When we first caught wind, way back before anyone was actually reading this, of Sarah Jessica Parker's first-ever clothing line and its unexpected taking up of residence at the beyond-classy Steve & Barry's discount sport shop, we were thrilled. Such material! She of the mortgage-priced shoe collection! A poster girl for the $20 outfit! And using Oprah's couch as a soap box to do so! Oh, but quickly we soured. We began grumpily to resent SJP's notion that she was Some Great Philanthropist. And then we resented her resenting us. We found ourselves, for the first time in ever, siding with the stylegentsia. Whose abiding question about Bitten by SJP could be boiled down to: Why so ugly? So it was with no small sense of duty — and no big sense of enthusiasm — that we approached the Manhattan Mall Steve & Barry's.
That was, until, we saw the crowds. What followed was an encroaching intellectual torment, of the sorts we hadn't felt since debating the finer points of Derrida back in college. (Yes, Jen is a nerd. And no, her editor does not have any Derrida jokes handy.)
The crowds and their enthusiasm were unlike anything we had ever seen: More intense than when we flocked with the gays to go see Streisand in concert, more intense than when we flocked with the gays to see Madonna in concert, more intense than when we flocked with the gays to see Bill and Hillary campaign together (which is weirdly like these first two things, trust us). The adoration was palpable, and as much as I initially suspected that the intensity of the mad dash was a reflection of fans' rather common desire to buy a piece of their favorite celeb by buying something with said celeb's name on it, this was clearly something more. And all of the people (yes people - not just women. Many a middle-aged husband was there too... do they not have work today? Or is that why they're here?) were saying the same thing:
"I am so glad that She did this for me."
Yes, "She," Capitalized. Her name and face were printed on images all over the store, but her name itself was rarely spoken, as if she were a minor deity. I met two girls, best friends, who had shown up at 9:30 am, run and purchased their Bitten clothes, and then jumped on the autograph line (which, literally, wrapped around and around the many floors of the Manhattan Mall). They were just "soooo excited" to have, as the videos of SJP talking about the line on constant loop throughout the store informed us again and again, some nice affordable clothes.
And so: to the clothes. An enigma, Bitten. The line does not seem to entirely know who its for or what it wants to be. The marketing (especially the damn video we watched approximately eighty six times in our two hours there) exudes: "juniors section." SJP waxes, in the video, on and on about "girls" and "school" and "cool," etc. etc. etc. And certainly, the little smocked tops and tees emblazoned with cutesy phrases emblazoned on them that imply that yes, middle school is just what "Bitten" aims to be. And perhaps, given this, we don't need Bitten to be adventurous, or tastemaking, or anything more exciting than the average season at Aeropostale.
But then! Other selections are matronly: all high necks and long hemlines. There are these robes, too, the mental image of which we just cannot shake: They look like the very ones you might wear while trying to shield your cold, naked body from the glare of the fluorescent lighting while at the gynocologist...or the loony bin! Yes, some items seemed to miss the mark.
All merchandise, of course, flew off the shelves. In the hour I was there, I watched entire walls of clothes stripped and looted, by what appeared to be middle-aged women. I spoke to a group of four of them; they had driven in from New Jersey. They asked me to photograph them with their shopping bags, and I complied. Through the viewfinder I peered at faces flush with a jubilation I could not quite fathom, and so I asked to see a purchase. They complied. A polo, pink, with puffed sleeves. Surely, Old Navy.
So yes, as you must imagine, it was hard to hate the woman behind the clothing line that inspired such impromptu moments of bonding and friendship. The clothes were cheap, yes, but they were also soft and comfy (or so the people who braved the dressing room lines told me) and made people feel good about themselves.
Our icy hearts began to thaw.
Then, just before heading out, but while witnessing the clusterfuck to end all clusterfucks surrounding OMG SJP'S IN-STORE AUTOGRAHPING APPEARANCE, a Steve & Barry's employee, a la Amanda Lepore?, told me I looked confused, assumed I had lost my way in the autograph line (which was easily, no joke, 800 people deep), and bumped me to the front.
I panicked as I felt myself inching closer and closer to SJP herself. What would I say to her when my moment came? I hadn't even showered, and only moments before leaving my house decided to swap out my giant sweatpants and an old wife-beater for a pair of black pants and a black sweater I, literally, lifted off the floor - I was in no shape to even appear before Sarah Jessica, yet alone say something to her. As my bag was taken from me (you were not allowed to be carrying anything as you approached Her, lest, we assume, the terrorists decide to try and win again) the words suddenly tumbled out of my mouth,
"My 15-year old brother absolutely adores you. He seriously loves you more than anyone. He says one of his life goals is to meet you. Would you mind signing "To Jason"?" She gasped and said, "This is the best thing anyone has told me all day! Where is Jason? " and she started to write a note to him as I explained that he was tucked away in Atlanta, "You tell Jason I say hi. Personally. Call him right now when you leave and tell him Sarah Jessica says hi - and promise him I will come to Atlanta soon and tell him I want to meet him when I'm there." A Steve & Barry's employee came towards me, signaling that my one-on-one time with Sarah Jessica was coming to a close. As I started to walk away she hollered back at me, "No! really promise me you'll tell him I said that! Please, please tell Jason I say hi!".
This woman is impossible to hate, and in turn, so is her clothing line.
Also, $8 for a bathing suit?! I'm so going back for some of that shit.