At 8:30am Patricia Field is hard to miss, even among the colorful denizens of the Bowery. Flanked by her two white poodles, Sultana and Putana, she wears dark-blue glitter eye shadow and red lipstick to match her Hawaiian Punch–colored hair—a staple of her signature look.
The legendary costume designer, who won an Emmy Award for her work on Sex and the City and was the force behind the Oscar-nominated wardrobe of The Devil Wears Prada, currently splits her time between working on TV Land's Younger and running her namesake boutique, set to close in spring 2016.
The store has been in business for almost half a century; Field first set up shop in the West Village in 1966 before moving to East 8th Street in 1971 and winding up on the Bowery in 2005 (she moved to her current Bowery location in 2012). Indelibly part of New York City's cultural firmament, the shop counts celebrities like Madonna and Kim Kardashian as customers.
The 74-year-old costume designer will soon turn more of her focus to styling projects, including her current work for Younger. She is, of course, comfortable with capturing the stylish aspects of the zeitgeist for television: her work on Sex and the City not only won Field accolades but changed the way New York City women dressed. In the early '00s, nameplate necklaces, Manolo Blahniks and exaggerated frocks became incorporated into women's wardrobes.
Ahead of Younger's second-season premiere on January 13 (the show airs Wednesdays at 10pm), Field gave us the scoop on how she outfits the show's main characters and shared some of her styling secrets (while chain-smoking Winstons!).
How do you approach your work as a stylist? Patricia Field: I believe that fashion is an opportunity to be creative. How you dress yourself must express who you are. You're showing your individuality—it's you, not me. I just provide possibilities, and of course I'm happy to help, but it's very important, in order for me to do a good job for a client, [that I] understand the client. People are not paper cutout dolls. They have their own sensibilities, their own ideas.
Do you apply the same ideals with Younger? PF: With Younger, I'm there to support the actor. The actor is there to create a character in front of the camera. I have to find the parallel between the actor and the fictitious character, so that when we see her, it's believable, and that actor is comfortable in front of the camera believing that she can portray this character. And this also goes for clients. If you're not comfortable, I'm not serving you—and that is my job.
Sex in the City changed the way New York City women dressed.
How did you approach dressing Sutton Foster's character, Liza, who is meant to look 25? PF : When Darren Star, whom I consider to be [like] my younger baby brother, called me about this project, I was like, Absolutely, I will never say no to you. Then I read the script and was like, Oh my God, how am I going to make a woman who is 40 look believable as a 25-year-old? I'm not a magician. Clothing won't sell that idea. But Sutton Foster is very wide-eyed and youthful; even the way she moves has a very youthful feeling to it. I could only take it so far, but she brought the substance and I trimmed it.
What about Debi Mazar's character, Maggie? PF: I knew Debi Mazar. She grew up in Queens and [I used to see her] in the East Village [in the early '80s]. She was part of that crowd; she worked at the Mudd Club. Through the years we have kept in touch, but finally crossed paths when Darren cast her in Younger. Her character is a lesbian artist, the best old friend of Liza [Sutton Foster]. Debi is so funny and expressive—she's unforgettable. Our cast is major, and I credit Darren Star with that because he's brilliant with casting. He cast Sex and the City.
And Miriam Shor, who plays Diana, the boss? PF: Miriam is a comedic actress, a professional theater actress. I've always found theater actors to be superb. When I started putting these exaggerated pieces of jewelry on her, she was like, Yes! She uses them as props. The other day before going on camera she said, "I need a bracelet," so she put on this big cuff, sitting at her desk with her elbow on top of it, working this bracelet. That's a professional. She knew she needed a bracelet because she already saw how she was going to do the scene. I respect professionalism highly. Speaking of which, I didn't mention Hilary Duff. I'm so happy for her. I'm getting so much positive feedback about her in this role. So kudos to Hilary, who plays Liza's best friend in the office.
Do you have any favorite places you like to shop for those pieces? PF: For Sutton's character—and for all the main characters—I shop in a variety of places. Of course, there's my shop; it's very edgy. A portion of the clothing in my shop I select carefully. You can go to the edge, but you can't fall off. It always has to be believable and help to tell the story. Aside from my shop, there are the consignment stores owned by my friend Ina Bernstein. She has about six, and one is around the corner. At the beginning of the season I go to every single one. Models and celebrities who get clothes and don't wear them bring them there, so a lot of stuff is in brand-new condition. The prices are great, and it's not what you see in the magazines today or in the chain stores. Another one of my favorite haunts is Century 21. You never know what you're going to find, and you know the prices are going to be good. We also shop in Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys, and the high-street stores like Zara, Topshop and H&M. It's a mixture, a hybrid. It's not so much about the individual piece or the designer; it's about the styling and how you put it together.
Your work on Sex and the City won many awards and accolades. Did you think that what you were doing would have such a monumental effect on fashion? PF: I started Sex and the City like I would any other project: optimistic and happy to do my best. Of course I wanted it be a success, but I couldn't imagine that it would be a success like no other. The buzz started at the end of the first season, and when we went back [it was like there was an explosion of it during] the second season. It was an experience like no other I ever had. It opened up a lot of opportunities for me, good ones because I developed a fashion dialogue with press through the show obviously. I found myself in a beautiful position. I can walk down the street in Tokyo, São Paulo, wherever I travel, and women come up to me: "You're Patricia Field, I love Sex and the City, I love you. It's wonderful, you inspire me."
What suggestions would you give a visitor coming to New York City for the very first time? PF: If you've never been to my shop and maybe never been to this area [NoHo/East Village], it's a young area. NYU is here, Cooper Union is here. This has always been a younger area, so it's busy in the nighttime and the daytime. If you were visiting the area and visiting my shop, you might want to have lunch or grab a coffee before you come in. This area has also grown a lot in the past 10 years, and as a result there are many fine restaurants and places for a libation. There's Saxon + Parole and Il Buco. I go there all the time. When I used to live here [Ed.: she's now on the Lower East Side] I was in Il Buco at least two or three times a week. It has the best Italian food—organic, local and well curated. There's Think Coffee and this Irish pub next door, Sláinte, which my [employees] are always going to after work. Across the street is DBGB, which specializes in grilled food, including sausages from all around the world. If you want to stay in this area, there are a lot of hotels [to choose from]. The Bowery Hotel, The Standard East Village. The West Village and Meatpacking District are nice, but the East Village is the youngest and most energetic area.
This area has changed a lot since the turn of the century. Do you think it has retained its vibe? PF: I mean, [40 years ago] this area was synonymous with punk and rock. Way back in the day at the turn of the [20th] century, this was the Theater District, [but] when Times Square got built up, this area went down. The artists moved in because rents were low, property values were down and the spaces were large. So artists, musicians, painters were here.
People are not paper cutout dolls. They have their own sensibilities.
There used to be live music venues in the neighborhood too. PF: There was a world-famous rock bar here called CBGB. The Ramones started there. As the neighborhood started to change in the early '00s and CBGB closed, [the designer] John Varvatos took over the space, but he left its heart and soul. It also inspired a whole new idea for his collection.
What do you love about NYC and specifically about being a New Yorker? PF: What I love about NYC after all these years is what I loved about NYC many years ago. This city has a culture that is very unique. It's a doorway to the world; as such we live in a cultural Garden of Eden. You walk down the street and in one block you hear five languages, you have visuals and sounds of all these cultures. It's educational and inspiring to live in and experience NYC—that's what keeps me here.