The thing about a launch is that you have to maintain it,” explained Sarah Jessica Parker. “That one moment is really exciting, but it’s the long run we’re looking at. We want to be around for a lot of years.”
The actress-turned-designer spoke toFootwear News by phone on her way to the airport one Sunday evening in November after spending the weekend with her family in New York. She was returning to Italy to finish filming “All Roads Lead to Rome,” her new romantic comedy set for a 2015 release.
Parker clearly was excited about her latest starring role, but she was even more energized by her biggest project of the year: the burgeoning SJP footwear and handbag collection.
When the “Sex & the City” star teamed with business partner George Malkemus to debut the line at Nordstrom in February, there was little doubt it would create buzz. By all accounts, it was a blockbuster launch, and Nordstrom execs attribute the brand’s steady growth to Parker’s intimate involvement.
“It’s incredible how authentic she is,” said Scott Meden, EVP and GMM of shoes at Nordstrom “Her passion for fashion and her aesthetic come through [in everything she does].”
Parker said it was critical for her to establish the business in her own way, and that started with finding the right partner. “I’ve learned an enormous amount from George. It’s been an education, and it’s been so satisfying,” she said.
Malkemus highlighted Parker’s deep passion and desire to learn every aspect of the business. “I still wake up in the middle of the night and can’t believe I’m in business with her,” Malkemus said. “People have no idea how genuine this lady is.”
From the beginning, the pair set out to make elegant, colorful single-sole styles. They had them crafted in Italy, but worked to keep prices accessible, from $195 to $695 for shoes and $195 to $495 for handbags.
“I wanted to produce a shoe that I authentically wanted to wear,” said Parker, a mother of three who maintains a frenetic schedule.
Even so, she is involved in every aspect of the business from sales to marketing to press.
“I like to meet with our buyers constantly and be part of every single phone call to hear the good news and the bad news,” she explained.
In addition to establishing strong ties with retailers, Parker has stayed close to consumers through in-store appearances at Nordstrom and via social media, which she oversees herself.
“It hasn’t come naturally to me, but it’s important to tell our story in a personal way,” the star explained. “[It’s] as much a part of the business as the other things. We don’t have marketing dollars and PR money, so it’s the way we have to work.”
Her loyal fanbase also helps to open new retail doors. SJP will soon hit Zappos Couture as well as Harvey Nichols and Bloomingdale’s in Dubai.And for the past several weeks, the collection has been stocked at Neimanmarcus.com.
“[Parker’s] ability to translate the moment with her charisma, charm and chicness have made her a fashion icon around the world,” said Ken Downing, SVP and fashion director at Neiman Marcus. “Her style and enthusiasm for fashion translate into every endeavor she embraces.”
Looking ahead, Parker said she is confident about the next chapter and grateful for the experience.
“We’ve never been casual about our efforts or assumed we would have success,” she said. “The success, in many ways, has been a great surprise.”
Sarah Jessica Parker On …
Learning the intricacies of the footwear business:
“The more we branch out to different retailers, the clearer it becomes how complicated this business is. Each buyer is different, and each has a [unique] point of view. Just because we make 60-odd samples doesn’t mean they want the ones we want. You have to become very good at convincing them that your reasons can eclipse their hesitations.”
Her “whistle stop” tours at Nordstrom:
“It’s been a fantastic experience. In [film and TV], I develop relationships, but they’re not personal in that I rarely meet the audiences as I have on these shoe tours. A lot of these women have come to support this brand because of the relationship we’ve cultivated over the last 15 or 20 years. So it’s the first [chance] I’ve had for one-on-one time. It’s been such a nice experience to meet the customer and have a moment with her — or him.”
The lasting impact of “Sex & the City”:
“I feel enormously lucky that I got to be part of something that people connected with. It created a relationship [with viewers] — one that we could never have planned. I know the clothes are important and helped tell the story so well, so beautifully, so cleverly, but you can’t hang your hat on that forever. It’s the writing and the stories we got to tell.”