Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha's relationship choices on the HBO series

Sex and the City

were often painful to watch, but their fashion choices sparked major trends. (Can we say Manolo Blahnik, the pink cell phone, the Carrie necklace, Jimmy Choos?) As designers vied for snippets of screen time, fashion's role in the show grew . . . and grew . . . and grew.

In SATC's long-awaited big-screen debut, fashion is officially the film's fifth main character. We see our favorite fashionistas search for, preen in, ogle at and simply walk around in a bevy of absolutely dreamlike, hot-off-the-runway ensembles.

It is fashion - not Cosmopolitans - that bond these women. And four years later, it's the anticipation of their every on-screen fashion move that bonds us to them.

"I am Carrie Bradshaw," gushed Natasha Baglin Tuesday evening at a Sex and the City cocktail reception held at Old Original Bookbinder's in Old City. Baglin, 29, praised the fashion choices of Sarah Jessica Parker's eclectically dressed alter ego, Carrie.

"I channel Carrie. There is absolutely no problem that a pair of Manolos can't solve."

Tuesday night's event brought out local women eager to bond and hype about the turns our heroines' lives have taken four years after the show ended. In true Sex and the City form, the city's most powerful women congregated.

At the super-diva table, Philadelphia's first lady Lisa Nutter chilled with her best friend, Michele Dugger. Mary Dougherty, owner of the area's two Nicole Miller boutiques which have dressed Lisa Nutter, was at the table, along with City Representative Melanie E. Johnson and Kate Wilhelm, executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy. Meryl Levitz, president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corp., popped over to chat, too.

"It was the only show I turned on week to week to see what these women were wearing," Dougherty said.

They weren't disappointed. The connections to fashion were everywhere.

In the opening scene, Carrie, reflecting on her 20 years in New York, tells us she moved there for "love and labels."

She calls Samantha to tell her about her impending nuptials in the middle of the Diane von Furstenberg showroom. Instead of an engagement ring, Big gives Carrie a phenomenal, gleaming white walk-in closet.

There is a heavenly sequence in which Carrie and her friends are brought to tears as she tries on an array of gowns by Vera Wang, Carolina Herrera, Christian Lacroix, Lanvin, Dior, Oscar de la Renta and Vivienne Westwood. Samantha comes home from California to help Carrie clean out her closet where the foursome ceremoniously decide to keep the beloved pink tutu as they pop champagne bottles.

And Carrie chooses her assistant, Louise, played by the voluptuously stylish Jennifer Hudson, based on their love for designer handbags and Louise's discovery of a real-life designer bag-rental service - Bag, Borrow or Steal.

Fashion defined the mood of every scene, from the rehearsal dinner where guests arrive in sleek black off-the-shoulder outfits. And in Mexico, there is scene after scene of the women in floor-grazing color-blocked Maxi sundresses. (Clearly H&M got this memo. Have you seen their selection this summer?)

Famed stylist Patricia Field, who dressed the women of SATC for six years, said she chose the more than 300 costumes featured in the movie based on the women's evolution in the show and in real life. Thus the use of belts - these women are grown up!

For example, Field said, Cynthia Nixon, who plays Miranda, lost 15 pounds and grew her hair out into a shaggy bob.

"If Cynthia loses weight, then Miranda loses weight," Field said. "And she's matured. So I put her in a lot of Prada."

As for Samantha, Field explained, she's gotten bigger and better.

"She busts out like sunshine," Field said about the sexually free diva whom she primarily dressed in bold colors and vintage suits by Thierry Mugler.

Jackie O was Field's inspiration for Charlotte. But it was an Onassis with pizazz as Field liberally mixed in sleek Dior with Oscar de la Renta. A white maternity dress covered with blue poppies was a major standout.

But it was Carrie's 80-piece plus wardrobe that made the movie. Field said she was trying to show a professional and sexual maturity with our now over-40 writer.

From the tailored, white Ralph Lauren suit that was in the opening fashion montage to the fabulous emerald-green floral day coat paired with a spiky belt - that, by the way, shows up a lot in the movie - and the Dior extreme gladiator sandals. And there is the beautiful, red floral scooped-neck shift we'd all just about die for.

"My method is to elevate reality," Field said. "It's reality on its tippy toes. . . . It's a gorgeous escape."

Which totally worked with the audience.

"This is as satisfying to me as a seven-course meal," said 30-something local designer Melanie Von Alexandria at the cocktail hour.

"As a designer, Patricia Field is my hero. She's a superwoman. I've been studying the trailers and I just love that green dress Carrie is in," Von Alexandria said, pointing to a movie poster that featured Carrie and Big.

Capitalizing on the fashion fantasy, several boutiques and marketing firms have been holding SATC-related events this month in Philadelphia. The thought is that women may not be able to control the appearance of a Mr. Big or a fabu book deal in our lives, but we can look great, even if we go into debt doing it.

Sabrina Carrington, a local public relations exec who sees herself as the Samantha type when it comes to clothing, planned several events throughout the month of May, ranging from a Carrie Bridal Tea at Remedy Tea Bar to a mock bridal shower at Thread Beauty Bar. These events will be held this afternoon. There have also been cocktail parties at local clubs, including Level and Bamboo Lounge.

"We get about 25 to 50 people at the daytime events and more than 200 at our evening ones," Carrington said. "We want to be stylish and independent like the women on Sex and the City. The fashion makes us feel a certain way. It's a part of our fantasy."

But with all the fashion brouhaha and characters' blind label worship, there is a lesson to be learned as fantasy, by its very nature, can be quite deceiving.

Without giving away the ending, it becomes clear that in fashion, as in life, simple is better.

And labels cause more drama than they're worth.

'Sex and the City' Events

Today

Girls Night Out

Echo Chic

1700 Sansom St.

2 to 5 p.m.

Carrie's Bachelorette Party

Level Room

2102 Market St.

8 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Tomorrow

Premiere After Party

Bamboo Lounge

Level Room

2102 Market St.

8 p.m. to 2 a.m.

All events have free admission.

Information: Denim Public Relations at 267-226-4236 or www.denimpr.com EndText

Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com. Read her recent work at http://
go.philly.com/elizabethwellington