An invitation landed on my desk recently, asking: “Are you a Miranda?”
“No,” I thought. “That’s my second daughter.”
But, it went on: “Imagine if NYC’s favourite four fashionistas lived together? 4,000 square feet. Four impossibly chic women. Four to-die-for closets.” Apparently, Decadestwo, the cool spin-off of Decades, the original vintage-to-the-stars store in Los Angeles, is opening a pop-up shop in New York for four days only, timed to take advantage of the opening of the much-ballyhooed film sequel Sex and the City 2. The store’s teaser did get me thinking, though probably not in the way it intended.
Presumably, the idea was to underline the idiosyncrasy that is the essence of the best vintage boutiques: stocked with clothing that has a history, clothing that is often a part of history, such shops sell originality as opposed to homogeneity. And originality was the hallmark of Sex and the City as conceived by wardrobe designer Patricia Field and mostly exemplified by Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie, whose propensity for tutus and odd headgear was as notable as her fondness for Manolos. She was the character who launched a thousand bizarre trends (name necklaces; huge corsages; vintage furs), and everyone loved her for it.
But that was then – the SATC TV show ran from 1998-2004, the heyday of conspicuous consumerism and shopping as celebration. Such activity was already beginning to wane by the time of the first SATC film in May 2008. You might think that a sequel would take note of the new financial reality, acknowledge it and perhaps reflect it in some meaningful way.
If you thought that, however, you would be wrong. As Field announced to Allure magazine about the movie: “I’m taking you on a magic carpet ride and it has nothing to do with the stock market. It didn’t come into play at all for me. What would I do, dress them in depression clothes?” So, some cultural caveats aside (the story arc involves an all-girls trip to Abu Dhabi, where, Parker said, “we had religious, environmental and cultural standards to respect”), the women are in ... harem pants. Sequins. Long swirly chiffon gowns. And lots and lots of them.
Now, I get escapism as much as the next person. I understand that cinema is in many ways supposed to be a fantasy outlet from the humdrum nature of the quotidian. But Carrie and co were never supposed to be inaccessible dreams; they were supposed to be heightened versions of us – that’s why they were so popular. It’s why we could refer to them not just by first names but by initials: SJP, SATC. In short, Les filles, c’est nous.
The problem is, this is no longer true. In fashion, reality is currently leaning towards a mature, rigorously luxurious utilitarianism: the cashmere cargo skirt. By contrast, the SATC crew are deeply decorative role-players; they are stereotypes. There’s Carrie being ever more over-the-top and kooky in tux, billowing parachute silk, or ripped J’adore T-shirt. There’s Samantha being aggressively body-con; Miranda making even sequins into a (jump)suit; and Charlotte aping Carla Bruni aping Jackie Kennedy in pink Dior shift and matching bag. Does any forty or fiftysomething really want to dress like a twenty or thirtysomething on their way to a 1980s fancy dress party? My guess is no.
Which is not to say the movie won’t be successful but, rather, that the reason for its success has changed (which gets back to the store opening – but more on that later). Rather than being role models, Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte have become examples of what to avoid, and the movie has the appeal of reality TV show What Not To Wear. That show makes you feel better not because it takes you away into a dream world, but because it makes you thankful you don’t look (or often act) as embarrassing as those women.
In this sense, SATC2 is a very accurate reflection of its times (assuming a sort of postmodern self-awareness that no interviews I’ve read or done have convinced me was anything other than accidental), though not a very effective retail lure. Unless, that is, Decadestwo is actually taking the film one step further, from comedy to satire, and trying to get people to respond as I did to the original question – “Hell, no” – and then suggest that, well, if that was your answer, this is the place to shop; a place where you won’t be a Carrie or a Samantha or a Miranda, you can just be you. As Christos Garkinos, the man behind the pop-up, says: “The idea was to encourage you to use your imagination. That’s what we buy.”
The question is: do you?
More columns at www.ft.com/friedman