THE HOUSE THAT PAT BUILT
A Conversation with PATRICIA FIELD
By Anita Marie Antonini
Summer is here at last and it’s already hot in the city. Our June 2012 issue of PMc Magazine is the Global Issue, celebrating our world, and all that is at the center of the universe. Case in point: Patricia Field, an icon in the fashion world, just a nice Greek girl from Queens with a retail dream that is now 50 years in the making. I sat down with Pat, and her two poodles Putana and Sultana (yes, translation: Whore and Queen) in her new 4,000 square foot store on the Bowery to reminisce about the old days (and I mean really old, like the 1800s) and chat about the grand opening of her new fun-filled store. It’s an amalgamation of her career, with everything from cherished memorabilia and paintings to set pieces from The Devil Wears Prada.
Walking through that door to interview it’s owner was more Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium than Sex and the City. It’s a magical place where, like Pat’s visionary costuming for movies and television, the store is a character in itself. The place was buzzing, music was pumping, the poodles were running around as the staff was getting ready for the party. We asked for a quiet corner to converse. It’s just a press event she kept saying. As she yelled above the loud music, “It’s not the party yet,” we found a spot amongst the shoes.
Anita Marie Antonini: Before we begin I just wanted to tell you something from my past before I knew Patrick [McMullan]. I met Marc Jacobs right after college when we were both 21 years old and I worked with him for like 8 years or so at the beginning of our careers. So, when I was talking to Ingrid [Patricia Field’s Publicist] the other day, I mentioned that I even went to the Grand Street Ball you had in 1989.
Patricia Field: Oh yes! The Ball! When Marc [Jacobs] was there!
AMA: Marc picked up Robert [Duffy] and I in a cab…and we were like, “Marc, where’s your pants!?” And he said: “I’m not wearing any pants!” [Laughs.] Marc was in full tuxedo minus the pants and biker boots.
PF: I have a picture of him on my wall from that Ball…I don’t know if you noticed it? But I’ll show it to you! A friend of mine, Paul Chelstad, he documented everything. he’s a painter. And he photographed various
celebs, dancers, voguers, and then he does a stencil-combo airbrush, and he made me these three panels of the Ball. I’m gonna show it to you!
AMA: So I just wanted to start with that because it’s 4,000 square feet of space with a lot of memorabilia in here…
PF: There’s a lot of memorabilia as well as new! I mean, the paintings, these columns for example, they were from The Devil Wears Prada. There was a closet, a fashion closet at the magazine, and these columns were part of the set design. So when it was over, they were going to “junk” them and I said, “No, no, no! I’ll take them!” So I actually had them in my store next door before I moved, but I brought them here & they look better here than in the last store. They look great! So there’s memorabilia here, from different sculptural memorabilias as well as paintings thru the years. I mean, when we walk down “the catwalk” [which is a bridge in store overlooking basement level] we say, “What are we gonna do with all this!?” There’s a pile and we still haven’t figured out
what we’re gonna do with them!
AMA: Love the pile! Oh yeah, cause you’ve been doing this for a long time! You had Pants Plus in the 60s, and then you were on 8th street for like 30 years.
PF: Yes! 30 years on 8th street. But actually my first store was on Washington Place, east of Broadway, right between the park and Broadway. It was like two blocks down from 8th street, and then in 1971 I moved
to 8th street.
AMA: I was mentioning how these kids in my office know you from Sex and the City and that fame, and not necessarily that you’ve been a retailer for over 40 years, right? And, I mean, you’re a nice Greek girl from Queens–but who’s been a retailer all these years.
PF: A lot of people know me from Sex and the City obviously. Ah well, Sex and the City became this worldwide phenomenon. So before that, you know, I was known in my circle–I was known in the fashion circle–even international people. Designers would always come from Italy or Paris to check my store out all the time. And that was all good. I think Sex and the City just kind of pushed me out into the stratosphere.
PF: I was doing movies and TV for more than 10 years before Sex and the City came along.
AMA: Because you worked with Sarah Jessica Parker before…
PF: Exactly. I worked with her…
AMA: …in that movie in Miami…
PF: Yes, in like 1995? Miami Rhapsody. And then Sex and the City was like 1998? So, you know, whenever you do a project of course you hope for a big success, but that one just blew the roof off! That was a great experience. Really! But people know me for that, and it’s funny because a lot of times I know people who either come here or go online and they’re expecting Sex and the City. [Her eyes roll, and she adds a nice chuckle.] You know this was never…I mean, I was here years before Sex and the City! Since I was 30!
AMA: Yes, we know! But most people don’t know and that’s why for our June issue, which is our PMc Mag Global Issue, we wanted to feature you. The thing about you is you’ve been very global and NYC is the center of the universe. You said you’ve worked with all these international people…
PF: Yeah, and you know, my career just went step-by-step along the way. It never really shot up and shot down, it just went on, a little elevation at a time.
AMA: Well, congratulations on this space! And you have a backyard garden too?
PF: [She points to the front of store.] Well, that used to be my garden because I used to live there. These are two spaces that I joined. The Bowery space I bought in 2000 and I renovated it, and moved into it in 2004 for my birthday. I waited until my birthday so I could always remember the date I moved into it. And then last year this place [points towards back of store] came for sale and it was right behind my backyard. The greenhouse spaces used to be my backyard. So, I thought, I have to buy this!
AMA: Yeah, and you “live above the shop” so to speak?
PF: No more, no more! I got an apartment down on Seward Park on Grand Street, a nice one. Because after there I thought: OK, I’m evicting myself but, um, now where am I gonna go? Cause my place I loved. But this is bigger.
AMA: Yeah, and you even got here before the New Museum, right?
PF: Oh yes, definitely.
AMA: That was another thing, once again, you go somewhere, and it ends up being the hippest, coolest place.
PF: Yeah, the New Museum was a parking lot!
AMA: Yeah, this whole Bowery was one of the last places to blow up.
PF: You know it always kind of happens that way, the center of something develops last. I saw it in Miami Beach. The whole place was developing, but Lincoln Road was the last to develop. Lincoln Road had empty stores for years. It only really started developing in the mid-90s, whereas like from mid-80s to 90s everything was growing and Lincoln Road was sitting there basically empty.
And here, the Bowery and Houston is the biggest cross section, or one of the biggest cross sections in Manhattan. And you know, from the 80s, East Village, Nolita, Lafayette, of course Soho, Lower East Side–and the Bowery was just sitting here with like empty lots. Huge lots! And those were old buildings that landlords abandoned, and then after a while the city ripped them down. To be in one the biggest cross sections of Manhattan and both sides of Houston on the Bowery were two big empty lots! A block big almost! Where Whole Foods is, and we’re across the street!
AMA: It’s the center of the universe now!
PF: It was the last to develop of all of these downtown neighborhoods. But now it’s really getting…I mean, I live here, I walk outside, and say, “Um, when did that building get here!?” [She laughs.] And all the little shops, galleries, restaurants. And it has so much history, the Bowery. Did you know the Bowery used to be Times Square in the 1800s?
AMA: I did not know that!
PF: Well, there are a few remnants…
AMA: Oh, that Opera?
PF: The Bowery Lane Theater right on the corner which is Rogan Jeans, the old steel building. You see this used to be the Theater District. And bars, and tourists, this was the Theater District. Then Times Square developed, but in the 1800s this was Times Square. You know, the gay bars were here, the sailors came here.
There’s a very interesting book about the history of the Bowery. You know, Five Corners is right here. So this is a very old place. My building in the front, on the Bowery, was built in 1820!
AMA: Wow! And you’re still making history!
PF: That’s almost like 200 years ago! When I started ripping down the walls, I found granite! Granite walls downstairs–I’ll show you! In the foundations of the buildings in those days, they made them out of stone. I said, “Oh my god! I have stone walls in my house! Solid, big stone!”
AMA: It’s great. So, congratulations!
PF: Thank you!
AMA: You’re going to do really well in this huge place…
PF: I’m happy. [Looks around with pleasure] It’s cool!
AMA: Anything else planned for the future? Now especially, after this…
PF: Well, now I’m gonna take a breath!
AMA: Of course.
PF: Um, we still have a lot of work to do here, to get it to come together. But, as far as anything else for the future, there’s so many things floating around. I’m still developing some film & TV ideas, as well as some commercial fashion things. We have a lot of things in development and we’ll see what lands and what works. You know, when this recession hit I started to notice everybody in advertising, in film, in TV, everybody started pulling back. And I started thinking, everybody’s counting their pennies and the money ain’t flowin’ in anymore so I’m gonna take my money and invest in myself! Now is the time to invest in me! And then, when it comes back, if I’m around, I’ll say hi. But things were getting so tight and everybody was bargaining and chiseling, so I said I may as well put my money in myself right now and build my place here because out there it’s not what it used to be!
AMA: Not at all!
PF: So it gave me a little pocket of time…
AMA: …for the House of Field!
PF: Exactly, the House of Field.
AMA: Thank you, Pat so much! Really appreciate it! Congratulations again!
PF: Wait, I’m going to show you that picture of Marc [Jacobs].
AMA: Yes, let’s look!
[They both walk through the party and head to bridge with stacks of paintings & photographs.]
PF: [Overlooking the store from the bridge] These kids in the 80s were painting like crazy! That became the thing. The celebrities were the painters! They’d produce shows in my store.
AMA: I know, Jean Michel [Basquiat], right?
PF: Right, and James Brown, and I’d pay them. I’d say, “How much do you want? I’ll buy a painting.” And they’d say, “Well, why don’t you just pay my rent for next three months?” And I’d say, “Alright.”
AMA: That’s great!
Patricia Field is a native New Yorker and one of fashion’s greatest visionaries: she is an Academy Award nominated, Emmy Award winning film and television costume designer and a boutique owner with her own clothing label.
The new House of Field is located at 306 Bowrey/298 Elizabeth, NYC, 10012. Open 7 days a week.
Patricia Field interviewed by Anita Marie Antonini
Written by Anita Marie Antonini
Edited by Marie Havens & Tyler Malone
Photography by Marie Havens/StudioHavens.com
Design by Marie Havens
Patricia Field, at her new store grand opening party, Patricia Field NY Headquarters, NYC, Thursday, May 31, 201, Photography by Marie Havens/StudioHavens.com