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Hoping for a chance to walk in Carrie's Manolos

March 13, 2004|Lauren Sandler | Special to The Times

NEW YORK — If it's true that the fifth lady on "Sex and the City" was the city of New York, then the sixth one was certainly fashion. This week, the last vestiges of Carrie Bradshaw's iconic couture were laid to rest -- or rather sold off to real-life New Yorkers looking for love and nostalgia among the racks of a downtown boutique. Maybe corporate lawyer Miranda could have bought her frocks off the floor at Barney's, but Carrie, who clicks away on her laptop at home, would send you straight to the resale oasis, called Ina.

The small storefront is run by Ina herself (just "Ina," like just "Madonna"), who provided a good deal of clothing to famed "Sex and the City" costume designer Patricia Field to outfit Carrie and the gang. And so when Field got a call from HBO that the costume department needed to vacate its wardrobe headquarters immediately last week, Ina and her longtime fashion colleague struck a deal for the remainders.

The four stars had already claimed most of their wardrobe, as was written into their contracts, but there was still a cargo-hold of fashion to go around. And so Ina, an aging fashionista in dark eye makeup and a diamond sperm pendant, moved the stash to her Tribeca apartment. Her attitude about having these cultish items overtake her home was as typically New York as her all-black outfit. "When you've been in the fashion business this long, this stuff doesn't mean anything," she said.

Tell that to the hundreds of women who lined up in the early morning sun Thursday to wait for Ina to raise the metal grate over her door.

By 9, a line of young women had covered a block and a half, as delivery men tried to push their metal carts around the street-clogging queue of breathless fans. You could pick out a Charlotte here, in her white wool coat and demurely buckled boots, and a Carrie in powder blue Uggs and a miniskirt. Ten o'clock, when the 12-hour, one-day-only sale was to begin, couldn't come fast enough.

On "Sex and the City," it seems that clothes not only made the woman, they became the woman. It's no accident Field was credited each week immediately after the executive story editor.

As some critics have noted, over the years it seems the couture usurped character, and Sarah Jessica Parker was often rendered a smiling or brow-furrowing petite hanger on which to hang her personality. It's not a shock that she became the what-is-she-wearing queen of the screen. Nor that obsessed fans -- the sort of people who sport tank tops that say "I'm a Charlotte" or "I'm a Samantha" -- would pay an EBay seller $5,000 for a vintage sundress Parker wore in the final season or shiver outside in stilettos as temperatures hovered in the 30s, surrounded by the TV cameras that appear every time "Carrie" and "fashion" are uttered in the same breath.

A pair of those quaking feet, in sky-high beige sandals, belong to a blond ponytailed actress named Katie Donohue, one of the first fans in the door. "I'm wearing these shoes for Carrie," she said. "I had to go all out today, inspired by her. This is like a national holiday for me. I'll buy anything here just to have it."

Donohue, for one, has been devastated by the end of the show. She bawled her way through last month's finale, which she has watched countless times the last couple of weeks, she recounts with a sigh, reaching for a pink specimen of lingerie, no doubt the foundation of one of Carrie's famous layered looks.

"I totally can't afford this, and I don't even really know what it is," Donohue said sighing again, "but I'm thinking of it as buying art. You'd spend this much for a piece of art, right?"

That's one way to look at the racks of clothing cluttering this small store. Items blend together like the colors of an eccentric woman's wardrobe, until a frock announces itself as an iconic moment -- for example, the chocolate-brown striped Ella Moss dress that is quickly recognized as the one Carrie wore on her date to rekindle flames with her high school boyfriend, played by David Duchovny. "That is so mine!" a curly-haired blond yells, snatching it off the rack.

Even better: the multicolored suede patch jacket Carrie was wearing when she met her former fiance, Aidan. "There it is! I can't believe I've found it," says auburn-locked Stephanie Espenshade, quickly pulling off her own overcoat to slide this prize over a ruffled red blouse. In the years since that episode aired, Espenshade has hunted for this garment on EBay and in chat rooms. "I just knew I had to have it. I heard from someone it was vintage, and I almost cried 'cause I knew I could never find it."

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