Amagansett’s Sarah Jessica Parker, the disarmingly modest screen star and style icon, chats with Manolo Blahnik’s George Malkemus about her hit show, Divorce, and dreaming up a designer shoe collaboration that was almost too good to be true.
Sarah Jessica Parker has spent decades building a personal brand that’s synonymous with fierce fashion and autonomous women, abetted of course by a certain iconic television show. Shortly after Sex and the City came to its triumphant conclusion on HBO, and before the cameras started rolling on the film sequels, Parker tried her hand at a fragrance (Lovely, in 2005) and an affordable clothing line (Bitten, 2007). Three years ago, with the launch of SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker, she expanded her portfolio as a designer with a venture that sounds like something Carrie Bradshaw dreamed up: a high-end footwear collaboration with none other than Manolo Blahnik CEO George Malkemus. Parker’s eponymous label has grown from a small collection at Nordstrom to a lifestyle line—complete with shoes and other accessories, her signature fragrances, even little black dresses—worthy of its first stand-alone store, which Parker opened this year at the new MGM National Harbor near Washington, DC.
Intriguingly, Parker and Malkemus say the roots of their collaboration predate Carrie Bradshaw and her love affair with Manolos. We sat down with the duo to talk about their partnership, their inspirations, and summer with SJP.
You’ve been friends for a long time.
Sarah Jessica Parker: We met in 1984. George was coming out to Los Angeles with a young shoe designer, and they were having a trunk show. The young shoe designer was called Manolo Blahnik. Though I was in no position to go, I of course wanted to. I arrived, and it was a scary, typically rainy February, a winter day…
George Malkemus: A Saturday.
SJP: Pouring rain. I really wasn’t in any position financially to buy any shoes, but I did. I bought, I think, three or four pairs.
SJP: George and I met that day, and then when I did Sex and the City, Manolo Blahnik shoes, and therefore George, became an essential character in the show, and our friendship grew… There had been lots of conversations about producing a shoe line, all lovely and a variety of potential partnerships, and I kept saying no. Ultimately, I was sitting with a small group of businesswomen who I admired very much, and they were kind of interrogating me. Why was I so slow to say yes? What were my reservations? I said to them, “The truth is, while these partnerships might be lucrative and look right on paper, what I really want is to partner with George Malkemus, but he’s spoken for.” They said, “Why don’t you just call him?” [So] I walked back to my house and I called, and George said...
GM: “Come to my office at nine o’clock the next morning.” She came at nine o’clock the next morning, and we fell in love with the idea of doing shoes the way Sarah Jessica wanted to do shoes. I had long admired her for her style and her inner sense of taste, but that was always from afar. That morning, we ordered chicken soup and talked about her ideas, and her recollections of shoes in New York from 1977, when she first came to New York. Almost the same year that I came to New York, if not the same year. We talked about great names in shoes—Charles Jourdan, Maud Frizon, Walter Steiger—and I was so impressed that she knew those stores. What she wanted to do and what I wanted to do were exactly the same: single-sole shoes—not platforms, nothing trendy, nothing too esoteric—and made in Italy, because that’s where the greatest shoes and the finest materials in the world are found. That morning, we clued into the same philosophy about shoes. And that’s how we began.
How do you bounce ideas off each other?
SJP: It’s one of the easiest professional relationships of my entire life. It’s an enormous source of pride for me that I get to work with George, having admired him professionally for so long, but also [for] the man he is in his personal life and the way he conducts himself. He has a business model that is not just to be admired, it’s [about] decency and principle. The dynamic is me learning a lot, but also an endless conversation.
GM: I love that she is a businesswoman, not just a fantastic celebrity that lent her name to this project. And I’ve never seen anyone who works the floor like Sarah Jessica Parker. She wants to hear from the customer and know the shoe fits the right way and feels the right way and explains her philosophy to the customer.
What inspires you?
SJP: We both live in New York City, so that’s a real treat and privilege and endless source of inspiration. I just got off the subway and I’m looking everywhere, I’m watching people. When I travel, I’m always looking down because, especially in large cities and international airports, you’re always seeing things that are interesting. I’m always looking at color, and George travels a lot and he could be inspired by a painting at a museum or the color of a terracotta pot or...
GM: Or Feud—you know, the the Ryan Murphy series with Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon. I was very inspired by that.
SJP: There’s so much! You can spend a day with your children and have an experience. They are the lens through which you’re seeing things. It’s all different colors and activity and structure and everything—art, literature.
GM: It can come from many places.
Were any pieces in the Spring/Summer collection inspired by your lifestyle in the Hamptons?
SJP: I think summer is always an inspiration, no matter where you are in the world. Even if you don’t live by that conventional calendar, I think the idea of warmer weather, casual... you can be more casual about summer.
GM: Well, I think the way you wear a shoe at the beach, it might be the same shoe you have in your wardrobe in the city. But it feels different at the beach. You dress it up differently. You dress it down differently, so I think that becomes part of beach dressing.
“I feel as if it’s as close to modern art as I will ever be part of creating,” says Sarah Jessica Parker of the wall of shoes in her boutique at MGM National Harbor. “I just think it’s exquisite and enormously seductive. It’s hard to resist.”
Sarah Jessica, when did you first start coming to the Hamptons?
SJP: Oh my gosh, the first house I rented out here was in 1989 or 1990. I shared a house with five other people on Buell Lane in East Hampton, [which we drove to with a] car from Rent-a-Wreck. We rented a couple of bicycles from Bermuda Bikes, which is a great local, family-owned bike store that’s been there forever. And that’s how we got everywhere, on those bikes, because I couldn’t afford to keep the car—I could get me out here or I could take the jitney.
GM: Are there five pieces from the collection that you’ll be taking to the Hamptons with you this summer?
GM: Only five, Sarah Jessica. Only five.
SJP: I always, always, always love Veronika. I wear her all summer. Let’s see, Serpentine. Is that our new one that I’m crazy in love with?
GM: Yes, yes, yes.
SJP: The sandal is beautiful. I think I’ll probably have Jackie a lot, which is our bag, what I call our museum bag. Definitely a backpack. And maybe the new Ursula flat.
GM: How about some heels for evening?
SJP: I would say Always or Bluff Serpentine.
GM: And of course Meteor.
SJP: Meteor in every color. Our new sneaker I’m so, so, so in love with, I can’t even tell you.
GM: It’s Sarah Jessica’s take on a sneaker. She’s in love with it, I’m in love with it, and everybody that sees it is in love with it.
SJP: I’ve already worn it when it’s not really even warm enough. I’ve pushed it.
GM: We were so careful in naming a shoe Carrie, for obvious reasons, so it took Sarah Jessica a long time to finally decide on the shoe to name Carrie. So then she said, “Let’s do a Carrie flat,” and we did a Carrie flat. And then she said, “Let’s do a Carrie sneaker,” so Meteor is her sneaker version of a Carrie.
“I’ve never seen anyone who works the floor like Sarah Jessica Parker,” says Manolo Blahnik CEO George Malkemus about watching Parker in their MGM National Harbor boutique. “She wants to hear from the customer and to know that the shoe fits the right way and feels the right way. It’s thrilling for me, as her partner, to see how involved [she is] and how much she cares.”
This year you’ve opened a new stand-alone boutique outside of Washington, DC. You’ve just launched the new collection. You’re filming Divorce. You’re a wife. You’re a mother. Sarah Jessica, how do you unwind?
SJP: I don’t know. George, what do you do? George has my little business, Manolo Blahnik, one of the most incredible dairy farms—if not the most incredible dairy farm—on the East Coast. He owns restaurants and cafés. Ridiculous.
GM: I don’t unwind. [Laughs] I don’t unwind, but you do. You read. You always have a book in your hand.
SJP: I read a lot. I get in bed after all the little kids are hopefully content and tucked away and perhaps even asleep, and I watch television. But I also go to the theater a lot. And I take a subway there, which I love, because I can read the entire time. I love going to the theater and ballet by myself. I also love to be joined by friends.
GM: I love going to the theater, too. I’m going to see Matthew’s play tomorrow, Sarah Jessica.
SJP: Oh, that’s right!
Now you’ve returned to HBO with Divorce, and are currently shooting season two. What’s it like to be back at HBO?
SJP: It’s great to be home. It’s like being with you, George, working with you. It’s familiar, it’s the people you want to please most, it’s challenging, standards are high.
GM: And the show is so fantastic.
SJP: It’s so delightful to be back there and telling the story I want to tell and being supported and given the opportunity and the resources to do it and work with the extraordinary actors who I love, who I think are incredible and inspiring. It’s been a total thrill.
GM: I love, love, love, love the show. And I love you, Sarah Jessica.
PHOTOGRAPHY C/O SJP, BY SARAH JESSICA PARKER