If Sex and the City had a signature shoe, it would without a doubt be the Manolo. At 400 bucks a pop, the footwear and best-selling book-turned-hit series are two extremely chic peas in a pod, thanks to author and creator Candace Bushnell, the real-life Carrie Bradshaw, and a self-professed shoe lover just like her curly-haired protagonist. In her new one-woman show “Is There Still Sex in The City?” at the Daryl Roth Theatre, Bushnell boldly declares, “Do I have a shoe obsession like Carrie Bradshaw? No. Carrie Bradshaw has a shoe obsession because of me.” It all started with one specific pair that “changed her life”—the black patent leather knee-high boots that she wore to her interview with The New York Observer, which led to her landing the infamous column, which led to the book, and then the TV show, and so on and so forth.
In ELLE’s series Clothes of Our Lives, we decode the sartorial choices made by powerful women, and explore how fashion can be used as a tool for communication. Below in her own words, Bushnell recalls how her future was forever altered by (what else?) a pair of Manolos.
It’s a very Sex and the City story. I have a girlfriend—I called her Amalita Amalfi—and she was one of my many friends who I had started writing about in the ‘80s, which is when I started writing about my Samantha, my Charlotte, my Miranda, and dozens of other women.
Not everything that’s on the TV show is entirely accurate, but [Amalita] is a very close friend of mine, and she was a real fashionista. She was obsessed with clothes and shoes. Manolo Blahnik wasn’t really known outside of fashion circles at the time, and she was just crazy about them. One day—coincidentally, when I was going to interview for a column at The New York Observer—she called me up and said that these amazing boots had come in and I had to run to Manolo and get them immediately. She was like, “These boots are gonna be magical. You’ll see. If you get these boots, your life will change.” She wasn’t kidding.
Being that this is New York, where we all need our little bit of luck, I went to go find them. They were black patent leather boots with a pointy toe, and they were super, super chic. When I found them, they miraculously had them in my size. They were also $600, which, at the time, was really a lot of money. I hate to say this, but now those boots would probably cost $1,500.
Back in the ‘90s, New York was a place where your shoes really mattered, because people judged you by your shoes. There was a saying that when you went into a restaurant, the maitre d’ would look at your shoes. Designer only existed in Manhattan, London, Paris, and maybe Chicago. It’s not like today where it’s everywhere. It was a sign that you belonged to this elite group of people “in the know.” Those kinds of things were important signifiers. Fashion doesn’t work like that anymore. Everything is more widely available.
I think [Amalita] always had high hopes that I would meet some society guy; instead, I bought the boots and had an interview with The Observer to be a gossip columnist. I was literally carrying the shoes in a shopping bag! I did not get the job, so I put the boots away, and then the editor-in-chief called me and offered me my own column. For the first piece, I wore the boots and went to a sex club called Le Trapeze, where a photographer took a picture of me standing on top of a pile of garbage in a towel wearing them. That was the beginning of Sex and the City. I guess they did bring me luck.
The story was called “Swingin’ Sex? I Don’t Think So ...” Before I went to Le Trapeze, I went to a dinner for Karl Lagerfeld at Bowery Bar. I wore the boots there too—they worked for society and sex. They did it all!
When I bought the boots, I remember the saleswoman telling me, “These are fabulous.” They were definitely the hot boot, not to mention my first pair of Manolos. Picture a three and a half-inch heel with a zipper up the back, all the way up to the knee. I wore them with everything, even to black-tie events. You had to have something you could walk in, and I walked a lot in those shoes. I even had rubber bottoms put on them. I wore them everywhere, for years.
Twenty-seven years later, I still have the boots—they’re even a prop in my show. I always hung onto them because I wore them on my first assignment. I always thought, “Someday, people are going to realize that these boots are special. These boots were made for writing.”
The opening lines of Sex and the City are about single women: “They travel, they pay taxes, they’ll spend $400 on a pair of Manolo Blahnik strappy sandals.” It’s still true.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.