You can tell you’re watching a Patricia Field television series or movie long before you reach the rolling credits for costume design. The technicolor outfit combinations, gigantic accessories and exorbitant luxury brands, artfully mixed with vintage pieces, are quintessentially hers.
It’s an aesthetic as recognisable as eight-time Oscar-winner Edith Head’s work at Paramount with Grace Kelly in Rear Window and Bette Davis in All About Eve, or Hubert de Givenchy’s outfits for Audrey Hepburn.
Critical recognition has been slow to overtake the broad popularity of the fuchsia-haired 82-year-old. Perhaps it’s because Field’s fame has come from television, with her work on Sex and the City, Ugly Betty, Younger and Emily In Paris, or her gritty background weaving through New York’s downtown nightlife. Now an upcoming documentary Happy Clothes and her memoir Pat in the City redresses the balance. Almost as revealing are the costumes Field has created on screen. Here is part of her life in pictures that have stopped moving.
- New York darling, 1980
After stints studying philosophy and government at New York University and as a fashion buyer, the US-born, half-Armenian, half-Greek Field opened her first boutique in 1966 and was a fixture of the downtown scene that drifted through her store.
“From drag queens to strippers to socialites to celebrities, you never knew who was going to be at Patricia Field,” she writes in Pat in the City.
Field released her own collections from the store, including in 1980 a tutu precursor to the classic ensemble worn by Sarah Jessica Parker in the opening credits of Sex and the City.
The Sex and the City tutu was found on a showroom floor and bought for $5, with four recreated from the original, but producer Darren Starr almost scrapped the ensemble.
“It was very difficult for the producers to understand the tutu,” Field told Entertainment Weekly in 2017.
“Sarah Jessica and I were fighting for it, and Darren said, ‘OK, but I want other outfits as possibilities’.”
Starr eventually came around: “It was such a brilliant choice because, in a way, Carrie’s dancing through her life in New York.”
2. Carrie in the beginning
The 1997 pilot of Sex and the City barely registers on anyone’s fashion radar because it was filmed before Field was enlisted by Parker. The pair had bonded over tight T-shirts on the 1995 romantic comedy Miami Rhapsody, and Parker sent her new friend to meet Starr after seeing the disappointing first takes. To impress Starr, Field showed a book featuring pictures of pin-up Bettie Page.
“This was going to be an honest exploration about adult female sexual relationships, and so the fashion had to reflect that sort of open-mindedness,” Field writes. “Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda were not stereotypes of women along the slut/prude spectrum but rather characters juggling the complex mix of careers, sexual desires, and real friendships.”
Initially, Parker’s character, Carrie Bradshaw, was a bohemian mix of furs and scarves, shirts without trousers and tight dresses. In a show with 50 outfits per episode, a full fur coat was a frequent addition, worn with little black dresses, florals and voluminous skirts.
3. The floral dress and the fountain.
Melbourne-born, LA-based designer Richard Tyler created the floral dress worn by Parker in the Sex and the City series three final episode ‘Cock a Doodle Do’. Field sourced two dresses from Tyler’s Resort 2001 collection, which sold for $US3200, for the scene as Parker eventually ends up in a fountain. Parker kept the asymmetrical dress in her personal collection before donating it to the Museums Victoria collections in 2003.
4. Samantha Jones
While the character of Carrie Bradshaw remains Field’s favourite from Sex and the City, Samantha Jones, played by Kim Cattrall, is a close second. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) was sentenced to a life in suits and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) stuck to a formula of A-line skirts, but Samantha swung between padded shoulders and tight-fitting dresses in a brazen display of mature sexuality. One standout look is a New York Dolls bootleg, halter-neck, lace-up jumpsuit worn with a silver fanny pack.
Field has remained friends with Cattrall and Parker, who have reportedly fallen out since the completion of the second Sex and the City movie. Cattrall was not asked to appear in the sequel series And Just Like That… Field also passed on And Just Like That…, instead consulting on Cattrall’s new series, Glamorous.
5. The Devil Wears Field
The 2006 movie adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada gave us lectures on cerulean blue, florals for spring and some of the best fashion seen on screen. While Meryl Streep embodies boss chic as Miranda Priestly, it is Anne Hathaway’s character, Andy, who receives the most memorable makeover.
“She starts out looking a bit grungy, non fashion-conscious,” Field told Harper’s Bazaar in 2016. “And along the storyline she develops into a little fashionista. After my meeting with her and understanding her personality, I got the idea that she’s a Chanel girl. And when I spoke to Chanel — and here we go again: classic — when I spoke to Chanel they were very happy. They wanted to put their clothes on a young girl. They were very happy to work with me, which was great because there’s nothing like cooperation when you’re trying to paint a picture and you have all your paints there, and in this case the paint was Chanel.”
The outfit of Chanel boots and a blazer that Andy wears to the office after her makeover now ranks alongside Julia Roberts “you work on commission” skirt suit in the movie revenge outfit hall of fame.
6. The Ugly Truth
The 2006-2010 television series Ugly Betty was a fish out of water tale of the kind-hearted Betty Suarez, played by America Ferrera, working in the cut-throat world ofAmerica Ferr fashion publishing.
“She’s interpreting the fashion in her own way,” Field said at a lecture in 2009. “She knows tights and leggings are in, but how she puts them together is done in her own special way. Field is also responsible for Betty’s signature, oversized glasses.
“I had some red glasses on my head,” Field said. “America Ferrera asked to try them on, and they instantly became Betty’s glasses.”
7. Getting Younger
Producer Darren Starr showed further faith in the skills of Field, who does not sew or sketch, by enlisting her for the Sutton Foster series Younger, where the Broadway star played a woman in her 40s impersonating someone in their 20s.
While Foster shone, the style breakout star of the series was Miriam Shor as publishing executive Diana Trout.
“Miriam is a comedic actress, a professional theatre actress,“ Field said in 2016. “When I started putting these exaggerated pieces of jewellery 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.”
8. Pat in Paris
For producer Starr’s latest success story Emily In Paris, Field defined the aesthetic for the first two seasons, before stepping aside to let Marylin Fitoussi take the reins. By outfitting star Lily Collins in designer clothing from Chanel, Kenzo and Dolce & Gabbana, Field drew familiar criticism for presenting characters with limited budgets in mortgage-worthy ensembles. Carrie in SATC, with her wardrobe full of Manolo Blahnik shoes, was a similar target. Field remains unrepentant.
“We live in a complicated, sometimes painful time,” she told L’Officiel magazine. “Maybe a little lightness, fun, is what we really need. And fashion also serves this purpose.”
Also familiar is praise for Field’s nuanced presentation of older women, with her sexy approach to Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu’s character, Sylvie. To research French style, Field travelled to Paris but preferred her version.
“Forget French chic,” Field writes. “It’s dead.”
Pat in the City is published by HarperCollins on June 7, $34.99. Happy Clothes has its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 15.
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