite stick with Josephine Public, her costume changes were nothing if not educational. Over six seasons, she introduced the average mall shopper to not only cosmopolitans but skyscraper Jimmy Choos and Manolo Blahniks, Fendi baguette bags and - once unspeakable - mixing haute couture with vintage. Her character also gave rise to such fads as horseshoe, Playboy bunny and nameplate necklaces, silk flower brooches and crystal-encrusted cell phones.
A pair of those well-documented Manolo Blahnik strappy sandals can cost upwards of $450. But that's not the point. This is "entertainment," after all. It also helped that she had a rent-controlled apartment and access to Garment District sample sales. But Carrie acknowledged her reckless obsession with footwear when she was facing eviction in season four: "I've spent $40,000 on shoes and I have no place to live? I will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes."
As fashion-forward as those Manolos were, there was the ample share of kookiness. Like those 1970s Adidas shorts and Isaac Mizrahi stilettos she wore when chasing fiance Aidan's dog, many of her pieces look as if they're Milan runway-meets-acid trip.
"Dressing Carrie was about eliminating the rules of what you can and can't wear," says Paolo Nieddu, stylist for Patricia Field, the show's costumer who is harder to reach these days than President Bush. "Field put her in the Heidi dress also known as a "dirndl" and braids at a picnic, even though Vogue magazine would say, 'Don't do it.' "
Never predictable, rarely matching - at least in the conventional way - and "always" eye candy, Carrie's outfits boldly showed that we don't all have to wear the Gap uniform or a knockoff of Gwyneth's Calvin Klein on the red carpet. Parading her brave designs and progressive marriages of fabrics, prints and eras, she broke the mold.
" 'Sex and the City' was an inspiration to chic, single women," says Clo Jacobs, spokeswoman for Jimmy Choo in New York. "The show not only gave a platform to so many new designers but it allowed women all over the world to take chances they might not ordinarily have."
This wasn't lost on Parker's character. Her closet was nothing less than sacred ground. When Aidan begs her to make more room in her place by giving away some items, she icily warns: "Don't mock the clothes."
Like the city she calls home, Carrie and her often questionable wardrobe were a glorious melting pot. She and her saucy ensembles personify the grand, gritty and glamorous metropolis of tightly coexisting millions, who fight daily to get from Point A - the public transport commute - to Point B - bellying up to the bar for a Flirtini.
Stands to reason that Patricia Field did not put her star in all couture; the costumer often ended up turning to quirkier, bohemian pieces (a gorgeous Chanel top with plain old leggings comes to mind). It humanized Carrie, made her accessible, imitable.
"If Carrie could wear a big flower in her hair, then you could too," says Lauren Gignac, a savvy 30-something fan of the show and district manager for Coach in New York. "Carrie made it OK for women to dress up again. To mix and match, take more risks, and not be afraid of wearing color and getting inventive with accessories."
Oh, the accessories. Some were wacky: the man's tie worn like a necklace, the babushka, the Jackie O. oversized sunglasses and a belt strapped randomly around her bare belly. Some were mainstream and upscale: Carrie's had some of the most coveted bags out there - the Fendi baguette, Dior saddlebag, Gucci-logo fanny pack and the jeweled Judith Leiber minaudiere (a gift from the maddeningly noncommittal Mr. Big). The price of these purses alone would easily be a once-a-week columnist's three-month salary.
Which begs the question: Could most women afford to dress like the "SATC" princess?
Possibly, says Nieddu.
"I have so many friends in New York who will eat Ramen noodles for a week so they can get the new Hermes bag."
Again, not the point. The fashions were as much a passenger in the tumultuous, exhilarating ride in perhaps the world's most exciting city as the gals themselves. They were an essential, silent co-star.
Perhaps Parker sums it up best in the book "Sex and the City: Kiss and Tell" by Amy Sohn (Pocket Books, $20): "Carrie loves clothes, shoes and purses, and she has probably been obsessed with fashion from the time she was a very little girl and went to the library with her class and looked at Seventeen magazine. The clothes are fun, exciting, and intentionally provocative, and they tell a story."