Just before New York went into lockdown two months ago, Sarah Jessica Parker and George Malkemus were prepping for a big debut — the opening of the SJP Collection flagship store on 54th Street in Manhattan.
The project was inevitably delayed as activity came to a halt across the city and the pandemic hit New York hard.
“We’re carrying on, and hoping to open our store sooner than later, but also want to live by the rules and be safe,” Parker said during a recent Facebook live conversation. “We don’t know the way people are going to feel. When they have the opportunity to walk into a store, will they feel comfortable? We’re looking for answers too.”
For Malkemus — who is in constant communication with his co-founder — the focus has been to “run the business as smart as you can in this time.”
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The footwear veteran and former head of Manolo Blahnik U.S. said it’s also a pivotal moment for the high-end shoe business. “$350 is the new luxury for a lot of people, and even asking someone to spend that right now [can be difficult], he acknowledged.
Parker and Malkemus continue to focus on their classics — bestselling styles like the Tartt, a block-heeled Mary Jane, or the Fawn signature pump.
“We believe when a woman loves to purchase something, she wants to be able to reach for it again,” Parker said. “So we keep offering [the styles] in evergreen colors as well as new ones. Those shoes aren’t ever marked down.”
The business partners are also committed to supporting their Italian factories as production resumes in hard-hit Italy. “Italians have always been survivors,” Malkemus noted. “They are used to being stepped upon by other people, and having to compromise and regroup and rethink.”
While it’s still unclear when New York brick-and-mortar retail will be back up and running, Malkemus is looking forward to opening the doors of the new SJP shop, which will be in the former home of the Manolo Blahnik boutique.
“It will be a place where the customer can get Sarah Jessica’s point of view, and show her specific edit,” the executive said, adding that the gut-renovated space will be all about color.
For the past several months, the team has been focused on fueling digital sales on the SJP collection website, which sells many categories, from footwear and apparel to fragrance and gifts. In addition to shoes, Iphone cases and tote bags have been popular sellers. “It lets people feel like they can own a little part of SJP,” Malkemus said.
The executive — who is mostly hunkered down in Litchfield, Conn. — operates a restaurant on site at his Arethusa Farm, so he’s also navigating a new normal there, with reduced opening hours and takeout service.
Looking ahead, he knows that big changes will continue to reshape the retail world. “We have to be realistic and smart about what a consumer will pay,” said Malkemus. “A shoe can represent quality and have beautifully finessed design, but it has to make sense.”