Iconic New York stylist, costumier, and fashion designer Patricia Field has been breaking fashion rules for over 50 years. Directed by Michael Selditch, Happy Clothes: A Film About Patricia Field, celebrates her life’s work.
One of New York’s original downtown club kids, Field opened her first fashion store in 1966. The store, in various locations, survived for 50 years before Field closed it in 2016 to focus on costume design and styling for the film and TV industries. Happy Clothes profiles Field’s work from her early days dressing the elite of New York, through her years as a fashion designer with shows during NY Fashion Week, to her uber-successful film and TV work.
Field’s fashion store, which ended up on the Bowery, was known for its unique sense of style – clashing colors and crazy prints in every fabric filled the rails. The place to be seen for decades, it was staffed by queer club kids, drag queens, trans folk, strippers and other NY scenesters. Field believed in her staff and encouraged them to be true to themselves. The store showcased a dazzling array of outfits, wigs, make-up, and one-off items. For example, it was the only place you could buy Keith Haring’s printed t-shirts. Field’s keen eye for new talent also saw her sell painted postcards in the late 1970s by a young Jean-Michel Basquiat for $10 a piece. Everyone who was anyone was a customer, including Debbie Harry, Farrah Fawcett, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Grace Jones…the list is endless. After 50 years, however, Field had had enough and sold her store.
Field’s film and TV costume work is probably what she is currently best known for. In particular, her work on Sex and the City, The Devil Wears Prada, Ugly Betty, and, more recently, Emily in Paris and Run The World. Who else could have gotten away with dressing Sarah Jessica Parker in a tutu out on the streets of Manhattan and make it look normal? Or put Merryl Streep in a huge white wig and make it feel natural, earning Field an Oscar nomination?
Selditch’s film follows 81-year-old Field at work today. The film is very much focused on the past twenty-five years of Field’s career, probably because Field doesn’t like to look back too much. Field is still as busy as ever, juggling the Parisian production schedules of Emily in Paris with the NY schedules of Run The World, the production of the documentary and the launch of an autobiography with other work too. She also has an ART Fashion gallery on the Lower East Side which sells art and hand-painted clothes and accessories. She still looks fantastic with her long burgundy hair, calf-length black leather dress, and ever-present cigarette. Her charisma, intelligence, patience, wit, lack of ego, and sense of style continuously shine through her close-knit team. She’s very much about empowering those around her to release their creativity. Every sentence of hers seems to contain new style inspiration – “mix high and low” – “push it to the limit” – “be eye-catching” – “ignore trends” – “go to the edge of the mountain but don’t jump off” – “the camera has to see it”. The self-titled ‘Exaggeration Queen’ understands that audiences want newness and to be entertained, often with outfits they wouldn’t dare to wear themselves. Or just couldn’t afford it. The budgets and designers Field gets to work with on her shows are eyewatering. The personal shopping department at Bergdorf Goodman is a frequent port of call.
Selditch combines his interviews with Field with archive footage, imagery, and interviews with a host of Field’s collaborators including Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, (both close friends of Field’s), Darren Star, Vanessa Williams, Michael Urie, Lily Collins and Bresha Webb. One of Field’s three past long-term girlfriends, (Field is a lesbian), Rebecca Weinberg, is also interviewed, as are various former retail staff and styling assistants – everyone full of juicy anecdotes of what has been an amazing life and career. As well as this fascinating fashion story, Selditch’s film is also an inspiring look at how to live in your ninth decade. Long live Patricia Field!
Queerguru’s Contributing Editor Ris Fatah is a successful fashion/luxury business consultant (when he can be bothered) who divides and wastes his time between London and Ibiza. He is a lover of all things queer, feminist, and human rights in general. @ris.fatah