I recently vocalized my fantasy of peeking inside the wardrobe of iconic costume designer Patricia Field, but thanks to a serendipitous email from her publicist, I ended up peeking inside something even better: her brain. We spoke on the phone for an hour about everything from Carrie Bradshaw to Carrie Bradshaw. Just kidding — we talked about other stuff too, like Miranda Hobbes, The Devil Wears Prada and ARTFASHION, an online gallery of hand-painted, one-of-a-kind clothing curated by Field. Read what she had to say below.
On How She Got Started in Costume Design
I opened my East Village store, Patricia Field, in the mid-60s. I didn’t get into costume design until 20 years later, when I was hired to style Diane Lane for her role in the movie Lady Beware. The director wanted a fashion-y look — something different from classical costume design. I didn’t have any experience, but everyone was very supportive. The producers liked my work and that led to another movie gig in L.A. The rest is history.
Styling on set wasn’t unlike what I did every day in my store styling customers, but I was ready for some new inspiration career-wise, and it was very good money. I was really energized by the idea of getting into a second career. The timing was right for me in a lot of ways, especially because romantic comedies were picking up steam in the movie industry and there was a big need for aspirational, positive styling, which has always been my specialty.
On Getting Hired for Sex and the City
I worked on a movie in the early 90s called Miami Rhapsody that Sarah Jessica [Parker] starred in, so that was the first time we met. A year or so later, she got the Sex and the City role. They filmed a pilot and nobody was happy with the clothes. Sarah Jessica suggested I meet Darren Star, the creator of Sex and the City, and they ended up hiring me. I made some changes to the clothes on the pilot before it got aired. The first year was good, but the show really exploded going into the second season. People loved it.
A lot of Carrie’s style was inspired by Sarah Jessica herself. As the show went on, she expressed a desire to be more designer, a little less funky. I personally believed the audience loved a high-low look — a mix of designer and vintage — because that was something new and interesting on TV and also attainable. It was more about style than fashion design — a real person’s wardrobe, but with imagination.
Sarah Jessica was the perfect person to be wearing these outfits because she sees herself as a fashionista. You can put anything on her and it looks fabulous. She knows how to move in clothes. As a costume designer, I love working with an actor who is interested in fashion. It’s like playing tennis — you want someone on the other side of the net who’s a good tennis player, otherwise there’s no game.
On Her Favorite Carrie Bradshaw Outfit
I think my favorite outfit I styled for Carrie was in the second Sex and the City movie when I put her in a “J’adore Dior” T-shirt with a long taffeta skirt. I also loved the Versace gown Carrie wore in the very last episode of the TV series, when she’s waiting for Aleksandr Petrovsky in their hotel room and she’s all dressed and gorgeous and he doesn’t show up. The dress really amped up the emotion of that scene. Costume design isn’t about selling clothes, it’s about telling a story. That’s something I learned along the way.
On Her Least Favorite Carrie Bradshaw Outfit
The show ran for six years and there were about 24 episodes a season, so that’s a LOT of outfits, but I only have one where I look at it and say, “Eh.” She was wearing a skirt and a crop top, and I threw a belt around her naked waist. Even when I did it I was hesitant, but I think Sarah Jessica liked it, so I went ahead and kept it on. But when I saw it later I thought it was just obnoxious. I should have slung the belt a little lower.
On What It Would be Like to Style Carrie in 2018
If I were styling Carrie Bradshaw in 2018, I really feel like it would be more of the same — entertaining, aspirational, positive. Definitely not normcore [laughs]. To be honest, I feel like I’m waiting for a new dawn of imagination to happen in fashion. It’s going in all kinds of directions right now and there isn’t really a philosophy behind it. There isn’t a culture. The silhouettes are noncommittal.
In the 60s, we were literally going to the moon — it was exciting and optimistic and designers like Pierre Cardin and Rudi Gernreich captured that atmosphere in their work. The 20s were like that, too — everyone was showing off their ankles and dancing the Charleston. Today people don’t dance; they go to clubs and hang out and drink.
I am a student of history and philosophy, I get a lot of my inspiration from my knowledge of these subjects. I believe in the idea that the culture of the time, the experience of the time, is basically what creates the zeitgeist in fashion, so to speak.
On Miranda Hobbes
Miranda was the least self-consciously fashionable character in Sex and the City because she had other values. That was important, because these characters had to be real, believable, identifiable. A lot of times people would say, “She dresses the worst.” But that was her character. Through the course of the series, we got better and better at creating her look without abandoning her integrity.
I would also like to say that I am actively supporting Cynthia Nixon — who I respect and know very well — for governor. I’m going to throw her a cocktail mixer.
On Styling Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep for The Devil Wears Prada
It was exciting. Anne Hathaway was young and willing but at the same time she had experience because she came up through Disney. She was trusting and went along with what we were doing and it allowed us to craft the image of a young girl fresh out of school who got a job she didn’t plan on. She’s not a “fashion person” at first, and that comes across in her clothes.
Getting to work with Meryl Streep was one of the big draws for me when I accepted the job. I was like, “Absolutely.” I was on cloud nine. Meryl is the ultimate professional. She knew exactly what she was doing. She was the one who came up with the idea that her character should have white hair, and I loved it, but it became an incident with the producers. They equated white hair with “old lady,” and I couldn’t convince them it was stylish. Eventually she told them she was doing white hair and that was that.
On the Biggest Style Icons of Today
I’m a big fan of Jillian Hervey from the group Lion Babe. She always looks fantastic. Also Beyoncé. She used to be a customer at my store. She would come with her mother and the Destiny’s Child girls. Jennifer Lopez, too. I recently worked with her on a movie called Second Act that’s coming out this fall.
On Following Trends vs. Trusting Her Gut
I kind of stay away from trends because I find that trends have a short life, especially in television. They make things look dated. You’ll be watching an old episode of something and go, “Oh, that’s the 90s.” That’s why I like to mix things up. All the outfits in Sex and the City were completely original — they weren’t dictated by any particular designer or trend. That’s why they still resonate decades later.
Feature image and photos by Edith Young.