"Sex and the City" lifted product branding to new heights

Not since "The Devil Wears Prada" in 2006 has the buildup to a fashion-driven movie been so major.

Although "Sex and the City" doesn't open until Friday, the 142-minute flick already has become a case study in product branding and American consumerism, especially in terms of fashion.

"They said this was the TV show where fashion became its own character, so it will be interesting to see if that character has evolved," says eBay style director and former fashion journalist Constance White.

The award-winning HBO series, which ran from 1999 to 2004, was at the vanguard of intentionally fashion-focused cable television. Over six style-driven and sex-filled seasons, "Sex and the City" made the mundane glamorous and turned luxury brands into household names, from cupcakes and Cosmopolitans to Fendi handbags and Manolo Blahnik stilettoes.

Along the way, the diverse styles of Carrie Bradshaw, Miranda Hobbes, Samantha Jones and Charlotte York became more polished as the characters evolved.

For the motion picture, offbeat costumer and stylist Patricia Field infused current runway trends with edgy and avant-garde styling. There's lots of color, graphic prints and some supersized hats, and the most ubiquitous accessory is the belt.

In the movie, as in the series, lead character Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is the most fashion-fascinating. The blossoms that she made a red-hot accessory -- and that grew larger over the life of the TV series -- are back, and bigger than ever.

Ms. Field also brought back plenty of Manolos, along with major luxury brand names such as Vivienne Westwood (who stitched up Carrie's breathtaking wedding gown).

She also updated the fashion story with clothes by wunderkind designer Zac Posen. And Burberry is all over the place, from coats worn by Carrie and and her assistant Louise (Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson) to Charlotte's white clutch purse and Miranda's silver platform sandals, part of her bridesmaid ensemble.

Who else is prominent in the brand mix? Names ranging from Mercedes Benz and VitaminWater to SKYY Vodka, Bacardi Silver Mojito and online accessories lender bagborroworsteal.com.

All of the fashion "visual cues ... will spill over in time for fall and holiday," predicts longtime trend and market analyst Tom Julian, president of the Tom Julian Group, a New York-based brand consultancy.

"As a movie formula it has four distinct-looking women, a major fashion city like New York City, a costume designer in Patricia Field, the fact that Carrie now works at 'Vogue.' The fashion eye will be glued to the film this summer."

The movie already appears to be generating some electricity in an otherwise lethargic economy, even before the bar, restaurant, boutique and home parties planned across the nation for opening weekend.

For example, eBay reports that over the past month -- usually a slow season for fashion retail -- sales at the online auction site have increased 64 percent for Manolo Blahnik shoes, 61 percent for menswear-inspired women's clothing and 19 percent for La Perla intimates (another brand boosted by the TV show).

Yet, Ms. White questions whether the movie will have an effect on style-conscious women equal to the TV show or "The Devil Wears Prada."

The film's core audience is expected to be women in their 30s and 40s, she noted, "and I don't know if that woman is going to look to the movie to tell her what to wear."

While noting that the addition of 26-year-old Ms. Hudson, an African American, may widen the audience in terms of ethnicity and age, Ms. White suggested that the movie's biggest impact may be outside fashion.

"It could have impact in terms of general lifestyle," she said. "A new drink could emerge and become a great trend. Maybe vacation spots or places in the movie could become popular."

Show lifted product branding to new heights

Post-Gazette fashion editor LaMont Jones can be reached at ljones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1469. First Published May 26, 2008 4:00 AM


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