Sarah Jessica Parker & Rest of Sexy Ladies Premiere the Sequel

05/25/2010 at 09:40 AM EDT

Sarah Jessica Parker & Rest of Sexy Ladies Premiere the Sequel
Kristin Davis (left) and Sarah Jessica Parker
Dave Allocca/Startraks
Wearing a bright yellow Valentino gown that alter-ego Carrie Bradshaw would certainly approve, Sarah Jessica Parker was "excited and nervous" at the chandelier-lined blue carpet for the premiere of Sex and the City 2 Monday night.

It's a "once in a lifetime experience," Parker said as she met throngs of fans lining the street outside New York's Radio City Music Hall.

Even with the rest of the leading ladies, Kristin Davis (in Jean Desses for Decades), Kim Cattrall (in Naeem Khan), and Cynthia Nixon (in Carolina Herrera) rocking glamorous gowns as well, Parker, insists that the success of SATC isn't just about the clothes.

"You can't hang your hat on fashion forever," she said. "I think people want a substantive story that is meaningful whether they relate or not, and they want to hear women talk about things that are important to them besides their desire to wear a pretty dress. [What's] so unique about these characters is that you can do both."

And it's clear that the fans agree, with stars including Jennifer Love Hewitt, Vanessa Williams, Donald and Melania Trump, Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld, and designer Valentino stepping out for a first peek at the highly anticipated sequel, which hits theaters Thursday.

"We always like to change it to keep it current, something you haven't seen with the same familiar characters that you love," writer-director Michael Patrick King told PEOPLE.

One very familiar face? Carrie's former love interest Aidan Shaw, played by John Corbett, who turns up on the girls' Middle East vacation and stirs up some old feelings.

While Corbett remains mum on his story arc, he couldn't hold back his excitement on being back with the gang. "It was like college!" he said to PEOPLE. "We were all rooming in the same hotel and the doors were open and people were coming in and borrowing pistachios, and borrowing the wine because they had company, it was like college days! Beer, the old hookah pipe, we got that filled up," he jokes.

Costar Willie Garson shared Corbett's sentiment. "I just always say it's like Thanksgiving dinner with a slightly less annoying family," he says. "That's what it's like being together."

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