A clotheshorse for all seasons

by Kaori Shoji

“What will she be wearing?”

That was the question humming around the hallway and ladies room of the Spiral Hall in Aoyama, Tokyo, just before a news conference for Sarah Jessica Parker, here to promote the 6th and final season DVD release of “Sex and the City.”

Probably more than any other star, Sarah Jessica Parker, or “SJP” to her fans, has become the biggest actress/fashion icon here since Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman.” Megumi Onishi, an office worker who had secured an invitation through her ad-agency boss, said she took the afternoon off and had arrived 45 minutes prior to the conference so she could get a front-row seat.

“I brought my camera and I took care to dress like Carrie [SJP's character in 'Sex and the City],’ she said. “This is just so exciting for me!”

Ms. Onishi wasn’t the only one in a snug, low-cut black dress offset by tousled hair and high-heeled mules. It seemed that more than half the crowd had taken care to dress like Carrie. Accordingly, Spiral Hall had the nervous buzz of a singles’ party, and under the circumstances that was quite appropriate.

When SJP finally made her entrance, the room erupted in delighted squeals and camera flashes. Contrary to expectations, Ms. Parker had toned down her Carrie-brand sexuality to appear in a demure (but hip) lacy dress, her hair tied back and away from her beaming face. She was in Tokyo for just three days, since this was Thanksgiving season and she had to hurry back to “be with her family,” i.e., husband Matthew Broderick and their 2-year-old son.

The audience nodded: They are of course, familiar with SJP’s image: completely sexually liberated as the sex columnist Carrie in the show, but in private a loving wife and upholder of all-American family values. During the conference she was unfailingly upbeat and polite (if a little too conservative) using words like “thankful” and “challenging” when talking about her career.

And when actress Norika Fujiwara came on stage in a resplendent kimono to present her with a bouquet, SJP gushed with praise: “You look so beautiful, my God, look at you!” The U.S. press had always described her as “the best sport in Hollywood” and they’re probably right. Here is SJP in action:

What do you think is the biggest appeal of “Sex and the City” and why has it been able to captivate audiences around the world?

Apart from the fact that the writing was great with so much substance and insight packed into every line, and apart from the aesthetics and the fashion, which everyone loved, “Sex and the City” is about the journey and quest for love. That’s something that will always strike chords, transcend all language barriers.

How would you describe Carrie as a person?

What I loved about her was her dedication to her female friends, that desire of hers to nurture her women friends. And I was envious of the time she spent with her friends because all the women I know don’t have that kind of time or the luxury. I loved the way she was, and I always hoped I would be that kind of friend to myself.

Please tell us your thoughts on “Mr. Big” and your other on-air romances.

I loved the romance between Carrie and Big. He was so much “a man,” this great big guy who would just sweep you off your feet, make you so happy and then he would frustrate you, disappoint you — you know, a man!

It was fantastic actually, I had this double life in which I got to go through this buffet of men on the show and then when I came home I had this marriage and a family and I got to do that too. Oh, it was fantastic.

What do you think of being a fashion icon in Japan, and that so many Japanese women like to imitate your style?

I’m flattered because the show really used Japanese women as an inspiration. Patricia Fields, who designed the whole look of everyone’s wardrobes, traveled to Tokyo many times to get hints and ideas. The fittings for each episode took about five to seven hours, and there were an average 20 wardrobe changes per show. I’ve tried on things I wouldn’t try on for anyone else except Patricia. She really created the whole look of the show.

How do you balance the tremendous workload with your private life?

I struggle like any working mother. I think this is a symptom of modern life: If you want to have it all, then it’s going to be a challenge. And I just feel lucky to be in that challenge.