Legendary Patricia Field's Next Act
As designer and stylist Patricia Field is ushered into the administrative offices of the upscale Crystals at City-Center, a glitzy luxury mall in Las Vegas, a small army of millennials encircles her, holding up clothes and asking her thoughts on everything from lunch needs to future trends. The scene is straight out of The Devil Wear Prada — a movie whose sartorial images were dictated by Field — but she is no Miranda Priestly.
Even through her jet-lagged exhaustion, Field, sporting skintight green pants, flat sandals, and a cascade of fuchsia hair, laughs easily and engages naturally with the Crystals staff, who are prepping her for her job emceeing the city’s latest Fashion Night Out event, held at the luxe shopping center.
Field talks about her recently expanded flagship store in New York and her desire to get back into TV, but not in the way that made her famous (choosing the knockout outfits that Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda wore on six seasons of HBO’s Sex and the City as well as creating costumes for several films). Before that, though, Field proudly describes her support for President Obama — she designed T-shirts featuring his image for both of his presidential campaigns — and cringing at the term “lesbian chic,” which Style.com recently declared was back after fizzling out in the 1990s.
“For me, a label limits a concept,” Field says in a voice rivaled in raspiness only by Kathleen Turner’s. Being so rigid about descriptions smacks of conformity, she says. “It’s like back in the ’70s when the gay guys wanted to blend in and they all had mustaches and plaid shirts and wanted to be right with the regular folk.”
But going back to lesbian chic, a term that, if it were accurate, would surely apply to Field, the fashion superstar jokes, “Any place you can go from [the stereotypical image of] ‘lesbian’ would be chic, I imagine.”
Even though she’s been out for the majority of her career — she opened her first store in 1966 in New York and styled her first TV show, Crime Story, 20 years later — she’s not pigeonholed as a lesbian designer or stylist.
Her eschewing of labels carries over to her professional ambitions. Field has nearly as much passion for interior design as fashion; recently, she gleefully tore up her old house in the East Village, bought the commercial space behind it, and created a 4,000-square-foot-shopping experience, complete with her original art collection and an indoor-outdoor area topped by a massive skylight (her old private garden).
“My home was already gorgeous,” she says. “I designed it and loved it and would have never moved out of it other than to build my store. So I didn’t really change any part other than turn my bedroom into the beauty salon. I didn’t change the decor in there, I just moved the furniture out.”
Now that the store’s done, Field’s planning her next move, and it may not involve design at all.
“I want to do other things if possible,” she says. “If I go into TV or movies, I’d like to play a different role. Because I’ve done [styling]; it’s repetitious. Producing or directing or even being on a show interests me. I could make a really good talk show host.”
In addition to Sex and Prada, Field has designed for TV series including Ugly Betty, Dirty Sexy Money, and Spin City, and films such as Confessions of a Shopaholic and the upcoming The Girl on the Train. In 2012 she showed up as a guest judge on Project Runway All Stars.
She’s self-confident, but, especially for a woman who has worked on so many hit films and TV series, Field remains humble about her effect on popular culture. She turns self-deprecating when told she elevated the status of shoes, turning them from a somewhat utilitarian accessory to a late-20th-century status symbol, thanks to the Sex ladies’ fixation on high-end footwear.
“I don’t know if I can be proud of that,” Field croaks. “Now you get a designer shoe and it’s a thousand dollars!”
She’s entirely tickled when told The Devil Wears Prada is the gay Star Wars, watched dozens of times by gay men who never tire of the eye-popping fashions that come across as nearly 3-D.
“The original script had no fashion montages,” Field remembers. “And [director] David Frankel would say, ‘There’s a new scene for you, Pat.’ I’d go, ‘You just increased the wardrobe by 100 pieces!’ But that movie had a very good energy, and it shows. There are certain things I can watch over and over again. So that’s a very nice compliment.”