From Cosmos to Manolos: Twenty Years of Sex and the City

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of an iconic television series which featured a quartet of fashionable women waiting for “to have it all” to happen.

The ground breaking HBO series, Sex and the City, which would run for the next six years, followed the lives, loves and tribulations of four best friends living in New York — sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), lawyer Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), art gallerist Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and PR maven Samantha (Kim Cattrall).

It was a show unlike anything that had come before — a brutally frank portrayal of single women in their 30s complete with explicit discussions and depictions of sex, their modern dating rituals and all the cringe-inducing embarrassing details that ensued, all from a woman’s perspective.

Adding to the sex, romance and friendships, the foursome was draped in a Vogue-worthy wardrobe and staged against the glittering metropolis of Manhattan.

The fashions featured on the show was like delicious dessert — you look forward to it but it wasn’t the main attraction. Patricia Field, the show’s costumer, was a brilliant stylist and turned Carrie into a veritable walking fashion magazine sporting a bevy of luxury labels mixed with vintage finds, all worn in a fun and eclectic way. Soon enough, fashion trends began to emerge from the show — the tutu in the opening credits, the naked dress on her first date with Mr. Big still signify a certain type of New York moment.

It was a potent mix that gave the show critical and commercial success and garnered a cult following. So much so, even after it ended on television, the foursome continued onto the big screen with two movies.

A third movie was in the works, to be released this month in time for the 20th anniversary, but plans fell through due to personal conflicts within the cast.

Even 20 years later, women still compare themselves and their friends to the characters on the show. A fact not lost on the woman who started it all, as author and columnist Candace Bushnell recounted in an oral history for The New York Times, “There were quite a few women who thought they were Samantha. A lot of that is due to the TV show. There’s a Carrie in every town and there’s a Samantha in every town — and I’ve met them all.”

In honour of the iconic show’s 20th anniversary, here are 20 quintessential SATC things.

1. The Cupcake Craze
Trendy restaurants were a constant backdrop for the show’s action, but it was a sleepy bakery that we remember.  After the episode that showed Carrie and Miranda sitting in front of the Magnolia Bakery in the West Village, indulging in the sweet treats, the shop went viral before viral was a thing, even though the show never mentioned its name. Magnolia Bakery became so popular they had to hire a bouncer to control the long lines of customers that snaked down the street. The former school bake sale standby became an elevated stand out dessert the world over.

2. Single Women Flock to New York
Whether it was for a glamorous career, finding true love or tight-knit female friendships, the show inspired many young women to seek out a life in the Big Apple. To mark the anniversary, The New York Times, featured such women including, Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, who ditched her fiancé in 2001 and made the pilgrimage to the city for a new life. Her dream became a reality and today, she’s a writer and the author of the just-about-to-be released book, Sex and the City and Us.

3. Young Female Columnists
The television series was adapted from Candace Bushnell Bushnell’s book based on the columns she wrote for The New York Observer. Due to the popularity of the show, numerous newspapers’ editors latched on to the idea that they should also have their own Carrie to detail the exploits of the not-so-young and restless on the make.

4. A Fetish for Flower Pins
The fabric floral pin often worn by Carrie on her lapel kept getting bigger and bigger as the series progressed. But costume designer Field had a habit of pushing the trends, then dropping them like yesterday’s sex column,  only to bring it back to cement its status as a signature style note. The flower pin was such an item. By the time the first Sex and the City movie rolled around the flower pin was now cartoonishly gigantic in proportion — almost to signify how big the trend had bloomed.

5. The Nameplate Necklace
The “Carrie” necklace, was one of the rare items she consistently wore through out the series run and became a major plot point in the final episode, when she thought she had lost it in Paris. It showed Carrie’s world of uptown and downtown New York, as it was inspired by hip hop fashion and worn with her designer luxury labels. Sarah Jessica Parker said while she got to keep most of her wardrobe — and it’s all archived and in storage — the Carrie necklace is the one item she treasures the most.

6. Making Manolo Blahnik a Household Name
Carrie had a major shoe fetish and one of her favourite brands was Manolo Blahnik, which played a major role in several episodes. She was once held up at gun point in Soho and robbed of her Blahnik’s. She discovered the Holy Grail of Blahnik’s — a black patent Mary-Jane pump — in the accessories closet at the Vogue magazine offices. When she decided to throw herself a shower, celebrating her singlehood, she registered at the Manolo Blahnik boutique. The Spanish shoe designer, Manolo Blahnik, for his part, designed a shoe and named it after her — the ultimate thank-you.

7. Headscarves are a Thing
Another trend the show promoted was headscarves. But not done in a lady-like manner a la Jackie O. Instead, Carrie would wear these — usually Hermes —  silk scarves in a variety of ways, including memorably a do-rag style.

8. White Patent Pumps
The Carrie character’s style was so memorable because it played with bad taste. For instance, Carrie ignited a craze for the white patent pump. Normally reserved for brides — or seen on some women whose “office” is a street corner late at night — Carrie gave the white pump a chic makeover by making it acceptable to wear during the day, anytime of the year and even dressed down with tiny shorts.

9. The “It” Bag
While the show obsessed over shoes, one handbag managed to steal the spotlight away from footwear — the Fendi Baguette. The show spent a few episodes rhapsodizing over these popular designer bags. So much so, one episode even featured a plot line over the next best thing to these ludicrously expensive handbags — the knock-off versions.

10. The Brazilian
Surprisingly, the show did not promote a lot of beauty trends. Sure, there was the episode where Samantha went for a disastrous chemical peel and Carrie’s ombre highlights, there wasn’t one dominant beauty trend. However, after the girls got a Brazilian wax during a trip to L.A., it entered the mainstream and women across North America were asking for this painful hair removal procedure.

11. Consuming Cosmos
The vodka, triple sec and cranberry concoction was Carrie’s signature cocktail and during the heydays of the television show no viewing party was complete without this pink drink. When the first movie rolled around, Miranda wondered why they stopped drinking it, to which Carrie replied, “Because everyone else started.”

12. Tourism and the City Tour
New York City was the fifth leading character on the show. It was no surprise that SATC as bus tours started popping up around Manhattan to take tourists  to visit the streets, bars and cafes where the series was filmed. The tour became so popular that in a meta-moment, it was featured on the Aaron Sorkin show, The Newsroom.

13. Making HBO a Major Player
The other big hit the cable network had during the late 1990s was The Sopranos. But the ratings juggernaut? That was SATC. With the 54 Emmy nominations it helped establish HBO as a network and paved the way for the other hits that was to come, including, Six Feet Under, The Wire, True Blood, Game of Thrones and, of course, Girls, the Lena Dunham-penned comedy series, featuring four young women in their 20s, navigating life and love in Brooklyn.

14. Sex Toys
An entire generation of women got to learn about the joys of a little device known as The Rabbit. Novelty underwear also got mentioned — including the kind you never knew existed: behold The Pearl Thong. Charlotte Semler, one of the founders behind Myla, the luxury sex brand behind the Pearl Thong said in an interview with The Guardian they sold thousands of the item due to the show. She also credited the show for changing women’s attitudes and telling them it was okay to spend money on such items for fun.

15. Giving Sex the Feminine Touch
The show broke many barriers, one of which was the portrayal of sex from a female point of view in a shockingly frank way. From anal sex, cunnilingus, the taste of sperm, abortion, threesomes, S&M, female orgasms, premature ejaculation, sex toys to tantric sex — it seem no subject was so taboo that it couldn’t be mined for laughs. One of the executive producers, Michael Patrick King, credits the show for putting a very flattering light on sex. “We took the shame out of it and we made it fun.”

16. The Hamptons
Just a hop away from New York City, The Hamptons was an exclusive posh enclave reserved for millionaires. The girls would hop on a bus and head out to a rented summer share. It was the exact moment, during the early 2000’s, when the sleepy beach town was being invaded by the New Money set. It’s also where Carrie discovered that Big had married someone else.

17. Real Estate Reality
Being set in Manhattan, it was no surprise that real estate was as much a factor as fashion and mirrored what was happening in the character’s lives.  Carrie’s brownstone, which she could never have afforded to live in in real-life Manhattan, was a constant source of viewer envy. When Samantha moved into the Meatpacking District, the once sleazy neighbourhood was in the midst of being gentrified into a glorified shopping district with designer boutiques and cool watering-holes. Likewise, towards the final season, when Miranda moved to Brooklyn, that was the latest hottest neighbourhood that had many New Yorkers moving to in droves.

18. Thank You for Smoking
The show didn’t portray smoking as cool — that was done numerous times before in the movies. The Marlboro brand that Carrie favoured was already iconic — hello, Marlboro Man — but gave her a certain journalistic edginess, as newspaper writers are known to indulge in the habit — especially the shots of her putting out her cigarette with her Manolos. But the changing smoking by-laws of New York was also reflected in the show. Just as it became frowned upon to light up, the writers addressed the issue by making her kick the habit.

19. Female Driven Shows
A generation after SATC, another HBO show, Girls, openly acknowledged its predecessor’s influence with a SATC poster in Lena Dunham’s character’s apartment in the opening scene. Complicated female characters and female ensembles became common place from Desperate Housewives to, most recently, Big Little Lies.

20. After Life
One of the downsides to a hugely successful show run, it’s sometimes hard to separate the actor from the iconic role they played — even after 20 years.  Sarah Jessica Parker would always be Carrie to most. Kim Cattrall has unsuccessfully tried to distance herself from Samantha’s raunchier side. And Kristen Davis as the prissy Charlotte has not broken through onscreen since. Cynthia Nixon, who played no-nonsense lawyer Miranda Hobbs, is currently running for governor of New York. And if you look at social media response, you would clearly see people having a hard time distinguishing Nixon from the cynical lawyer persona she played. “Miranda for governor is the ending to SATC that we so richly deserved,” said Twitter user @racheld.