By Rosemary Feitelberg on May 25, 2021
Photo courtesy Patricia Field
Far from coasting through the pandemic, Patricia Field seems to abide by a no-days-off work schedule.
Reached early Saturday evening in Paris, where she is working on the second season of Netflix’s “Emily in Paris,” Field also consulted on the just-released “Run the World” series. While millions identify her as the “Sex and the City” costume designer, fans won’t be seeing any of her selections in that show’s upcoming reboot “And Just Like That.” With a Lower East Side fashion gallery and consulting projects, Field is running on all cylinders. So much so that a weekend interview was the only time to connect.
After a full day of selecting 30 options for Lily Collins, she said, “I enjoy what I do. I feel like I do it intelligently. I have a philosophy of my own. Basically, I like happy clothes. So I have tended to do successful romantic comedies through the years.”
Of course, there’s more to her innate sense of fashion, which even Field allows for — at least a little. “I do know that people enjoy watching my creations because they’re mine. They’re original. I’ll put together things that nobody else would put together. Everything comes from my brain and my eye,” she said. “If it feels good to me, I go with it. I don’t really look around and ask, ‘Are people going to like it? Are they not going to like it?’ I can’t do that. I find that inhibiting. I believe a person has to be free and believe in whatever they do. Of course, sometimes you have doubts. That’s only human. It’s about feeling what you do, enjoying it and getting a chance to laugh at it and be happy.”
As for not working on the “Sex and the City” reboot, she said, “The main reason was a time conflict. I wasn’t able to be in New York doing that and be in Paris doing ‘Emily in Paris.’ But I told them to call my very dear friend Molly Rogers, who also worked in my store back in the day. She did ‘Sex and the City’ with me from start to finish. She knew it well so she’s doing it. My dance card was full.”
Her “very positive creative relationship” with Kim Cattrall — who, as widely reported, isn’t returning for the reboot — has lasted through the years. “As a matter of fact, she’s getting married at City Hall for a second time so I sent her to Dior. They make this New Look jacket that is a laser type jacket that comes in at the waist. It’s cut very well. She went there and got it.
Self-glorification is not her bag. “Yeah, it’s a distraction and it leads to nowhere. You can keep your name out there based on the work that you do. I do it because I enjoy it. It stimulates me and it’s fun,” she said. “Last night we were shooting a birthday dinner scene. Emily and her friends decided to have the birthday dinner in the courtyard of the building they live in. I thought, ‘Let’s just make this a beautiful tableau of costumes.’ It was like a fashionable birthday party. It looked kind of surreal. Here they were dressed up like they were going to the Oscars.”
Asked if she took issue with critics who felt the first season was too much of a cliché, Field said, “Not really because you know the French are like that. They don’t like anything. And I’ve known the French for many, many years. I think people have a right to say what they want to say. In the meantime from what I understand from here in Paris is that everybody is watching it. At the end of the day, that’s what counts. I don’t think Americans found it cliché at all.”
A striking and slim chartreuse green dress from Oscar de la Renta is one of the looks that will be featured in the second season, as well as Greek designers like Vasillis Zoulias, Maria Katrantzou, Des Hommes and Zeus & Dion. “I’m Greek and I have a lot of friends in Greece. I feel Greek designers really don’t get much international coverage,” she said.
For “Run the World,” she hired one of her protégés, Tracy Cox. (Another one of her protégés, Paolo Nieddu, is the designer for the series “Empire.”) “We used a lot of Black designers. The producers wanted us to feature them wherever possible and I was happy to do so. Growing up in New York, two of my best friends in high school were Black. The mother of one had a radio show in Harlem, and we’d go up there. One time her guest was Billie Holiday. I have an experienced history as a New Yorker going to public school. Also, my mother had a dry-cleaning business and she had several African Americans working for her. I was a young girl but they were like my uncles,” she said.
Asked about the move by many fashion companies to be more diverse with their executive teams and marketing, Field said, “There is a lot of, I don’t know if you want to call it pressure or an elevated consciousness because of everything that’s been going on, that it becomes correct to take that position. I’m glad. It’s not negative as long as it’s sincere.”null
Discussing cultural issues recently with three of her young gallery employees, Field said she told them “to take it easy and enjoy life.” After suggesting they make a T-shirt imprinted with “I have no gender issues,” her employees advised that would be misinterpreted. “How can they interpret it wrong? I’m just saying it like it is. I am known for hiring people that nobody else would hire. I didn’t hire them because they were gay or straight or this or that. I hired them because their creativity caught my interest. I didn’t care what color they were, what gender they were, how old or young they were. If you catch my brain, that’s what I like.”
Growing up on the Upper East Side, Field’s mother ran that dry-cleaning business in the East Seventies and specialized in “fancy clothes,” she said. After school, Field learned about the delicacy of silk and how that had to be pressed by hand, and other fabrics, as well as lessons about business. “A very hard worker, who was totally proud and happy with what she was doing,” Field’s mother inspired her to do the same post-New York University, she said.
The road to costume designer started with a job at the former department store Alexander’s in the South Bronx that she would drive to in “a little Sunbeam Alpine, the car that was in ‘Butterfield 8′ with Liz Taylor. I would drive up there in my little designer outfits that I would buy from Loehmann’s in those days,” Field said.
At Alexander’s, one day three executives came marching down to the blouse department that she managed, wanting to know why the numbers had increased so quickly and [by] so much. Field had ironed pre-packaged blouses and displayed them on bust forms that she had purchased instead of having plastic bags stacked on a table. “I said, ‘Come over here. This is probably why,’” she said with a laugh.
Decades later she has continued to seek a lot of clothes directly through consultant work or through the trends she creates as a costume designer. As for what designers might be missing, Field said “a lot of them, I’m not saying all of them, are missing inspiration. Maybe the ones that became famous got older and lost their touch. I’m not really sure. When I see designers trying to do streetwear, I really find it in a way disappointing.”null
Having come of age during the days of Halston and Courrèges, Field questioned who is a designer of that level today. “The imagination has been stifled by making the numbers. It’s a shame for fashion. Fashion is an art. It’s a cultural statement of the times.”
She continued, “I want to know, ‘Why did Alber Elbaz get fired from Lanvin?’ I have no idea. He was great. Several years ago I walked down the street here one day and I saw him doing the windows. It’s that kind of love that is missing and has been replaced by numbers. If you love it, the numbers come in on their own. You don’t have to be so self-conscious about it.”
Fashion has lost a certain panache, as in the Battle of Versailles, she said. “It’s kind of in a way dead. I have a very good friend, who is a jeans wear designer. He was telling me their biggest customer is Costco. His company is making an amazing amount of business. That’s just an example. I’m not putting it down — don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying big business has taken over fashion…there is a certain allure that is gone. I mean, it’s sneakers and sweatshirts.
”Fashion comes in stages. It’s a trend and then it’s over. You get tired of your skinny jeans and then you want jeans with a full leg. That’s what fashion is about. I agree with that. Fashion is definitely an expression of the culture of the time. If people feel poor, they dress that way,” she said. “I think about the 1930s and the Depression. The colors were faded, and the shapes, even if they followed the body, they followed it loosely. It’s a mentality.”
All in all, Field said it is really important for people to know what they are good at, and to have the confidence to pursue their strengths, regardless of what there profession is. “Why do something that you’re not good at?” she asked. “Life is one time. You have to enjoy it and have fun together.”
Reached in her “beautiful apartment right next to the Louvre and right on the Seine” that was provided by Emily in Paris production company, Field said she was having a glass of wine in her kitchen drinking in the scenery. “You caught me at a really good time because I just came in from working all day,” she said.