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NEW YORK — Last week outside Manhattan’s Bergdorf Goodman, a white-haired woman with sensible shoes gestures to a window display featuring four female mannequins decked out in designer glitter.


“I bet those are the dresses from that movie,” she says to her companion.


She’s right.


“That movie” is the highly anticipated “Sex and the City 2,” and little does she know that its stars — Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis and Kim Cattrall (along with Chris Noth and writer-director Michael Patrick King) are inside the store, having just wrapped up a news conference for the film, which opens Thursday.


To say there’s buzz about this film is a bit like saying Lady Gaga has something of a following. Or Tiger Woods and his wife had a tiff.


After six seasons on HBO, late-night reruns in syndication and a blockbuster transition to the big screen two years ago (which earned $415 million worldwide, thanks to droves of women who showed up — dressed up — at multiplexes), the four letters “SATC” spell a juggernaut franchise. Which is quite a feat, given that it’s not an action-adventure flick. Or based on a comic book. Or starring ... guys. It’s one chic, cinematic Sherman tank, driven by four women who range in age from 44 (Nixon) to 53 (Cattrall). Just picture all those Hollywood execs shrugging their shoulders, saying, “Go figure.”


“No other book, movie, TV show or music group has gone as far redefining — and expanding — the relationship between female attractiveness and age,” says Caroline Weber, a fashion historian and associate professor at Barnard College and Columbia University. Basically, she says, “SATC” has “made it permissible for women past 40 to present themselves as sexy. It’s a huge milestone in American popular culture.”


Leading that charge is Parker, the brand’s star and producer, whose buoyant, eyebrow-arched portrayal of Carrie Bradshaw gives the franchise both haute currency and heart. She speaks at the news conference in a smart, savvy, articulate manner, all the while perched in a short Elie Saab suit atop sky-high heels. “I think women of a certain generation aren’t even conscious of the fact that ... we are in the process of redefining our roles all the time,” she says. “It’s the great gift our mothers gave us.”


The sequel boasts the usual “SATC” fare: sassy dialogue, fun cameos (Liza Minnelli, Miley Cyrus), crazy designer wardrobes. Yep, even in a recession. Like the first film, it woos with froth, then sneaks in the serious (touching on gay marriage, menopause, motherhood woes). Yet the sequel veers decidedly more toward romp than realism.


“Like they did in the Great Depression,” says King, referring to glam 1930s flicks, “I thought Hollywood should take people on a big vacation that maybe they couldn’t afford themselves.”


That means ditching “The City” for a road trip to Abu Dhabi. Sort of. The Manhattan shoots were mobbed by devoted fans and paparazzi last year. A zoomed-in photo of Cattrall, holding a script (inadvertently revealing a snippet of dialogue) was overanalyzed by bloggers.


Morocco — where they actually shot the “Abu Dhabi” scenes — was a welcome relief.


“In the middle of the Sahara Desert, not a sound, (no) paparazzi,” King says.


“When we arrived, they had musicians waiting to greet us,” Nixon says.


“And scarves,” Davis adds.


“And scarves, that we were then taught ... to tie into turbans to help keep you cool,” Nixon says.


Yet even there, they were known. “That was kind of surprising,” Cattrall says. “(They) kept calling us by our characters’ names.”


The audience is broad. Even straight men, says Parker, are ‘fessing up. Just a couple years ago, “at the luggage carousel, I’d get” — then she whispers — “‘I watch your show.’ They’d say, ‘My wife, my girlfriend, forced me,’” she recalls. “Now they volunteer more freely the fact that occasionally they even watch it on their own.”


The film will surely spark controversy. The poster has caused a stir, with print and online media noting the women’s ruthlessly Photoshopped images. “They look like they’ve been molded out of wax,” Weber says. “SATC” may insist women are beautiful at any age, but apparently Warner Bros. isn’t so sure.


Whether a recessionary audience views the romp as refreshing or way over-the-top is yet to be seen. And let’s just say that letting Samantha loose in a souk (an Arabian marketplace) with shorts and attitude may not grow the brand in more conservative parts of the Muslim world. (At press time, it was unclear if United Arab Emirates censors would let the movie be shown in Abu Dhabi.)


But one thing that’s clear, Parker says, is “SATC’s” commitment to women. Which may be needed more than ever, she fears, given the slew of so-called reality shows and their rude, crude female cast members.


“There’s this beacon we seem to be moving toward where women are really unkind to one another, and call each other horrible names, and there’s a vernacular our ears have adapted to, which I find really objectionable,” she says. “When I look at a lot of what’s available on television, and see how women treat each other, it’s stunning to me — it’s arresting.”


The success of “SATC,” she says, gives her hope that there’s still a place “to illustrate that women would much rather be allies than ... adversaries.”

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