Sex And The City costumer closes shop

Patricia Field's shop in New York is patronised by many celebrities.
Patricia Field's shop in New York is patronised by many celebrities.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK • Patricia Field was sitting in the basement office of her eponymous boutique at 306 Bowery, wearing a black tank-top, dark capri pants and heavy blue mascara that complemented her trademark vermilion hair: a punk knockout at 73.

Three days earlier, the Sex And The City costumer had made a startling announcement: She will close her store early next year, a half- century after opening her first shop.

No more bedazzled hoodies. No more rhinestone bustiers. Obituaries flooded Twitter, lamenting the end of an era. "NYC won't be the same," wrote the former club kid Michael Alig. "I am going to have NOTHING TO WEAR," said British DJ Jodie Harsh. Jezebel ran the dire headline: "Patricia Field Is Closing Her New York Storefront & I Don't Think I Can Go On".

It seemed like a familiar story: another countercultural bastion, gentrified into oblivion. Was the East Village finally - finally - dead? But before her devotees start grousing about rising rents and luxury condos, Field would like to clear up a few things.

First of all, she does not pay rent. "I own this, and I am selling this real estate," she said, as her two white poodles, Sultana and Bootie, curled up on her desk. She acquired the first chunk of the property in 2000, "when there was nothing here", and then expanded into an adjacent building a dozen years later. She said she was selling for a healthy profit, though she declined to give figures. She also insisted that she was not in a cash crunch.

"Financially, I could stay here and operate," she said.

And she is not one to bemoan gentrification, saying: "I don't feel like there's any hope in ever going against the tide. I believe you have to get on your surfboard and ride it." Her decision, she said, was a matter of personal privilege, though some would call it cultural hara-kiri.

Thanks to Sex And The City, she has been in high demand for television and film projects, among them Ugly Betty (2006-2010), The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and, most recently, the TV series Younger (2015 - present), for which she is a consultant. All that has taken her away from her retail operation, which she said has suffered from her absences with unpaid bills and depleted inventories.

"I'm simply no longer interested in devoting the time necessary to operating this place," she said. "I wish I could, because I love it. But it's either me or the store."

She added: "I also want to make a little room for a swim."

To the global audience that associates her with Carrie Bradshaw's Manolo Blahniks or Miranda Priestly's designer sunglasses, it may be news that Field is, first and foremost, a punk den mother. But that is the role she has played with unflappable precision for decades, even as her store has changed locations and the street fashion surrounding her has metamorphosed many times over.

Her "bazaar", as she likes to call it, overflows with the outre: mirrored T-shirts, tutus, Venetian masks, painted trench coats by artist Scooter LaForge, foam backpacks in the shape of monsters. A catwalk is decorated with a Keith Haring figurine; downstairs, in what was formerly Field's bedroom, is a wig bar and a salon.

Field, who neither sews nor sketches, is above all a canny spotter of talent, often giving fledgling designers their first exposure to the market by selling their products at high and low prices, no matter how unwieldy or bizarre.

"She absolutely plays an important role in designing, curating, giving us advice," said Rachel Singer, who makes pompom knitwear under the label Sparkle Princess. "We talk about pricing. We talk about fabrication."

Apart from Sex fans stopping in for custom gold-plated "Carrie" necklaces, her patrons are eager experimentalists, en route to nightclubs or drag careers or Halloween parades, to whom the magenta "Patricia Field" signature on the front window signals permission to let the freak flag fly.

But the outcry over the closing goes beyond buying and selling. To the ever-replenishing demimonde, the store has functioned as a makeshift community centre, hangout and even pickup joint.

Of its former location on East Eighth Street, drag performer Lady Bunny said: "We would stop in to use the bathroom or shop or talk to the transsexuals at the make-up counter. You lived in the East Village for the scene and went into the West Village for sex, so we were frequently going back and forth, and Pat's spot was right in the middle."

Over the decades, her regulars have included rockers such as Patti Smith and Debbie Harry, pop stars Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, and drag stars including RuPaul, who still stops by on his bike during the summers.

Another habitue, Missy Elliott, recently bought six pairs of Thai boxing shorts for her back-up dancers. ("I love Missy," Field said.)

Presiding over the circus, she is as much of a landmark as her emporium, at once nurturing and blase.

"Pat was much more than just a boss," Lady Bunny said. "Pat is one of us."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2015, with the headline 'Sex And The City costumer closes shop'. Print Edition | Subscribe