Can you imagine what Sex and the City would be without Manolo Blahniks, Carrie’s signature necklace, or that iconic tutu in the theme song? And try to imagine The Devil Wears Prada without, well, Prada? The creative force behind these pop-culture hits is just as memorable as her onscreen work. Patricia Field is the award-winning costume designer behind Sex and the City, The Devil Wears Prada, Younger, and Emily in Paris. The 82-year-old Greek-American has lived a life as colorful as the outfits she designs. Field’s memoir Pat in the City: My Life of Fashion, Style and Breaking All the Rules effortlessly interweaves love, culture, and art. On one hand, she writes an exploration of the native New Yorker’s rise as one of fashion’s leading voices. Through a queer lens, the memoir explores what it means to be successful and authentically oneself all while nurturing and building community on the basis of love and art.
While fashion is at the story’s forefront, love is the driving force whether channeled into her clients’ outfits, business relations, or romantic relationships. Nothing is off limits as Field chronicles some of her earliest encounters with men — including a shocking relationship with a man thirteen years her senior when she was fourteen — before she started to also date women.
“A serial monogamist, I went back and forth between men and women after I graduated from NYU,” Field writes. “Case in point, I was dating a sexy Iranian-Assyrian guy when—surprise—I fell in love with Jo Ann.”
Field—never one for labels—candidly discusses her relationships with a brass and unapologetic nature. It’s that authentic New Yorker bluntness that draws readers into her story, and surely must have helped her gain the respect and trust from HBO studio executives all the way to her working relationships-turned-friendships with Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall.
And while fans of Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada will surely enjoy the behind-the-scenes secrets and fun facts — did you know that studio executives were against dying Miranda’s hair in The Devil Wears Prada until Meryl Streep stepped in? — the story excels in its exploration of Field’s self-created urban community: truly, one for the girls, gays, and theys.
“I was the parental figure to this motley crew. For some of my kids, Patricia Field was a family away from their family. For others, we were their only family.”
In the ‘80s, Field opened a downtown boutique that quickly gained attention. Its client list was a mix of drag queens and socialites and strippers, and even in the later years, A-list clientele such as Beyoncé and Lenny Kravitz visited. But Field kept prices low so young adults could afford her clothes.
Field always kept her eye out for the younger generation of artists and designers. The “Mother”m as many called her, hired queer and transgender employees, and Field highlights the extraordinary obstacles that trans folks faced when seeking employment.
Field’s store, for all the chaos and arguments and excitement, grew into an urban family. Regardless of which employees got along, one unspoken rule was that no matter the outside judgment, within the store all identities would be respected; bigotry was not welcomed.
One of the most shocking claims was an encounter with JFK Jr. in which he was kicked out of Field’s store. As she writes, the son of JFK and Jackie O. was displeased from the attention his then-girlfriend Daryl Hannah was receiving from the employees.
“‘Bunch of freaks,’” Field writes that JFK Jr. said to which an employee fired back, “‘If you don’t like it here, get the f*ck out.’”
But even within a tight community, loss found its way in. Though the ‘80s were electric and eccentric, filled with nights dancing throughout Manhattan clubs, there was immense sadness and loss. Field pays homage to the AIDS epidemic and the lives it took. She discusses the activism of the time, honoring the peers she lost too soon.
“Sure enough, a year later, he was dead,” she writes about her friend Little Michael, who had introduced her to Studio 54. “He was only in his twenties, and the disease didn’t even have a name. AIDS quickly began to claim all kinds of people, from acquaintances to good friends.”
There were other hardships that followed. Field chronicles breakups, a battle with anxiety, and even the apparent double-suicide of her former girlfriend, Barbara, and Barbara’s longtime partner. Through the sadness, she interweaves hope and words of determination that’s contagious. She’s a visionary, truly embodying the bright, beloved, and timeless nature of her designs in her life. Even with her frankness, there’s a humble and soft lyricism behind her words, painting the picture of an artist and businesswoman who never succumbed to the flashiness of notoriety nor ego, but continued to pursue her passion while mentoring others.
Pat in the City is an ode to queer excellence: to the art created, the friendships formed, and paving the way to success on one’s own terms.♦