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Gotham’s fashion elite dress up for ‘Sex’

Film incarnation of HBO hit a magnet for designers

Manhattan’s style setters are getting ready for their closeups as they near the fashion event of the season — the May premiere of “Sex and the City: The Movie.”

“The closet doors were thrown open by the fashion houses,” says producer John Melfi. “As generous as they were with the series, they were even more so with the film.”

That’s because during its six-year run from 1998 to 2004, the HBO series made many of fashion’s most upscale brands into household names. The film, “Sex and the City on Steroids” as Melfi calls it, promises to reach an even broader audience of fashion-obsessed fans.

“We have a constant flow of tourists who come into our New York City store asking to try on the shoes that Sarah Jessica (Parker) wore on the show,” says Manolo Blahnik president George Malkemus. “Girls want to take pictures of themselves in the shoes. With the movie, there will be even more of that. ‘Sex and the City’ opened up a whole new world for us.”

Melfi, who was also an executive producer on the series, says fashion and its key players have an important supporting role in the film. “We could never have made the movie without their help because we couldn’t afford to shop those clothes,” he says. “We had a healthy budget, but it was nowhere near what couture costs. When (costume designer) Patricia Field came calling, everyone was so willing to work with us; it made all the difference in being able to depict the reality of these women’s lives in New York City.”

He also credits the film’s star, Parker, for “putting herself out there” and making calls to houses she formed relationships with during the series’ heyday. “We definitely piggybacked onto Sarah’s relationships,” Melfi says. “There was just so much good will there.”

According to Melfi, a who’s who of designers, jewelers and accessory mavens lined up to do wardrobe for the film. Vivienne Westwood provided Parker’s character Carrie’s all-important wedding dress. Estate jeweler Fred Leighton’s pricey baubles are worn by Parker and are auctioned off at Christie’s in the film. Manolo Blahnik designed a shoe for the actress. And luxury label Leiber created a bejeweled “cupcake” minaudiere for character Charlotte’s daughter.

The final tally of fashionistas that supported the film is as long as the wait list for an Hermes Birkin bag. “You could name pretty much any of the biggest designers out there and they have something in the movie,” Melfi says.

Virtually all of these companies, he says, did so simply for “special thanks.” A few, like jeweler H. Stern, the producer notes, brokered their own “promotional” deals. (Melfi declines to disclose the terms of those contracts.)

“We consider this an opportunity to present the uniqueness of the jewelry,” says Rebecca Selva, director of publicity for Fred Leighton, which also provided the rare 19th-century gems worn by Kirsten Dunst in “Marie Antoinette” and all the jewelry for Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestley in “The Devil Wears Prada.”

Leighton worked with the producers in exchange for onscreen credit. “For us, it’s based on having incredible working relationships with people who understand what we can bring to a film that you can’t buy,” Selva says.

Although the industry has garnered plenty of attention in recent years on the bigscreen and on television hits like “Project Runway” and “America’s Next Top Model,” “Sex” stands alone with the finicky fashion crowd for its authentic yet clearly aspirational depiction of the style set.

“The series was critical in teaching a television audience about fashion,” says Fern Mallis, senior vice president of IGM fashion, the company that produces Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York.

Mallis, who has a cameo in the film, worked with Melfi and Mercedes Benz to re-create the tents at Bryant Park — a mecca for true fashion insiders — for a climactic scene in the film.

The film also got the all-

important nod from Vogue. Having shot at the fashion bible’s offices during the series, “Sex” now holds the distinction of being the only feature film to do so. “The movie got (editor) Anna Wintour’s blessing,” says Andre Leon Talley, Vogue’s editor at large. Talley plays himself styling Carrie as she’s photographed modeling wedding dresses for the magazine. “It’s a fabulous scene — all about what a chic New York woman should wear for her wedding,” Talley says. “It’s all very Vogue and of course, Carrie Bradshaw is the ideal Vogue woman.”

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