THIRTEEN years ago I lived in a flat-share in London with two of my best female friends.
We were 23, single and dating. We were just starting out in our careers, we worked long hours. But come the weekend we would go OUT.
Sometimes just for a couple of drinks. Sometimes all night. Sometimes the entire 48 hours.
We spent money we didn’t really have on clothes and shoes, went to trendy restaurants and bars, gossiped into the early hours nightly — over copious amounts of wine — about every aspect of our lives; work, relationships, fashion.
Sex And The City, a show that defined our late teens and university years, had come to its official end the year before. But in our lives, it lived on.
One of my flatmates had bought the entire six series on video (yes, it was that long ago) and played it on a loop in her room every single waking minute we were at home.
Carrie’s ups and downs with Big and Aidan, Samantha’s sex life (and Charlotte’s lack of it, during her brief failed marriage to Trey) and Miranda’s epic love story with Steve was the soundtrack to our daily life.
Crazy as it may sound now — given no TV show since appears to have spoken to young women in the same obsessive, devotion-inspiring way — we even referred to ourselves as the different characters.
As a fledgling journalist and shoe and fashion obsessive (with briefly, my own “Big” — oh, how I cringe now), I was the flat’s Carrie. My best friend — dark-haired, beautiful, traditional — was Charlotte.
My other feisty, sexy, terrifyingly smart flatmate was Samantha (she was the one who played the series on a loop).
We didn’t have a Miranda but that was only because our flat didn’t have a fourth bedroom.
It was, without doubt at the time, the biggest single influence on the way we lived.
And as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of when it first aired, it seems more than fitting to acknowledge how much the show shaped a generation of women.
Because for the first time, here were four female characters on our prime-time television screens who were as dominant as men.
They were driven, ambitious and had strong, and often opposing, points of view.
They argued. They exasperated us. They challenged us.
Charlotte’s brand of stay-at-home-wife feminism ran exactly counter to Miranda working all hours and employing a nanny.
It posed questions and never dictated answers.
And they were utterly unafraid not just to talk about sex, but treat it the same way men have for generations — as fun, free of strings and empowering. The show gave women a licence, not to go out and have sex without thinking of the consequences, but to find our own path and be unafraid while doing it.
That was the beauty of each of the four, flawed characters. In their imperfection, they were relatable. They were us.
And they also showed us what we could become. Liberated. Career-driven. Single. Happy. And free.
Even Carrie’s obsessive quest for “true love” suggested “happy endings” shouldn’t always be our goal.
In the triumphant first Sex And The City movie (let’s forget about the abysmal sequel) hadn’t single Samantha actually found a happier life than Carrie and Big had?
And wasn’t the real story underneath it the force of female friendship? Isn’t that what made it so vitally important to the show’s millions of female fans?
HERE are some of the A-list guests who who made cameos on the show.
- Donald Trump: Now US President, he was eyeing Samantha in an uncredited role on season two.
- Jon Bon Jovi: Superstar rocker played a photographer who had a fling with Carrie.
- Geri Horner: Former Spice Girl was Samantha’s friend Phoebe.
- Justin Theroux: In season one he played a budding writer who tried to pick up Carrie at a bar. In season two, he played shaven-headed Vaughn Wysel, who had a sex issue.
- Lucy Liu: Played herself in season four.
Because romantic relationships can be transient. Forty-two per cent of today’s marriages end in divorce.
But as Carrie famously said: “Maybe we can be each other’s soulmates and then we can let men be just these great, nice guys to have fun with.”
Yes, looking back, the show wasn’t perfect.
For a start, there were very few African-American or mixed-race characters for a city as diverse as New York.
But at the time it was ground-breaking, with Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha smashing all the expected female TV rules: Graphic, feminist and even bondage sex. Boy, how Samantha enjoyed that one.
Tackling money, gender pay gaps and equality in the workplace long before it became such a fierce public debate, virtually every character faced their own battles in that respect.
Miranda, to be taken seriously as a mother and a law partner; Carrie facing up to her own financial flaws as well as commercial value; Charlotte fighting for her share of Trey’s fortune; and Samantha’s flourishing and hugely successful own business.
And, of course, fashion. For as influential as the characters were in shaping the way we lived our lives, they were possibly even more influential as to how we dressed.
The show didn’t just launch the four leading actresses into the stratosphere.
It also made the career of Sex And The City’s stylist Patricia Field.
While style icons traditionally came from the red carpet, Carrie Bradshaw was the first TV character that defined trends, brought new looks and introduced iconic and rarefied designers to the viewing masses at home.
For a time it was almost impossible to distinguish Sarah Jessica Parker, who worked closely with Patricia, from her alter-ego. Carrie was, in effect, the original street style star, the Brownstone-lined avenues of New York her catwalk.
Each episode was a fashion feast, as her character threw together looks that were in parts fabulous, fantastical and sometimes downright bonkers.
Does anyone else remember the tie-dye purple sports leggings with heels and a bandana?
Or her cropped shirt, skirt and a belt tied around her bare midriff for no other reason than she fancied an experiment?
Or the time she went out for groceries in a swimsuit, heels and a flat cap?
But equally, Carrie inspired and created trends — with Patricia working with the world’s biggest fashion labels to feature clothes and accessories timed to hit shops as the series aired.
When Carrie sported a Dior saddle bag, it instantly became a bestseller.
And when she took to wearing a Gucci bum bag, fashion declared the fanny pack officially back.
It wasn’t just Carrie, of course. Because each character was so defined — and so appealing — every woman could find their own fashion icon within the series.
Charlotte’s girl-next-door style was beautifully Jackie-O.
Miranda and Samantha, in their very different ways, both channelled Melanie Griffiths in Working Girl.
What’s incredible is how much staying power their individual styles have had.
You only need to look to today’s catwalks to see how the four women are still influencing how we dress.
Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Dior, with its netted ballgown skirts over embellished corsets, or Dolce & Gabbana’s colourful skintight looks are just as “Carrie” today as they were in 1999.
You can see Charlotte’s influence in all the pretty summer prom dresses by A-list favourite Harley Viera Newton and her HVN label.
This season’s Versace collection — Donatella’s tribute to her murdered brother Gianna — has “Samantha” written all over it.
THE stars made fashion statements that stood the test of time.
- Ballet skirt: Carrie’s skirt was there from beginning to end and is as influential as ever thanks to Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior.
- The crop: Miranda’s hair was the cut of the late Nineties, loved across the globe by women including Victoria Beckham.
- The colour block: Loved by Samantha, she was the queen of bold brights. Now a favourite with Balenciaga.
- Fifties dresses: Charlotte loved this style and it is still hot today.
- Monogrammed necklaces: Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger and more adopted Carrie’s love of this look.
And could Miranda BE any more Vetements or Celine?
In fact, Miranda — perhaps the most overlooked character from a fashion point of view — is arguably having the biggest renaissance of the four. The dungarees, the “ugly” trainers with her suits, the oversize jackets and coats.
These looks have dominated some of the most influential catwalks over the past three or four seasons.
Now, the real-life Miranda — actress Cynthia Nixon, who played her — is campaigning to become governor of New York.
In a nod to just how influential the characters still are today, Kristin Davis, who played Charlotte, recently posted a picture of herself on Instagram in support of Cynthia’s campaign. Cynthia’s two closest co-stars, SJP and Kristin, are also two of her biggest campaign supporters.
We weren’t crazy to find ourselves in these women.
We needed them — as much as the actresses who played them.
As SJP herself posted on social media just two days ago, next to throwback pictures from filming Sex And The City: “Were those some of the best years of your life? Abso-f***ing-lutely.”
For us, they still are.
- Natasha Pearlman is a former editor of Grazia magazine.