The secrets of 'Sex and the City' - by the woman who dresses Sarah Jessica Parker
Published 28/09/2011 | 15:13
She may be credited as the woman who invented leggings in the '70s, but Patricia Field has mined a richer fashion seam since then.
As the brains behind those conversation-starter costumes on Sex and the City, Field's appeal as a style tastemaker has long gone global.
An M&S design range, Oscar nomination, Manhattan store and countless other iconic looks later, the 70-year-old boasts a legacy beyond leggings.
When we meet in London, Field is under yet another guise; as the new brand ambassador to Lenor's Infusions range. Research conducted by Lenor found that almost 90% of us do not wear all of the clothes in our wardrobes.
It's a timely enough campaign, given that most recession-addled Irish women are looking back into their wardrobes. And if anyone knows about how to do a wardrobe remix, it's her.
"You have something in your closet and you get an emotional attachment to it and it touches some non-rational side of you," she explains.
"Another thing people do that I don't do is buy trendy things that you have to hand, because everyone else is wearing it. It's a fallacy as far I'm concerned."
Perhaps not surprisingly, Field has a style that's very much all her own. Even now at 70, she is working pillar-box red hair and striped trousers that many a woman half her age would baulk at squaring up to.
"To have personal style, you have to own it," she declares.
"Personal style is personal and a magazine can't give you a personal style.
"I can't either, though I'm very often asked that question. If you want to play the style game with yourself, you need the time and peace of mind to think."
Which brings us neatly to another burning sartorial question; do women dress for men or women?
"For your girlfriends you dress to be the fiercest, so that they're jealous; and for your boyfriend you dress sexy, so you'll get laid," she declares with a husky laugh.
"The best proof of that is Sex and the City; the girls loved Sarah Jessica (Parker, who played Carrie). But the boys didn't like her.
"They liked Charlotte (the prim character played by Kristin Davis). They could take her home to Mama, not the crazy fashionista."
Ah, Sex and the City ... the arguable zenith in Field's 40-year career.
According to lore, Parker met the designer on the set of cinematic turkey Miami Rhapsody in 1995. So taken was she with Field's designs that they became friends ... and her first port of call when it came to creating Carrie Bradshaw's unforgettable wardrobe.
"Sex and the City put me out there worldwide," she concedes. "That was a great thing. I can walk anywhere in the world and people tell me they love what I did."
By now, tales are legion about the way designers clamoured to be involved in Sex and the City and its ensuing spin-off films. The wardrobe budget for Sex and the City 2, famously, neared the $10m mark.
But it hasn't always been this way.
"The budgets didn't start out huge and I think that's where creativity comes in," she muses.
"I'm not a big-budget person, it's easier to spend money like crazy and everything's there at your fingertips, but it's not the most professional way to approach a situation.
"[In the beginning] we'd call showrooms and never hear from anyone. As for some of the tricks I would use ... well, there's a consignment (charity) store in New York, where a lot of the stuff came from.
"There was a fur coat that Carrie wore all the time that we got for $350, so we got our money's worth."
Fast forward 10 years to the film franchise, where Field occupied the entire floor of a huge New York building and presided over a huge team and 'astronomical' budget:
"There was a room for the fine jewellery, costume jewellery, a room for the bags.
"When stuff was coming in, it was like (waves hands across her face in forbidding fashion) 'There was so much crap, I'll never see every piece. This is insane. It's too much'. But it meant limitless possibilities of combinations."
Sounds a bit like the on-screen moment when Carrie had a near-meltdown in the Vogue accessories cupboard, I venture. "I'm not the meltdown type," Field counters coolly. "I'm more balanced than that."
However, life after the iconic show wrapped up in 2004 was double-edged for Field. "After the show, I did many other jobs where they tried to be the new Sex and the City. After a while I was like, 'I don't wanna do this anymore'.
"I did The Devil Wears Prada because the director (David Frankel) and I were friends. And of course, you had Meryl (Streep) and Anne Hathaway. But after that, the repetition got to me."
As to the prospect of working on the next Sex and the City film, rumoured to feature a pregnant Carrie Bradshaw, Field is largely unmoved.
"I probably wouldn't take the job," she sighs. "It's not important enough. I wouldn't take it if (the film) was about pregnancy chic. I don't need that aggravation."
That said, not for she the gilded, breezy life of retirement. "Oh my god!" she rasps, suddenly enlivened when I ask her what else there might be to achieve. "There are so many things. I'd be an astronomer.
"Right now I'm expanding my design capabilities. I have a private client who asked me if I'd design their house interior.
'It's fun, but still in the design area. That's why I was happy to accept the Lenor gig, because it's something that's a little different."
Surely someone has had the wherewithal to offer her a deal for a tell-all book?
"I've been approached to do books but I'venot been inspired yet to do a book," she smiles. "I'd love to have a talk show on TV ... but not a reality show. I've been approached many times to do a reality show. I know so many interesting people that a chat show would totally work."
Now that Oprah has left a gap in the chat-show market, the prospect seems almost too delicious to ignore.