In an interview, costume designer Patricia Field talks about her new documentary, why she’s never liked fashion rules and tutus
Costume designer Patricia Field has never liked fashion rules.
The woman who paired a tutu with stilettos on Sarah Jessica Parker in “Sex and the City” and made a plaid bucket hat cool on Lily Collins in “Emily in Paris” has a way of making the tall fashion feels accessible to the masses. . She explains how she does it in the new documentary, “Happy Clothes: A Film About Patricia Field,” which recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The film is directed by Michael Selditch, who also directed the CNN documentary series “American Style” in 2019. While interviewing Field for that series, he found a bold character with a unique and unconventional style of mixing colors and patterns and looks of designer with street clothes. While Field initially resisted the idea of a documentary crew following her, she eventually relented, saying she’s pleased with the outcome.
Field, 81, an Emmy winner, was behind the clever outfits in “Ugly Betty” and is also known for designing movies, including “The Devil Wears Prada,” which earned her an Oscar nomination. The Associated Press sat down with Field and Selditch recently to talk about their process, that tutu, and what item everyone should have in their closet.
Responses have been abbreviated for brevity and clarity.
AP: How did you get Pat to accept this documentary?
SELDITCH: I told him, “You know, anybody can make a documentary about you. We can always find people to sit down and talk about working with you and say wonderful things and add stock images. But that’s not exactly the documentary I want to make. I want to see your process. I want to see you buy. I want to see you working with actors. I really want to make it happen and watch you work and get in your head and be a fly on the wall.” And I said, “If we don’t do it now, when are you going to do it?”
AP: What is a typical wardrobe fitting like for you?
FIELD: There’s a person and then there’s a character. But behind that character is the person, and it is very important that he feel good because, in my opinion, that is my responsibility. It is not about dictating to the actors what is good and what is not. It’s about giving them options and, of course, getting to know them. Once you get to know them, it becomes a bit more automatic. Like Sarah Jessica Parker, I know her. I worked with her before her. I know her taste. It’s about the relationship and making sure the actor in front of that camera feels comfortable, positive, and ready to perform.
AP: Your wardrobe on “Sex and The City” helped make designer brands feel more attainable by mixing high-fashion accessories with standard basics. Was that intentional?
FIELD: Let’s talk about mixing high and low. I think you can’t just use high or you can’t just use low. People say, “orange and red don’t go together.” Well, they go together in a fruit bowl! (smiles) It’s nature. And that’s wrong? So I go by this little philosophy of mine and I tend not to get distracted by customs or rules or whatever comes up. It’s just my expression and if I feel good about it and the actor feels good about it, then it’s okay.
AP: The white tutu and gold “Carrie” necklace have become iconic items. You know when you put something like that on an actor that he’s going to hit?
FIELD: I don’t always have that same formula of knowing in advance what it’s going to be. But I have my taste. It’s not casual for me, and I guess it’s my formula and I think it works for me. It’s very important. Dressing someone, male or female, is a two-way street. They are in the clothes, they need to be happy. I offer the clothes, I have to be satisfied. It is always better to establish a positive relationship and when the actor trusts you, you are home free.
SELDITCH: One of the things I really love and admire about Pat is that she follows her instincts in her work and in her life. And I think what you’re seeing there, like the tutu, it’s just in her gut, it felt right to her. Other people might be like, “Why?” But to her it felt good. And it turned out to be. And her instinct is not ordinary or obvious. It’s fun, crazy and exciting. And that’s one of the things that people respond to in Pat’s work.
FIELD: I think the tutu industry will thank me. (laughs) I can’t stop looking at tutus! Years go by and there are always tutus on the rack. I saw this (skirt) in the showroom, got it out of a basket on the floor and immediately thought of Sarah Jessica because she trained in ballet and is also a fashion designer. She will understand this. She’s not going to try this with a pair of ballet shoes. She’s going to put on a pair of stilettos and she’s going to have this little thing. And I said, “Darren (showrunner Darren Star) if it’s a hit, and I think it will be, that tutu will be a classic through time.”
AP: You worked with Molly Rogers on “SATC” and now she’s the costume designer for “And Just Like That…” Do you think she’s been consistent with the style of the new show?
FIELD: I think it’s great. She has experience. I have worked with Molly for many years. I met her at my store on Calle 8 and hired her and since then we have been together doing different projects. It is a very long and loving relationship. There is definitely a consistency. But at the same time, it wouldn’t be so good if he tried to copy me. She is creative. She has her own way of seeing it. I think they are doing a great job. I would probably be very disappointed if they weren’t.
AP: What accessory do you think everyone should have?
FIELD: I like a belt because the belt defines the waist and you know, all of this as loose, shapeless clothing, I don’t find it very exciting. So I’m definitely a belt girl.