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GEORGEA KOVANIS: Fashion icon's inexpensive new line sexes up sportswear store

I don't usually shop at Steve & Barry's, the national chain known for its inexpensive T-shirts, sneakers and college sweatshirts -- I have more than enough -- but there I was the other day, waiting in line for a fitting room, lured by Bitten, Sarah Jessica Parker's new clothing collection .

With everything -- dresses, jeans, T-shirts, shorts -- under $20 and most things available in sizes 0-22 or XS to XXL, it's difficult to resist this something-for-almost-everyone summer surprise.

Plus, there's the Sarah Jessica Parker connection.

"She's so fashionable!" said Marissa Puzzuoli , 21, who drove from Windsor, Canada, to shop at the Steve & Barry's in Troy, Mich.

"She's a fashion icon," said shopper Sara Briggs, a 24-year-old medical assistant from Royal Oak, Mich.

"I love her, that's why I'm here," said Jennifer Raetchi, who is 27 and also lives in Royal Oak.

Meanwhile, I just want to get into the fitting room.

Bitten marks the second time Steve & Barry's has paired with a celebrity. Basketball star Stephon Marbury with his $14.98 basketball shoes was the first; more partnerships, including one with actress Amanda Bynes, a teen favorite, are on the way.

It's the first time 42-year-old Parker -- who was once the face of the Gap in advertising campaigns -- has put her name on a line of clothing, though she has a line of higher-end perfume, Lovely .

She says in promotional videos that play in Steve & Barry's stores that she decided to do Bitten because she likes what Steve & Barry's stands for: quality, affordable clothing for everyone.

Bitten's motto: Fashion is not a luxury, it's a right.

And while Steve & Barry's won't release sales figures, it does say Bitten, which first appeared in stores in June is exceeding expectations.

"We produced the line in heavy volume and almost as fast as we can put it on the shelves, it's selling out," says Howard Schacter, Steve & Barry's chief partnership officer.

"It really marks our true entry into the women's market. ... We've had women's merchandise on the floor," but, he says, "we haven't met their needs to the extent we've needed to.

"Now we do."

Made up of 500 different pieces, Bitten's summer collection (fall is due in August) is attracting new shoppers .

"We know Steve & Barry's as the $10 sweater store, then we heard about this!" said Puzzuoli's friend, Sarah Beyer, who is 21 and lives in Tecumseh, Ont. She left with two pairs of flats, shorts in a blue check pattern, dark blue pants, a white tank top, earrings and a bracelet, all for about $70.

She's planning to come back for more.

Bitten is about cute basics -- if you're looking for something fashion forward a la Parker's alter ego, Carrie Bradshaw on HBO's "Sex and the City," you're looking in the wrong place .

Bitten's jeans, capris, T-shirts, skirts, dresses and espadrilles are meant to appeal to a broad range of women, though I do wonder how successful it will be. While the shoppers I met were diverse in terms of size, ethnicity and occupation, most of them are in their 20s. (I'm pretty sure I was the oldest person in the store.)

As for the quality, these are not the best clothes in the world -- some feel flimsy and others seem too loosely constructed -- but who cares?

For $20, I'm not expecting Chanel, which, by the way, Parker wears regularly.

My biggest disappointment?

The fit.

Even though one shopper told me she went down a size and another said she found size 0 to be perfectly proportioned, the clothes I tried on were cut too small or awkwardly.

In order to get a pair of denim capris to fit around my thighs and hips, I had to go up a size.

Ugh.

Then, after wearing the pants for a couple hours, I realized the waist is way too big.

Still, I got compliments on the capris, which means I'll continue to wear them.

Plus, they were only $14.98

I'll just need to get a new belt, which gives me another reason to shop.

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COMING TO STEVE & BARRY'S

Sarah Jessica Parker's Bitten collection is Steve & Barry's most recent exclusive celebrity collaboration, but more are on the way:

- Golfer Bubba Watson's has a line of golf shirts now in stores.

- Dear, by actress Amanda Bynes, will be in stores Aug. 16. The line will target the teen audience.

- Big Ben basketball shoes named for former Detroit Piston Ben Wallace will show up during the NBA season.

For more information about Steve & Barry's or to find a store: www.steveandbarrys.com.

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