Sarah Jessica Parker has never been shy about the hardships she faced growing up poor with her seven sisters and brothers in Cincinnati, nor how that experience—and the bonds of her family—helped shape the woman she has become. It even plays an important role in how she designs.
“My mom had lots of opinions about how we should look when we walked out the door,” Parker recalls. “We may not have come from money, but she had some pretty grand ideas about how presentable we should be. She had to be very industrious, and very thrifty, to make some of our clothing last.”
Rummage sales, consignment stores, and the factory outlet for Polly Flinders, a bygone label of well-made girls’ clothing in Cincinnati, were the sources of much of the family wardrobe, with clothes passed from sibling to sibling as each one aged. Parker carries on that tradition to this day with her own children, albeit for nostalgic and conservational reasons rather than out of necessity. In a world that is now filled with luxury kids’ clothes and disposable fast fashion, it was this wistfulness for a simpler time that inspired Parker when she set out to design her first children’s collection, in partnership with GapKids, on sale March 1.
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“That’s sort of why we’re calling it the Hand-Me-Down Collection,” Parker says. “My siblings and I always made fun of my mother because she saved everything, and we would haul it all around from house to house. But when we came to have our own children, we were really thrilled to have all our clothes from childhood. There are 12 grandchildren, so we’re always passing around clothing.”
For Parker, whose long association with the fashion industry has expanded in recent years with her SJP Collection, working with Gap represented something of a homecoming since she appeared in the advertising for the retailer more than a decade ago, post-Sex and the City. GapKids has previously collaborated with Stella McCartney, Diane von Furstenberg, and Kate Spade, and beginning this month its designs with Parker, which also include two women's dresses, will similarly be sold for a limited time online and in stores.
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The first pieces are adorably all about cartoon bunnies, which appear as illustrations on Ts or shaped as critter-friendly backpacks and handbags. They’re conveniently timed for Easter but, in fact, refer to the long-held superstition that rabbits bring good luck. On the first of every month, following the habit of English folklore, “rabbit, rabbit” are the first words out of Parker’s mouth (and also typed in the caption of whatever image she posts on social media that day). In the designs, developed with her older sister Rachel, Parker is as sentimental about details like smocking, rickrack trims, and gingham checks as she is about her superstitions. She never says the name of Shakespeare’s “Scottish play” in a theater (known as Macbeth to everyone else) nor whistles backstage.
“Because it’s a pretty tight collection, we really just had to be disciplined about how those ideas ended up,” Parker says. “We also wanted a lot of things to be genderless, because certain pieces in our house moved back and forth between the boys and the girls.”
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Parker herself never had a choice in the matter. She didn’t own any pants until she was 11, and then it was a pair of Rachel's jeans that had been lengthened for years using strips of floral tapestry tape. It wasn’t until after she moved to New York City to begin her Broadway career as a teen that Parker began to form her own sense of style, and even then she found herself attracted to vintage stores like Alice Underground and Screaming Mimis. Once she had her own kids, it proved impossible to break the habit of recycling older clothes.
“I was most assuredly dressing them for as long as I could,” she says. “But eventually, your children start telling you that they have ideas about themselves, and far sooner than my mom allowed us, I allowed my children to make their own choices. I think my mother was right, and amazing, but I just don’t have the same will.
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“So the rule in our house is that from Sunday night through Thursday night, my personal objections don’t matter as long as what the kids are wearing is appropriate for the weather and whatever the school requires,” Parker continues. “But on Friday and Saturday, I like to encourage them to make an effort that isn’t related to ripped-up leggings and T-shirts.”
Parker is pleased to return to Gap after so many years to make a point that people, like good clothes, shouldn’t be treated as disposable. After her last campaign for the store ended in 2005, right as Parker was turning 40, several newspapers reported she had been fired and replaced by a younger model—something that both Parker and Gap have long denied.
“I was really upset about that, because there was no intention of ever extending it on either side,” Parker says. “And I feel like I never got to correct the record, you know? So it’s nice to be back with them and to be wanted. I feel like, in some subtle, quiet way, it kind of is a nice little period at the end of that sentence, you know?”
Scroll down to see more from the collection.
For more stories like this, pick up the March issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download Feb. 9.