Styling: Katharine K. Zarrella
Patricia Field has electrified Lower Manhattan since 1966. With a singular, larger than life aesthetic, a flare for the eccentric, and a passion for young talents, Field is perhaps best known for her costume design work on hits like Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada. But it is inside the walls of her eponymous Bowery Street store—which stocks everything from handmade clothes by independent talents to Carrie Bradshaw’s real black diamond engagement ring, to amusing little baubles Field picks up at Las Vegas junk shows—that the real magic happens. This holiday season, Field has reimagined her retail destination and created an installation inside Rei Kawakubo’s Dover Street Market New York. Boasting hand painted wares by Scooter Laforge, kitschy-cool hats by Badacious, and much, much more, the Patricia Field x DSMNY space, which runs through December 28, is a topsy-turvy wonderland of color and creativity.
While Field’s DSMNY collaboration is an undisputed burst of holiday joy, it must be noted that, after 50 years in business, Field is closing the doors to her iconic Bowery Street store—a decision she describes as “bittersweet.” Here, Field, whose voice is as raspy as her hair is fiery, sits down with V to discuss her illustrious career, the time she apologized to Beyoncé, and why she’s closing up shop.
KATHARINE K. ZARRELLA When we were chatting earlier, you mentioned that you loved talking to people. Is the fact that you get to meet and speak with so many creative individuals what drew you to this profession?
PATRICIA FIELD At this point, yes. I get to meet so many wild and creative people, but when I was out of college, I was just trying to figure out what I was going to do. I studied liberal arts, and I didn’t want to work in an office. I wanted to have my own business and be independent, and fashion was easy for me. I’m a believer that if you’re good at something, go for it. Don’t go for something that you have difficulty with because of some misguided notion. Anyway, because I was good at [fashion] and I liked it, I did well at it. And I grew, and I met all of these fabulous people. They came as a result.
KKZ Of all the people you’ve met, who has had the biggest impact on your career?
PF That’s very hard to say because there have been many people that have impacted me in different ways; however, in general, I am drawn to people who teach me something. Intelligent people. Creative, visual people. People who teach me something just looking at them. I’ve been impacted by entertainers. For example, I’m highly respectful of Beyoncé.
KKZ Who isn’t?
PF She shopped in my store when she was a teenager—when she was in Destiny’s Child. Her mom and [the group] used to come in. I watched her career. I respect her because she made something of herself, but she was focused, and she became better and better at what she did. She started young, and because of that she had an advantage. I’m a believer in child labor, because kids learn best. And I say it in a light-hearted way but kids’ brains are sponges.
KKZ What are your earliest memories of fashion?
PF One thing that really impacted me when I was a young teenager—13, 14—growing up in Queens was this shop called Ronnie’s. It was in Flushing, and they just had the coolest stuff. They had men’s stuff for girls. It wasn’t like the ’50s anymore. Or maybe it was the ‘50s, but it was the new 1950s. It wasn’t like in Grease. That shop really impacted me and when I opened up my first store when I was 24, I had that store in my brain.
KKZ Do you feel the same way about fashion now as you did when you opened your first store at 24?
PF I feel the same way in the sense that, my brain, my life, and my interests, go with young. I opened up my first [on West 8th Street] near NYU when I was 24. I had graduated from NYU when I was 19 or 20, and I chose that area because I knew the traffic and the lay of the land: young women going back and forth from class to class. I found a little shop that I could afford and I never left the youth. I got older, but the kids kept coming. They inspire me because they have an energy. Their life is ahead of them and they’re excited. From the beginning to now that’s still the same. That’s where I gravitate because that’s where the energy comes from.
KKZ How has the youth culture in New York changed over the course of your career?
PF That’s really hard to say without sounding like an old lady. One thing that I find in a lot of the youth today is that they expect this thing [points to her iPhone] to do the work for them. It’s about shortcuts. Look at language. People speak in short speak. When I send messages, I put in commas because I think punctuation is a form of expression. Like an exclamation mark or whatever. I love language. Languages are beautiful. I know Greek from my family. So when I see language being...I don’t want to get into the heavy duty or whatever, but the shortcuts have impacted the youth. The fact that New York is so commercial has impacted the youth. I don’t know what to do about that. The kids move out to Brooklyn. They can’t afford New York. It’s the commercial hub, but the kids are the ones who are most creative and we don’t want to lose those kids. The economy has changed a lot. It’s a new world, and the kids will be all right because they have the energy. Life goes on. You can’t stop progress. You can’t go against the flow. You have to go with it and find your balance.
KKZ On a much lighter note, tell me about your Dover Street Market installation.
PF I thought it was an interesting opportunity because my shop has a branded image that I’ve created. It’s one of a kind. And the image here is another image, so I liked the idea of trying to live in another world. Let’s take a trip to Mars! I wanted to present myself in a way that I felt would be enjoyed by the clients at Dover Street, and in the past year or so, I’ve had a very big, positive reaction to individual one-of-a-kind pieces, like painted clothing or collections by small designers that are nowhere else. So I brought that here.
KKZ You have so many wonderful independent designers in the installation. How did you discover them?
PF I discovered them because I had my eyes open and my heart was there. When you see something, it registers instead of going past your eyes. That’s what I try to tell my buyers: You have to buy inspired.
KKZ Despite popular belief, it’s very difficult to go against the grain while working in the fashion industry. However, you have stayed true to yourself throughout your career. How did you manage to stick to your guns all these years?
PF That’s a good question. I understood that I was always on the periphery. But as I had my own shop, I was independent, and I didn’t care because at the end of the day, as long as I took home some money and could pay my rent, I was happy. I didn’t have to have overwhelming acceptance from the fashion world. I was having fun, and that’s what mattered to me. One thing I will say is when I started doing movies and TV work, the Sex and the City thing completely changed that attitude. I became Patricia, not Pat. I was on the front row, not that I ever took it seriously. I was like Okay, fine, now I’m Patricia. Now Sex and the City is over, Sex and the City was a great experience. But my store didn’t change, and Sex and the City was not my store. My store was whatever it was. And my store remained the way it was, but I branched out. That really pushed the, let’s say, establishment respect for me.
KKZ At this point in your career, do you care about what the establishment thinks?
PF Not really. I mean, I’m not pooh-poohing the establishment, but whatever they think, I’m still going to do my thing because I don’t know how to do it any other way but my way.
KKZ It’s been in the news that you’re closing up shop. How are you feeling about that?
PF It’s bittersweet, but it’s more sweet than bitter. In 2016, which is when I will close my store, it is my fiftieth anniversary in business. It’s not that I don’t love my store, but 50 years? Let’s face it—it takes more and more time of my day every day, including Saturday and Sunday. I have to turn down other opportunities and I have this great real estate on the Bowery that I was fortunate enough to buy, and I’ve had many offers to sell it. Finally, I reached a point and I said, Okay, I’m going to sell it because I want to do more. I don’t want to keep repeating. I think 50 years is long enough.
KKZ After 50 years in business, you must have seen quite a bit! What is the most outrageous thing that’s happened at the Patricia Field store?
PF Oh god, there have been so many crazy outrageous things, but I’m going to go back to Beyoncé. One day, I saw in some magazine—a gossip magazine—this little article about how Beyoncé and her group had been thrown out of Patricia Field. I was a fan of Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child, so I thought, I’ve got to find out what this is about. Apparently, some new employee was working at the wig bar, and [Destiny’s Child] came in with the mom, and he was like, “You have to put on a wig cap, and you have to pay five dollars to try on a wig.” Now, these were good customers, and this little jerk went out and sat at a bar somewhere with somebody, bragging that he read Beyoncé the riot act. This somebody that he sat and chitchatted to, bragged to…
KKZ Oh no, was it Page Six?
PF Yes! Well something like that. I don’t remember the exact magazine, but Beyoncé and the girls were performing down in New Jersey, so I drove over there, and I went to see them to personally apologize for this.
KKZ What was their reaction?
PF They were very nice. They said Patricia, don’t worry about it. But sometimes, people work in my store and they think that all of the sudden they’ve blossomed into Prince Fields.
KKZ So what are your plans once the store closes? I know you’re currently working on Younger. Will you shift your focus to T.V. and film?
PF Yes, and you know, maybe I’ll be able to make my own film, which I’ve always wanted to do. I finally have a script, but no time.
KKZ Did you write the script?
PF No. It’s a take on a hilarious comedy from Greece from the late ‘50s about an inheritance. We bought the rights to it. We want to make a movie. Maybe it will happen in 2016 because a producer wanted to do it as a play in New York, just to test it out. There are many things I want to do. I want my life to be dynamic and interesting. I need time.
Dover Street Market is located at 160 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY