Patricia Field Brings Her Work Home
by raul Barreneche
In New York, even a conversation with a fashion legend like Patricia Field inevitably turns to real estate. You’ll forgive the fashion trendsetter and stylist extraordinaire for bringing up the subject, though, because it is very much on her mind these days. Field recently “evicted” herself from the quirky duplex on the Bowery that she’s called home since 2005, combined it with an adjacent building she bought last year, and turned the conjoined space into the largest Patricia Field store. The new shop, which opened at the end of May, replaces her most recent location two doors down. “I’ve had a store since I was 24, and every time I’ve moved it’s been because of landlord problems,” says Field, recalling fondly the loft above her shop on East Eighth Street, where she lived and worked from 1971 until being evicted by NYU after nearly 30 years. “This time, I wanted to protect my business,” says the henna-haired fashion icon, best known to Middle America as the costume designer responsible for the unforgettable outfits in films such as The Devil Wears Prada and Confessions of a Shopaholic, as well as television series like Sex and the City and Ugly Betty.
Field’s decision to vacate a home she created from scratch—a former kitchen supply store transformed into a personal expression of her offbeat style—came fairly easily. The commercial space of the building immediately behind her apartment on Elizabeth Street came up for sale. One day, while walking her poodles, Sultana and Putana, whose brushed-out white fur bears a resemblance to their mistress’s wiry coif, Field noticed a for sale sign on a former sneaker store that had been vacant for about two years. “After a couple of more times walking by the place, it hit me: I just have to buy it. I could join the two buildings. How often does that happen?” recalls Field in her trademark gravelly voice, looking fit and tan in a tie-dyed T-shirt, color-splattered jeans, and pointy leather lace-ups. After one too many missed real-estate opportunities during a lifetime living in New York City, “I learned to trust my instinct and my confidence,” she says, tapping an omnipresent cigarette as she takes a break from directing enthusiastic employees at the House of Field on arranging tutus and studded pants. “It was self-eviction,” she jokes.
Field may not be in residence anymore, but the part of the 4,000-squarefoot store she once called home still looks and feels like it did when she lived there. When she originally bought the two-story space more than a decade ago, she set about gutting the 19th-century structure down to the foundations, finally moving in on her birthday, February 12, in 2005. Field exposed brick walls and granite footings on the lower level, ripping out most of the ground floor to create a vast double-height living/dining area with an open kitchen on the basement level. Behind, tucked under what was a tiny backyard, she made a subterranean cocoon of a bedroom suite, with wood floors and an acid-green bathroom. A glass roof, strong enough to act as the translucent floor in part of the garden overhead, let in natural light. “I asked the workers to dig out a hole for my bedroom. Since there was no access from the backyard to the street except for the front door, they had to drag all that dirt out in wheelbarrows,” recalls Field. “That bedroom was my favorite spot in the whole place, my total escape. My assistant could be up front on the ground level, and I’d be tucked away in my bedroom downstairs at the opposite end of the house.” Now the subterranean space is the boutique’s in-house hair salon.
Upstairs, Field had created a Florida room that opened onto her home’s tiny walled-in garden, the site of frequent outdoor entertaining. “There’s a little suburban part of me,” Field says. “I love backyard barbecues—the garden took care of that need for me. And I always have to keep a car in the city.” When she combined the duplex with the vacant shop behind, the garden was glassed over with a greenhouse-like structure linking the two buildings. There’s still a hint of the former garden: a stand of bamboo just outside the glass walls. On the inside wall, artist Jonathan Bressler extended a mural of celestial orbs that he’d created for Field’s Florida room onto a blank wall in the conjoined store. Field left a lot of her art, including a giant parrot statue by artist Katerina Rait, hanging prominently by the staircase, along with portraits of Field by friends and artists like Elan and Paul Chelstad.
These days, most of Field’s time is spent putting the finishing touches on the shop and fixing up her new apartment, a top-floor one-bedroom she just bought in the Seward Park Co-Ops on Grand Street. She’s also busy working on a couple of scripts, including one for a film about a high-fashion shoplifter, and an idea for a reality-TV series revolving around herself and the store. “I love TV and movies, but I don’t want to do the costumes anymore,” she says. “I reached a ceiling with that. I’m at the top. When I was doing Sex and the City and Ugly Betty, I’d say to the producers, ‘Let me direct an episode or two,’ and they always said no. So I started losing interest,” laments Field. “There’s no more money to be made, no creativity left, so I’m more interested in other things now.”
In that spirit, her new home is going to be a radical departure from her last, and from the Eighth Street loft she lived in for so many years. Instead of Chinatown speakeasy or archetypal Downtown loft, she’s going upscale Tokyo hotel: a small but luxe aerie inspired by her favorite room at the Grand Hyatt in Tokyo. “It’s going to be like living in a hotel suite: compact but convenient,” she explains. And she can fire up the barbecue again, since her new perch has a big terrace with views of all the East River bridges. The move is not only going to make a great home; it’s letting Field finally be the landlord of her own legendary store. As she says of the new apartment, “Finding this place gave me my walking papers.”
photography by costas picadas