It’s four in the afternoon, and I arrive in The Address Downtown’s Cigar Lounge into a private room with Sarah Jessica Parker, who looks radiant in an exquisite pink lace top by Qatari design label Toujouri.
Parker is one of the few celebrities I have met who far exceeds my expectations. Though I am excited to meet her, I could not possibly have been prepared for just how humble and magnificently kind she is in real life. Her piercing blue eyes sparkle at me from the moment she greets me with a warm hug and handshake, and from the moment we sit down, her distinctive voice captivates me with every eloquent and well thought-out word she speaks.
She is remarkably kind and down-to-earth – at one point during our introduction, the Voice Memos app fails to open my phone. Parker walks out of the room herself and asks for assistance, pronouncing my name correctly as she says “Haleh is having some trouble with her iPhone. Does anyone have a voice recorder she could use?”
She is as keen to learn about me as I am about her. She asks me about my company, and is quick to congratulate me warmly when she hears I started the Middle East’s first online magazine. It is this kind of genuine interest Parker displays that makes for an incredible start to our interview, during the course of which I both laugh from the pits of my stomach and get misty-eyed with emotion at her responses.
Read on for our intimate chat in the heart of Dubai, where she has been for the past week in celebration of the launch of her new shoe collection, SJP, available exclusively at Harvey Nichols and Bloomingdale’s.
Sarah, let’s begin. What are your impressions of our city so far? I’ve seen you taking pictures on Instagram of places even I’ve never seen. [Parker has notably been taking pictures of traditional souqs in a series of photos that have been attracting lots of attention from Dubai residents.]
Have you really not? Even after living here for 30 years?
No, I haven’t. They seem to be very traditional areas.
Yeah, they are amazing. I always do that when I travel. I always ask for my hosts to take me to the oldest parts of the city. But answering your question, it has been fantastic. I’ve only been here for two days, but it has been incredibly interesting. I’ve met, like yourself, just so many nice women, and men of course. Hospitable, kind, excited, and excited to share their city with me. An overwhelming number of expats. It’s been so interesting to meet at Harvey Nichols some Emiratis, but primarily people from Kazakhstan, Russia, India, the UK, South Africa. Just everywhere. It was so incredible. Lebanon, Egypt, even China. This is such an interesting city. It is far more diverse than New York, or certainly more than Manhattan. And I just think that it is really interesting to see women of all different shapes and sizes, colors, and ethnic backgrounds. This has been really fun.
So it’s your first time here, and you’re visiting for the launch of your beautiful new shoe collection, SJP. Tell us, what inspired you to start designing shoes?
I kept being presented with these opportunities and I kept saying no, but then I was encouraged by my girl friends, who are businesswomen and business leaders, to call George [Malkemus III, CEO of Manolo Blahnik]. Because I had said the person I would really like to work with is George. And I called him up and he said: “Be in my office tomorrow morning”. And thus began this relationship. And I think what inspired me was the opportunity. It is not like I ever imagined 20 years ago that this was something I would do. But once the opportunity kept presenting itself; I really started thinking about it. I knew what I wanted to do and I knew what I felt I should do. But it was really just finding that partnership.
And how does it feel to have this amazing universal reaction to your collection so far? I hear the shoes almost sold out in two days.
It has been really nice and I think it is especially meaningful because I feel so indebted to those who gave me this opportunity. If it hadn’t been for the show [Sex and the City], I know I wouldn’t have this opportunity. I feel very honor-bound by this opportunity. These have to be really well-made, comfortable shoes. They have to tell the story that sets them apart in some way from others in the market. I want these shoes to be relevant in the closet in 2-3 years if I am asking for anybody’s hard-earned dollars or dirhams – am I pronouncing it right? – then these shoes need to be worth it. And so it’s been wonderful and challenging, and exciting. It’s thrilling to see them selling.
Does a little bit of the Carrie Bradshaw in you come out when you are designing? Or is it all Sarah?
Well, you know I actually always loved shoes. It is unrelated to Carrie. I grew up with not a lot of money, so we didn’t have shoes. We had shoes twice a year and most of the time they were hand-me-downs from my siblings. But then when I started earning money on my own, I still was fairly frugal about buying shoes. But I always loved them. And so I guess it is not so much that there is a little bit of Carrie comes out, but more that you can really fill a fantasy when you are designing. Because you are really working from a fantasy point of view. You are trying to think about what is practical and feels good. It’s not only about how comfortable this feel could be, but also what don’t I have in my closet, what would I love to see?
What is the main influence behind this particular line?
Single soles. Colors are neutral, and they’re made in Italy. Those three things continue to be very important. Probably the three pyramid pillars. So that they would be comfortable. And like I said, they would be relevant in a year or two from now. Or 5, 10, or 20.
Which one is your favorite?
I just can’t pick a favorite. I won’t; I am not good at it. I love the Carrie and all the colors it comes in. I love the Pat foot. I love the Elyssa, which I don’t think we have in Dubai. I love the Gina boot. I am really excited about all the ornamentation we had to do here; the fabrication. We don’t typically get to do so much satin in the US; this is very specific for Dubai. I would say 60 to 80 percent of this collection is different from the one back home. It is much more colorful. There is much more height.
Is there a reason you did so many satin pieces especially for the Middle Eastern market?
In the States, we think of satin when we have a special occasion, but here it is every day, and it is so great. I love it! Because it kind of keeps fulfilling that fantasy, you know. And our distributor here, who is so smart, just kept saying “color, color, color”. And for me, trying to design a collection where there is color is like oh my gosh, perfect.
And the embellishment also does very well in this part of world. We Middle Eastern women just love anything that is shiny.
Yeah. As do I. We will try to source different and interesting things. I have found the abaya pretty inspirational because of its simplicity; the idea of the color of the shoes poking out from underneath in a sort of sneaky way is just very exciting. Have you ever worn one?
I actually have once, just recently. To visit the beautiful Abu Dhabi Mosque. You should try and squeeze a visit this trip if you can.
I would love to!
Sarah, what shoe style would you never design and never wear?
Here is the thing: As an actor I wear everything because I am playing parts all the time. I don’t have the I-will-never-wear rule. I just don’t. And I can’t design a shoe collection just for me. I have to think about what other people want. Even if it doesn’t look good on me.
So what makes a good shoe a good shoe?
It depends on a person. I love those Alexander Wang boots you’re wearing. They’re so cool. I mean it is such a personal experience. What I consider a great shoe, you might not. Your foot looks different in that shoe. Your ankle looks different in that shoe. And your heel feels different in that shoe. My heel doesn’t feel that good in that shoe. It is such a completely subjective experience. It is such a singular experience.
Sarah, most celebrity lines are immediately critiqued, making this a really courageous career jump for you. How has the transition been?
I am sure there are plenty of people who have objections and that’s why I stay off the internet. The transition has been incredibly exciting, fun, fulfilling, challenging, exciting, scary. But I am also working with a partner who has 40 years in the footwear industry and I am trying to listen a lot to our retail partners. The objections or the criticisms that I care about most are from the customer. I listen to that and we need to hear that. Everything else, all the chatter today, is just peripheral. There is not a lot I can do if somebody has decided that I shouldn’t be doing this. Trying to convince them otherwise would be close to impossible. They probably don’t know about how involved I am, or how much I care. Or how much work I put into this. And they are perfectly allowed to have that opinion.
Well, you are clearly not “dabbling” when you are in Dubai in person, meeting with your retailers.
I am in every meeting and I see every sample; in the end it is just myself and George. I have to be. And this is the way I have always functioned with anything I have done.
So what does your bio read now? Do you see yourself as an actress now or a designer? Or a bit of both?
Wife, mother, actor, designer.
Mother most importantly. I really admire the way you raise your kids.
Thank you. They are really nice children.
So the acting is not taking a back seat, am I right? Your fans want to see you do both!
No no, definitely not.
Speaking of your beautiful kids, I must ask you a question you must get asked all the time. How do you manage it all? You have the amazing kids, who we see you walking to school every morning in candid photos. You have the happy marriage, the phenomenonal decades-long career, and now this. Plus, you always manage to look incredible, even if you’re walking the kids to school in Uggs and jeans. If there was one piece of advice you would have to give, what would it be?
[Smiles warmly] You are very, very nice to say all that. I think what I always say in response to anyone saying anything that generous or kind is the same thing: That I am very lucky that I can make choices in my life and I can choose to be a working person, and I work because it brings me a lot of joy, satisfaction, and not because I have to. The fact that I can do all these things is really not that remarkable because I have the support that I need. I have the financial resources, and I have the human resources, and what I think is far more remarkable than what I do is the tens and hundreds and millions of women across the globe who have no support, no financial resources, no community, no family, and who hold down three jobs not because it brings them any joy or satisfaction, or creative energy, but because they have to. And the question we should be asking is how do they do it. How do they get up every day with two or three hours of sleep and raise two or three kids on their own and do a remarkable job. And their kids go on and have fulfilling lives, with a roof above their heads and the education that is needed, and somehow manage to get three meals. And not even that always. So for me that is the question. How do they do it?
I am literally in awe of you right now. That is not the type of response I would ever expect from a celebrity, to be honest.
Thanks, Haleh. Really. But I can do it because I have a choice and because I can hire wonderful babysitters and wonderful nannies.
And yet you still walk your kids to school yourself.
I do, because I love it and I love being a mother. I love that I have three healthy children. Mashallah. A new word I learned this week! [I also teach her the meanings behind hamdullilah and inshallah.]
Last question, Sarah. What is your present state of mind?
Enormous content and a lot of gratitude.
Hamdullilah. Another word you learned this week. I am so thrilled for you and wish you continued success. Thank you.
Thank you, Haleh!