Follow Vogue Arabia

Interview: Sarah Jessica Parker on Power, Shoes, and Storytelling

“So which pair did you choose?” Sarah Jessica Parker asked me as I entered the room clutching a box from her SJP Collection, which debuted this month at Harvey Nichols and Bloomingdale’s in Dubai. “Make sure that the back strap is not too loose, please try them now,” she added before calling someone to make sure that I could come back the next day and pick up a new pair that fit perfectly.

That is how SJP is—caring, committed, and professional. There is something about the actress and designer (and one of fashion’s most powerful driving forces since the early 2000s and beyond) that is incredibly wholesome. From her all-American earthy values, to her inquisitive, piercing blue eyes, and unique voice, people love Sarah Jessica Parker—and she makes sure that they do—just as she made sure that her shoe line, which she waited for years to create, would be loved by making it unpretentious, comfortable, and charming—just like her.

Sofia Guellaty: You’re a fashion icon but you’re also in movies. Do you realize this power? You can change the world with these two mediums.

Sarah Jessica Parker: (Laughs) Well, I don’t know about that. I don’t know that I want to. When I think about work, I think about how much I like it, how challenging it can be, and how much it matters to me. I want to be good at it, I want to be [you know] well regarded. So I don’t think necessarily in terms of power or influence, [but] more so that it [my work] should be good.

That’s why when we did these shoes, it was so important to me that the shoe be really well-made—that we make them in Italy, that they be comfortable, and that the fit be spot on every single time. A woman should be able to reach for a pair of my shoes in two or three years and it should still be relevant and worth her hard-earned dollars or dirhams. Even though you could say that there are people in Dubai that have money, they are still making the choice to spend it on my shoes and I have to be deserving and honor this exchange—so that’s why we worked so hard and the quality was so important. That matters to me more than anything.

SG: Now that you have your own shoe line, what did you learn about fashion that you didn’t know before?

SJP: Gosh, I’ve learned a lot about the shoe business. It’s a really, really, really hard and competitive business. And women are really smart; they know a huge amount and they don’t just purchase without information anymore. Think about how much you know and then think about your friends who aren’t in fashion. Think about how much they know when they go to a store, how they feel a shoe, look at it, smell it, put it on, walk around—and then say no.

It’s really competitive and there is no need for more shoes. It’s not like there was a shoe shortage and I came in to fill it. It’s more like I joined a party kind of late and so what I’ve learned is that we have to be the best that we can be with every single collection we deliver—spring, pre-fall, fall, resort—all of it has to be [the best] and when it’s not and we hear about it, we have to not defend our choice but rather listen and say, “Okay, as painful as that is to hear, it didn’t work, or didn’t feel good, or that strap was too flimsy, or, or, or…” The slim strap is big for anybody with a narrow Achilles, like you, which is why I told you to put them on as you have these little, narrow feet. It’s my responsibility to tell you. If I hope you don’t notice, then I’m not doing right by you.

SG: Beyond comfort and design, one of the secrets of a successful brand is storytelling and I was wondering—since you are such a great storyteller—what story do you want us to hear?

SJP: When I finally had the courage to call George Malkemus III (CEO of Manolo Blahnik) and ask, “Would you partner with me?” we had already known each other for many years. I asked if he would meet me and he said, “Yes.” We sat down and I said, “Here are the [designers from the] years that are the most influential to me: the late 70s in New York City—Maud Frizon, Charles Jourdan, Walter SteigerBennis Edwards, and Sonia Rykiel. All those great shoe companies that were up and down Madison Avenue and across 57th Street—I would stare at the windows of their shoe stores or at the windows of Bonwit Teller & Co..

So the story I wanted to tell was [from] those years and George said, “I came to New York in 1977, too. Those were the windows that I loved, those were the shoes that I loved.” They were all made in Italy and they were just great shoes. They were single sole and they were in color. I wanted to go back to that time and look at those shoes and remember and reimagine them for this period, because proportions have changed; [you know] the front of the shoe is much shorter now. If we looked at a shoe from 1977, the throat [as they call it] would be really high. But that’s the period that I think was great in shoes and that’s the story I want to tell.

SG: That’s a sexy story. I understand that you’ve created some shoes specifically for our market?

So a lot of these [shoes] are satin, because Dubai’s customers love satin. All of our leathers are [in] great colors and especially for pre-fall, you’ll see all those old colors. It is different here than in the States because there’s a very different customer here–[one that is] much more adventurous.

SG: Indeed, the Middle East is a really interesting environment. Talking about these great, iconic designers (Walter Steiger, Charles Jourdan, etcetera), who, from the past and the present, would you have at your shoe party?

SJP: Oh my gosh, I would have Maud Frizon, if she would be willing. I honestly think it’s not the famous people, it’s the women I remember walking across 57th Street and the way they looked in the cross-town bus. It’s the girls from Staten Island that look so amazing, who line their lips like nobody else, and pull their ponytails back. It’s the everyday women that I think, in many cases, are the most inspiring because they’re really just dressing for themselves—not for a camera or the red carpet—and I think that’s often the most inspiring thing for me to see.

SG: Your dressing style is always a little quirky—a bit off, which I love. It’s never too perfect. However, when it comes to your shoe designs, you’re very conservative.

SJP: Well, I think the Dubai customer is asking for a specific thing and once we know this first skew, once we’re past this first collection, we’ll learn more. We have much less conservative things coming but we really have to listen to our distributer and she really tells us what she knows about the customer. Once we look at those skews, then we’ll know more and we’ll add some of the more subversive, naughty stuff.

View All
Vogue Collection