Thanks to the internet and the 24-hour news cycle, it’s hard for anything to remain a secret for long. Still, the cast and crew of And Just Like That… kept a key element of the show confidential right until the very end. After popularizing Manolo Blahnik’s on Sex and the City and ushering in an era of unforgettable shoes, Carrie Bradshaw returned to television with a host of new heels designed by none other than Sarah Jessica Parker.
As star and executive producer of the comedy-drama, Parker lent many of her talents to And Just Like That. Still, her impact truly carries head to toe thanks to the shoes she and her late business partner, George Malkemus, contributed to the costumes. While other footwear designers also feature onscreen, her heels presented under the faux-vintage label Duchessa Gardini, are the punctuation mark to Carrie’s fashion statements. Red dress with long sleeves Take the mules that Carrie wears when heading to the doctor’s office in episode five, or the flapper-worthy Mary Jane pumps she pairs with Batsheva’s pink gingham house dress and a pastel babushka scarf in ep 8: covetable pairs that are pure Carrie.
Given Sex and the City’s fashion legacy, the sequel’s costumes were bound to be heavily scrutinized. The media and the dedicated fans who document every outfit worn by Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte on social media followed every paparazzi snapshot from the set, so keeping the secret of the shoes was an undertaking. Costume designer Molly Rogers, who transitioned from working under Patricia Field on the original series to taking the lead with fellow designer Dannie Santiago for the sequel, is still surprised they pulled it off. “The show is a unicorn on so many levels. You’re dealing with an audience that applauds when they see the ‘Roger’ belt again,” says Rogers of the chunky studded number that Carrie wore with a vintage floral sundress and Dior stilettos during the 2008 movie. “It’s incredible that mysteries still exist even when you have social media and everything is looked at under a microscope. Plus, it was great to have access to a shoe that had people saying, ‘what is that?’”
While Parker’s eponymous shoe brand has been active since 2014, she originally had no intention of designing footwear for the show. “There is no SJP collection in Carrie’s world; I don’t exist there because that would be too weird for me,” Parker says. “I didn’t want it to look like I was exploiting a business opportunity and HBO either, but as we were approaching my first fitting in May of last year, it became clear that there were still some holes Molly and David wanted to fill in terms of the accessories.”
After sitting down with Malkemus, a solution revealed itself. “George and I decided to build the shoes that Molly and David needed, but not to use our names,” says Parker, who credits Malkemus with coming up with the distinctive moniker and its allusions to nobility. “We were thinking of an old Italian house. Formal dresses red Our shoes are all handmade in Italy by third- and fourth-generation shoemakers, so it’s possible that you could have had a brand like this. If it were any other show, that might not matter, but here the provenance of a shoe matters. People are curious whether the shoes are from the turn of the century or fresh off the runways of Paris.”
The show taps into that curiosity by peppering in Easter egg call backs to the original series that only eagle-eyed watchers would notice. “SJ was thinking about the surprises she wanted to include, and that was definitely on my mind as well,” says Rogers. “Especially during the closet scenes.” With full access to both the HBO archives and Parker’s own, Rogers had plenty of original pieces from the show, but the Duchessa heels weren’t there to supplement existing items. Instead, they sought to innovate, taking elements from beloved retro pieces and modernizing them. “Sometimes you’ll look at a vintage piece, and it’s exciting, but the proportions are funny,” explains Parker. “There are parts that are thrilling and wonderful, but then the vamp is off, or the size of the heel is wrong. We wanted to have variety and a sense of vintage periods: ’40s, ’50s, ’60s.”
Quirky interpretations of classic fashion have always been present in Carrie’s wardrobe, and the Gardini shoes mesh perfectly with her eclectic wardrobe. Throughout the season, we see her undergo countless changes as she copes with loss, injury, career uncertainty, and new ideas about sex—the subject that put her on the map. Still, the character’s fashion philosophy remains the same. “Carrie is Carrie, and she’s always going to be whimsical and mixing high and low. Nothing has changed about that,” says Rogers. “Age is a number, but how you look in clothes and what you’re gravitating to doesn’t change when you know yourself that well. Besides, all of us can walk into a store and spot a Carrie look.”
Shoes are Carrie’s signature, and no matter where life takes her, she wears something memorable. “The shoes are part of the storytelling and they help us convey a message with fewer words,” explains Parker. “If you watch closely during the scene where Carrie leaves for the funeral home [after Mr. Big’s death] with Charlotte, she has some shoes by the front door that she puts on. They were super comfortable mule slides with a 90mm heel, the kind of shoes she’d grab the newspaper in, and she threw them on because she wasn’t thinking; it was second nature. Even after her hip surgery, she puts on something sparkly—a Louboutin pair that she also wore in the movie—as if to signal that she’s still herself.”
The connection between object and wearer is something any fashion lover can relate to. “[Carrie] has a relationship with her shoes, and while it’s not as meaningful as a relationship you’d have with a person or even a book, they have a special place within her life,” says Parker. “You can condemn her for it, and that’s fine, but we all have things in our life where it’s hard to describe why they’re so meaningful to us. [Similarly] for the funeral, our Black Event, the dress Carrie wears isn’t a designer look, but there’s something about it the audience can connect to. She’s not saying a lot—she’s trying to be stoic and noble in the face of death—but through costume, you’re able to sense what she’s feeling. It’s fun to be a part of something where the clothes and shoes always have so much meaning.”
Of course, the pieces Carrie wears during difficult moments are only one piece of the puzzle. The series maintains the optimism and vitality of its predecessor. Its version of Manhattan is fantastical enough to get lost in, and the costuming contributes to the heightened feel. Rogers compares stepping into Carrie’s world to The Wizard of Oz’s act two switch from black and white into technicolor. “I considered the pandemic and Zoom life as Kansas. I just wanted to see the beauty and step into Oz,” says Rogers. “We knew we had big shoes to fill. Just think of every character [post-Sex and the City] who has stepped in front of a store window and said ‘hello lover.’ We knew we had to carry that forward.”
Judging by the frenzy each outfit caused, Rogers more than achieved that goal. With pieces like the ice blue Norma Kamali body-con dress that Carrie wears for her first date post-Big, her trusty Fendi baguette, and that Versace Mille Feuille gown all going viral, it’s clear that the audience appreciates each ensemble, even if some of her favorites never made it onto the screen. “I made a pink and purple color-blocked windbreaker, and instead of a team number, I put the address for Bergdorf Goodman,” says Rogers. Cocktail long sleeve dresses One-of-a-kind pieces and vintage took priority, but so did emerging designers. “We never wanted to approach the costuming with ‘let’s use look one from this runway show,’” says Rogers. “We were trying to explore local businesses like Rodney Patterson, who is an amazing milliner who has a shop in Brooklyn. I discovered him via Instagram, which was such great luck; how often do you get to have a milliner who is 15 minutes away! We wanted to have those great New York moments. In the ’80s you’d go to the club and spot a new brand someone was wearing. Now social media is the club.”
The focus on New York City’s talent makes the choice to use Parker’s shoes feel all the more meaningful. The name may have Italian flair, but Parker’s business, whose flagship store is in Midtown Manhattan, is as local as it gets. With only hours until the finale reveals a new set of surprises and several more pairs of shoes, Parker is grateful to have had the opportunity to revisit the ultimate New York It-girl and add to her epic wardrobe. “It was big and thrilling and scary, yet comforting and familiar,” she says of the experience. “In some ways, this has been extraordinary with all these new actors and people giving their time, committing, and trusting us. It’s also been filled with the loss of life of dear friends and many challenges, but I’m fortunate to be able to be surrounded by people I love who inspire me and shoot in the city I call home.”