Judit Kawaguchi

Words to Live by: Fashion designer, stylist Patricia Field

Interview by Judit Kawaguchi

Patricia Field, whose boutique in New York City has been an inspiration for designers since opening in 1966, achieved worldwide fame dressing the characters for the HBO TV series “Sex and the City” and for the 2006 film “The Devil Wears Prada.” The 65-year-old Field is an Academy Award-nominated, two-time Emmy Award-winning costume designer and stylist whose love of the Japanese aesthetic, attention to detail and fashion sense has been bringing her to Tokyo since the 1980s. She was recently in Japan to promote a collaboration with hair stylist Orlando Pita and J-pop superstar Namie Amuro on Vidal Sassoon Japan’s “Fashion, Music, Vidal Sassoon” campaign. Always relaxed, Field prefers wearing jeans and just about anything from Shibuya’s 109 department store, a version of which she dreams of opening in New York.

Fashion was easy. I finished school, had to make a living, saw an ad for fashion work and thought it would be easy. Very naturally, not like oh, I wanna be a designer when I grow up.

Great style is an integration of many things including clothing, personality, sexiness and interesting attributes. When they all come together, one has style.

Design your life to keep it in the most positive way, so you’ll enjoy your experiences. That is my motto: enjoy yourself and do exactly what you wanna do. Work? You have to enjoy it.

If the copy is better than the original– buy the copy! Or copy it! Take any brand: In the same way that everyone copies somebody else, brands copy others, too. For example: There are two famous designers who have a similar aesthetic to me — we love each others’ works. When they started, they came to my store and bought all my girdle clothes — dresses made out of girdles, bustiers, everything — and made them into their own line. So if I made a collection based on girdles now, people would say I copied them. I don’t wanna go there — I just like to say ” This looks good! I want it! ” If it is 5000 dollars, I’m not gonna buy it; but it could be 5 dollars, and it would be just as cute.

Why would you wear one brand? What are you, a robot? Mixing fashions is normal — wearing one designer from head to toe is not. I would wear one fashion for work as a uniform, but that is all. To wear one brand in private? I’ve never understood how that started. and how that could be fun, when there are so many other influences and visuals.

Work from the truth. I dress characters. For example, I am doing a show in New York with the actress Lucy Liu, who plays a career woman who makes big money. We thought about who she was, how she would dress. Now, in real life Lucy Liu is just a Taiwanese girl from Queens, New York — an urban Taiwanese princess! So that became the concept for her character’s looks. She got it and loved it as that is the truth about her.

Fashion designer and stylist Patricia Field, photographed by Judit Kawaguchi.
Fashion designer and stylist Patricia Field, photographed by Judit Kawaguchi.

I love Shibuya 109! I want to make a 109 in New York. I have the exact place for it, a big, strong building, but I want to call it Pat’s Fashion Building. I love 109 because in New York you can’t go in one place and find such a variety of young, urban fashion on such a wide spectrum of taste. In New York you gotta go here and there. Shibuya 109 is the greatest one-stop shopping in the world and because everyone is competing, the stuff is really good and prices are affordable. I can shop there all the time.

I don’t need a fancy fashion spread: I just want to see the clothes! I don’t need to see a girl in a forest in a dress, that’s boring. But that’s how fashion magazines are in Europe and in the U.S., while Japanese fashion magazines are fun and very dense with information.

Honesty keeps you happy. Because there is no stress from honesty — there is stress from dishonesty. It is like healthy Japanese food and unhealthy American food: It is better for you to eat Japanese food as it puts no strain on your body. I’m OK ’cause I grew up on Mediterranean food: lots of veggies, protein — all fresh, no sugar.

In Japan everything is exaggerated. They have dog bakeries, and in Yokohama’s Chinatown there are so many dogs and people had their pets in carriages. One was in a stroller! That was really weird because when you have a baby, the reason you have a carriage is because the baby can’t walk, but here dogs are in carriages. That one really pushed me.

Animals have a lot to teach humans as they are very spontaneous and honest. I am an animal, you are an animal and even if we are not the same species, it does not mean we can’t learn from each other.

Copies can give you great ideas. In the ’80s this kid came into my store with a baseball cap with the Chanel logo. He made a dozen, and I bought them. A few models lived next to my shop, and one bought one of the hats and showed it to Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. Chanel sent me letters complaining, but I think it gave Lagerfeld a major idea for taking Chanel into custom accessories. I’ve never asked him but I thought so.

I don’t mind being copied. I move on. I wanna have fun– I don’t wanna sit there and be miserable. I invented the clear plastic bag in the 70’s and every designer laughed at them, but customers loved them, and after a long time everyone did it. On the same note, if I see a good idea, I do the same thing and isolate it so I can apply it where I want it.

I think of the era, but I have to deal with the human being. I don’t slap clothes on people. The Vidal Sassoon experience was great: Namie Amuro is good, smart and has her style, and Orlando is amazing, his touch is really special and he is very communicative. I was happy to create some gorgeous pictures, some editorials for the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Each decade is represented by a remix. For the 60’s, I thought of the iconic looks: Jackie Kennedy, modernistic Pierre Cardin, Courreges, the French Riviera in Nice where I first heard the word discotheque. The 70’s are about platforms and hippies. The 80’s were more fun and frivolous, not serious about themselves. The 60’s were serious.

Don’t let the formula blow your mind; just understand the point. When I met Socrates, my life changed. It was an encounter that enabled me to continue thinking in a philosophical way. His simplicity was the first attraction. I link Einstein and Socrates on that vein; they share the simplicity. When things are simple, you can keep it straight. There is some kind of voodoo around Einstein that people automatically think they can’t understand him. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. What can be simpler than that?

I am proud when kids say I inspired them. It is fun to give, more rewarding than getting. They tell me all the time. I feel happy every day. Totally.

Losing a parent young hits you much harder later. I was seven when my dad died. I think the damage of that comes later. When you are seven, you are too young. At that time I did not feel much. I got my good looks from him. I got a lot from my mother because she was in my life a long time. She raised me with my grandma and my aunts, so I had lots of women. I learnt my independence from my mom and got my brains from her, too, because she was the smartest of nine children. My grandma was very educated so I go lots of information from her.

The acceptance that one is wonderful is the most precious gift. Grandma taught me that I was great. That is a very, very precious gift, probably the most important. My confidence comes from that. I never question myself.

Each age has a different character, and success and freedom comes with time. I took myself the most seriously in my 20s: I had a mission to achieve a certain level for myself in many areas. And then in my 30s, I felt I was on the right road, so I let loose. Success was a personal feeling of “I’m OK, yes”, but not a lot of success. I just felt a sense of security that I had a design for my life and it looked like the future would be OK.

A partner must have intelligence and outgoing energy. I like socially energetic people. Good looks, bad looks, they don’t really swing it — it’s the inside that matters.

I wanna live till I die. In my 20s I could stay awake for three days and have a normal life. I can’t do that now, but other than that, I feel the same as when I was twenty. My experiences are the same. Curiously, I’m rarely with people of my age because they are like aliens from another planet. I am with people who are between 35 and 45, however, many are in their 20’s and some are teenagers as well.

Keep it simple and then it will be cute, too. I have no goal, no plan, I just keep doing what I am doing, with interesting people. The only thing I don’t wanna do is get into something too deep that is gonna keep me tied up. I wanna keep it” hello and good bye”. So I can experience more.

Fashion designer and stylist Patricia Field with journalist Judit Kawaguchi in Tokyo.
Fashion designer and stylist Patricia Field with journalist Judit Kawaguchi in Tokyo.

A version of this interview appeared in the Japan Times on January 29th, 2008

This Quote

The acceptance that one is wonderful is the most precious gift. — Patricia Field