Pat in the City – My Life of Fashion, Style, and Breaking the Rules
“Fresh ideas are how I stay young.”
When Patricia Field convinced Darren Star to let her introduce Carrie Bradshaw in a tulle skirt and tank top, neither were aware they’d be creating an icon. Sex in the City was an unknown commodity. Field, on the other hand, had outfitted a generation of disco-goers, trans people and adventurous celebrities. Her sixth sense about the fashion zeitgeist was pretty infallible.
Pat was raised in Yorkville on the Upper East Side by a Greek mother and Armenian father. Despite shopping at Bloomingdales, “even at five, I understood that fashion and costume were one and the same.” Her dad died young. The girl found herself surrounded by open-minded, independent women who allowed her to dress androgynously. It was the 50s, a freer decade of clothes and music. Pat often traveled to downtown Manhattan. She studied philosophy and political science – never fashion.
Patricia Field at her store at 10 East 8th Street, NYC 1987 ©Tina Paul All Rights Reserved
That life began as a salesgirl at Alexander’s Department Store where as a young woman she quickly rose through ranks. In her early 20s, Pat and a girlfriend opened a 20 x 30 foot shop in Greenwich Village. “It was out of the way, but in the middle of NYU.” They lived above the store. She could neither draw nor sew, but had an eye. Small orders were put in to manufacturers.
“The 60s and 70s moved from the earnest optimism of mod to decadent and devious…discos, hippies, and slinky sensuality took over.” Pat became a customer of Miyake, Mugler, and Montana. Her clientele changed. Patti Smith frequented the shop. “She looked like royalty who’d fallen on hard times in an olive green, full length mink coat.” Studio54 ushered in the prevalence of a cocaine and sex-driven culture. Pat was out IN IT. There she met Halston and Andy Warhol. Her store became a Mecca of clothes, accessories, and make-up. Hers was one of the only cutting edge boutiques in the village. Charivari and Barney’s were located uptown.”
“Fashion is not just in a magazine or on a runway.” The ethos of scrappy street couture and individuality was one by which Pat lived. Artists Jean Michel Basquiat, Ruben Toledo, and Kenny Scarf did one-of-a-kind, painting on apparel. Basquiat’s jumpsuits went for $25. “Especially for the gays, who knew exactly who they were, there was no passing.”
Patricia Field, Cynthia Nixon, Damon Dash at David Dalrymple for House Of Field Spring/Summer 2004 Collection at Gotham Hall for Fashion Week in NYC 9/17/03 ©Tina Paul All Rights Reserved
She’d give jobs to people whose lives were literally dangerous “because they were interesting, entertaining, and creative…some of my kids worked out, some didn’t.” No one was permitted to degrade an employee. JFK Jr. came in with his then girlfriend Daryl Hannah about whom the staff made a great fuss. He was summarily shown out after commenting, “Bunch of freaks.” Hannah continued shopping. The store never shut down for celebrities. Madonna had to wait outside until it opened.
Under her own label, Pat promoted “sportingwear,” not sportswear, as club wear. Her shop had a house designer. Everyone else went to buy at the usual wholesale markets, Pat went to the Las Vegas Surplus Show. There she found the Tyvek jumpsuits “on which Basquiat scribbled,” white high tops with red patent leather trim (bought for $2.00 sold for $10.00) and puffer jackets before they were a thing. (Tyvek is mostly used for packing material and disposable uniforms.) She was the first to update bras and corsets worn as clubwear, to carry sheer croptops and fishnet dresses.
The AIDS plague cut a swath through her community. Pat’s story puts fashion in context. Romantic partners changed. Through a new relationship, she secured her initial film as costume designer. It was a thriller with Diane Lane. The first year of the MTV Music Video Awards, “musicians came to the shop in droves wanting us to make them look cool…We’d throw them in pimp coats from London and something we called `Sluggies,’ tight pants made out of material that definitely ruined the environment. Boy George came in for hats.”
Other film and television work followed. “I discovered a whole new world of putting clothes on characters created by writers and directors.” Pat names names, candidly talking about lovers, designers and celebrities. Then came Sex and the City. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) were not stereotypes of women on the slut/pride spectrum. But rather characters juggling careers, sexual desire, and friendship. Costume became the aspirational aspect of viewer experience.
Patricia Field at her new home on Bowery, NYC 2004 ©Tina Paul All Rights Reserved
At the beginning, Pat and her staff would reach out to fashion labels, none of whom returned calls. They’d scour designer, off the rack, uptown, downtown, new and vintage sources. “Sarah Jessica had some strong initial ideas: I will always be bare-legged, no matter what the weather…and carry clutches.” High heels became a big part of the series in no small part because of Parker’s ability to walk in them. The reader is privy to discussions with other actors. “None of them are like their characters, yet I always started with the human in front of me.” She thought of Mr. Big (Chris Noth) as Cary Grant. Aidan (John Corbett) arrived loaded down with turquoise jewelry in which he envisioned the character. Pat weaned him off. Stanford (Willie Garson) was fun to dress – creative and witty.
The second season, Fendi extended a welcome mat. “Suddenly designers threw their clothes at me. The show began to define culture in many ways.” By season three, the budget had grown, by six it was “a juggernaut…our extended closet started to encroach on Sopranos territory.” For readers who know the series intimately, there’s reference to specific episodes and apparel. Sex and the City started or revived dozens of trends.
After 36 years, the original store was closed, another opened. In walked Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Beyonce. Pat designed/styled The Devil Wears Prada in which everyone objected to the choice of Miranda Priestly’s white hair except Meryl Streep. There were advertising jobs and more film work, including two Sex and the City sequels. The artist was hired to lead private shopping expeditions for Monaco and Saudi royalty. Women talked over her, but purchased extravagantly. Television’s Younger followed. Then Emily in Paris.
“No stone is left unturned in my world. If you’re looking for a white t-shirt, you get EVERY white t-shirt. If you need a necklace, you go to Fred Leighton AND Goodwill… I don’t tell them how to write a script, they shouldn’t tell me how to dress a character.” Pat completely renvisioned Emily. She “tried to convey the character didn’t take herself too seriously without looking goofy or ridiculous.” I would argue that ship long ago left the dock.
Patricia Field, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon ©Tina Paul All Rights Reserved
Chanel was featured prominently at first as the label wanted to appear to younger women, but Field found the line too conservative. She compromised by buying oversized pieces for the diminutive Lily Collins, layering things and shortening hems. Private showrooms, costume rental houses and flea markets, “even touristy street vendors” were utilized as the consultant found her way around the new city. Covid shut down production, but it resumed. Her next endeavor, also on television, is Starz’s Run the World. Billed as: A group of women work, live and play in Harlem as they strive for world domination.
“Fashion is an art like painting, sculpting, writing, or music. As an art form it tells the story of the culture of the times….In these not so happy days, I thought it was a time for more lightheartedness. The eighties and nineties were a time that artistic creativity raised its head…”
Patricia Field takes us down a path that’s entertaining, illuminating and if you were there, a hoot.
All quotes are Patricia Field
Pat in the City is published by Dey St. Books
Opening Photo by Johnny Rozsa
All photos courtesy of Dey St. Books
In 2018, Pat established the Patricia Field Fashion/Art Gallery which hides in plain sight at 200 East Broadway Ground Floor, Suite 3D