For over five decades, Patricia Field has been an arbiter and visionary of New York City street fashion in a multi-faceted career as a retailer, fashion stylist, and costume designer for film and television.
Growing up as a native New Yorker, in Queens and Manhattan, Field’s parents, who were Greek and Armenian immigrants, owned a dry cleaner. Perhaps that’s where Field started to learn about the practical side of clothes, and later on she would go on shopping pilgrimages with her aunts to the department stores at Union Square, such as Klein’s, to seek out bargains. Studying economy and philosophy at NYU did not lead her to go into either of those careers, but they eventually helped her become a successful businesswoman.
Her first retail venture was opening a tiny shop, The Pants Pub, on Washington Place in the West Village in 1966, with money she inherited from her father, and an equal partner. Even then, Field was savvy enough to know what kind of fashion young women wanted, and her instincts paid off when the shop became successful. Five years later in 1971, she rebranded as Patricia Field in a new shop, five times the size of the original shop, on Eighth Street in the mecca of downtown fashion. The store thrived with punk and underground chic clothes, and in the 1980s and 1990s it was the go-to shop for transgender people, drag queens, and gay men, creating not only a store for them to shop at, but also a place where their identity and diversity was embraced by Field, an open lesbian herself.
Field was not only part of the downtown artists, drag world, and club scene, she also nourished and supported those communities by hiring them to work in her shop, and selling their fashion and art. She expanded her patronage and support further by establishing her own fashion house and competing in the legendary drag and voguing balls in the 1980s and 1990s. She also organized the first downtown ball and invited her fashion industry friends to be judges. This event was a precursor to Madonna’s “Vogue,” and the documentary Paris is Burning.
A logical transition into costume design for film came to Field in the late 1980s with the serendipity of meeting Sarah Jessica Parker. Designing her clothes for the film Miami Rhapsody would later result in Parker requesting her to design her costumes for a new show, Sex and the City. The quirky, unpredictable, and daring fashion on the show, which viewers salivated and pined over every Sunday night, became water-cooler fodder on Monday mornings and catapulted Field into a household name. Field rode the Sex and the City wave for six seasons and was nominated for six Emmy awards, winning one in 2002.
After Sex and the City, Field steadily worked in television, becoming the costume designer for Ugly Betty, Hope and Faith, and a consultant on the series Younger. Her designs for Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly, the high priestess/fashion editor of a fictional fashion magazine in the 2003 film The Devil Wears Prada brought Field an Oscar nomination for costume design. The always progressive and forward moving Field closed her eponymous shop in 2016, after 50 years of being the pied piper of downtown fashion, but she has reconfigured her love of fashion, art, and retail into a newly opened gallery space called ARTFashion gallery.
Emily in Paris, the new Netflix hit, is Field’s latest foray into costume design, where she unleashes her creative superpowers to dress the star Lily Collins, and perhaps grooming her to become the next big style icon, passing the torch from Carrie Bradshaw to Emily Cooper.
Was there a particular event or person in fashion that influenced when you were growing up, and what was your first job in fashion?
Fashion at a very young age was organic to me. I wore a cowgirl outfit at five-years-old and pointy white sneakers as a teenager, followed up with designer clothes which I bought at Loehmanns in college. My first job was for Bob Goldstein, who had a sportswear business in the garment center. After that, I was hired by Alexander’s Department Store as a department manager and then became promoted to an assistant buyer.
You opened your first store on Washington Place in New York in the 1966 called The Pants Pub. Please tell us about that store, how and why you opened it, and what kind of merchandise you sold?
My first store was on the campus of NYU, where I graduated from and knew the lay of the land on Washington Place. I knew that the girls were going back and forth on the street and knew it was a good location for me. White go-go boots and skinny ribbed sweaters were very popular at the time.
After Pants pub, you opened Patricia Field. What prompted the change? And what inspired Patricia Field?
After 5 years, it was time to move into a larger location. Eighth Street had the traffic aside from the size. The name “Patricia Field” was inspired by a partner Joan Salvucci, who knew I never liked the name Pants Pub and she suggested I call it Patricia Field.
You started designing costumes for films in the late 1980s. What was the first film you worked on and how did they find you?
My first film industry experience was a film named Lady Beware starring Diane Lane. I was recommended to the director Karen Arthur by a colleague, Candy Pratts Price, who was a New York window designer (Bloomingdales). The movie was about a young window designer in a department store and Candy designed the windows. At first it was a bit scary, but I got through it and I’m still doing film and TV.
How did you get the job of creating the costumes for Sex and the City?
I was introduced to Darren Star by Sarah Jessica Parker, after the pilot was made, and the rest in history.
Sex and the City created a movement in fashion at the time and women emulated the look of the clothes and also the characters wearing them. It also, I believe, signaled a new freedom in the way women dressed. What was that like for you and what was your reaction to all the hoopla?
I never had a consciousness that I was offering new ideas in Sex and the City. I simply did what comes naturally, and that is an eclectic mix of unexpected fashion, which I believe Sarah Jessica was perfect for. Regarding the hoopla, I’m glad everyone liked it, but I never expected it while we were creating the show.
Emily in Paris on Netflix, which is getting a lot of buzz, is the latest series you have costumed. Please tell us about the experience, and also about working with Lily Collins. The show was entirely shot in Paris and I know you were here working on it for a period of time last year. Did you pull most of the clothes in Paris and what was it like working with the designers in Paris compared to New York?
Working with Lily Collins was a very positive experience for me as she is savvy, positive, and very professional as an actress. Most of Lily’s wardrobe was sourced in Paris with the help of my colleague, Marylin Fitoussi, and her entire department, which is absolutely A+. This included purchased ready to wear and French couture designers.
You closed your retail business in 2016 after 40 plus years and now you have ARTFashion, an online fashion and art site.
My ARTFashion gallery is a different statement than my shop. I love them both, and when I’m not involved with wardrobing a film, you can always find me there at the gallery at 200 E. Broadway. www.patriciafield.com
Is there one person living or dead you would like to dress and what would you have them wear?
I have dressed many wonderful actors and considered myself fortunate. I have never thought of who my favorite person would be as I have worked with so many good ones.
What’s next for Patricia Field?
Regarding Emily in Paris, I certainly hope they’ll be another season! I am now working on a NY project called Run the World taking place in Harlem about four girlfriends who live and work there. It will be shown on Starz at a future date.
To join a video tour by Richard Nahem of the locations featured in Emily in Paris, click here.