As pioneers in their respective fields, costume designer and stylist Patricia Field and hip-hop visionary Missy Elliott have been individuals since their beginnings. Fifty years after opening her first boutique on Washington Place, Patricia Field’s eponymous store fêted its closing day on February 28th, 2016. The vermillion-coiffed Field has been a fixture on the New York fashion scene since the 60s—from selling art fashion to Downtown club kids and the creative class at her boutique, to designing the iconic costumes for Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada—creating a new movement in women’s style. Beginning in the early 90s, Missy began her career writing songs commenting on sex, gender, and power while rocking attention-grabbing looks; who can forget the trash-bag suit she rocked in music video for her 1997 single “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)?” Last year, Elliott surprised fans after a 10-year hiatus from the spotlight when she stepped on stage of the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show as Katy Perry’s special guest. Her new single, “WTF,” was released months later, leaving fans in anticipation. An evolution from her signature sound on tracks such as “Get Ur Freak On” and “Work It,” her next album is speculated to launch later this year. Elliott first met Field when shopping for unique styles at Field’s shop. As both women move on to new projects, their self-identities remain central. Good friends and shopping buddies, Elliott and Field chat about what’s up next.
Patricia Field—Hi Missy, how are you?
Missy—Hey, how you doin’ Pat?
Patricia—I’m doing OK. I’m wrapping things up over here, you know I’m pretty busy with all of that but there is a light at the end of the tunnel so I’m looking forward to it. Then starting my new life…or my new whatever! Everything is cool with me; I’m fine. I’m so glad we’re doing this, you and me. I wish we could be doing this over lunch, face-to-face, but as you are in Atlanta, it couldn’t happen.
Missy—Like you said, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that’s the good thing about it. The bad thing is I don’t have no place to shop now! You know I get most of my clothes from there.
Patricia—I love you because what I respect in you most is that you come in yourself, you pick it out; you’re the real thing, I can bounce off of you, we have fun together. It pleases me to know you. We hit it off from the beginning—it was because I was thinking: “This person has my respect in the way she leads her life.” To me, respect is a huge part of a relationship.
Missy—Yes, yes and I respect you. You are iconic. And like I said, your store has been my go-to place. I’m always coming in there because first off y’all had music in there like a club, and I feel like I’m going to a club when I come in! I’ve always found things in there that I couldn’t find anywhere else that were unique and original. It was like, “This is not a store where I’m going to find this item in 50 other places and run into 1,000 people that have the same outfit as you.” That’s what makes you great.
Patricia—That’s what you and I share in common; you are unique and original and I am the same and I think we appreciate that in each other. The way you conduct your life—I conduct my life the same way. Based on what I want to do, based on what is valuable and important to me. I don’t like to be told what to do by anybody; I like to make my decisions.
Missy—I come in the store and I see you in there just walking around, talking to people—that’s not something that I see in these stores. And you invited me to your house. I’ve had a chance to visit your place, which is just as unique and original! The way you decorated there spoke to who you are as a person too. Just you inviting me to your place and me taking the two dogs—we had a ball! We had a blast! We sat there for hours just vibing and chilling and I love that. Our relationship went past store hours!
Patricia—That is what happens once in a while, and it happens because of what I said. I wish we weren’t so far apart in terms of location, because I know if we weren’t we would be hanging out much more together. I enjoy it; it’s fun with you. It’s inspiring; it makes me feel like I’m doing it OK.
Missy—I’m sorry—hold on. I’ve got dogs too and one of my dogs is just having a moment. So you might hear him barking in the background!
Patricia—Don’t worry, mine have the same moments, then they get over it [laughs].
Missy—Yeah! You know your dogs be in the store too! I wish there was something else as a store that you open up at some point. But I know, listen, you probably feel like “Hey, I wanna live my life and enjoy myself.” I respect that. But oh my goodness, when I was in the store the last time I was like, “Where am I going to find a store like this again?” Down to the socks in Patricia Field, down to the socks! It kept me abreast of what was hot and the latest—not even latest—just something I really didn’t see in other places, and that’s something I’ll miss. I won’t miss our friendship because our friendship is going to be here forever and ever!
Patricia—Yes, New York, Atlanta, South Beach, it is in our future. Hanging out, shopping and just kiki-ing.
Missy—What we have built is beyond working or store hours. We have something beyond that.
Patricia—I’m not really a person who sits down and makes long-term plans; I always sit at the edge of the ocean and the waves bring in some shells, some glass, some treasures, and I just pick them up and go, “Oh this is cool, I like this.” I like it much more organic. I don’t plan ahead like a master plan. At the moment I am creating an online art/fashion gallery on my website. Check it out—painted clothing by Scooter LaForge and others. I believe you’ve already picked up a few pieces. It was just my way of staying connected to my clients, which I love the most. You can always check it out. Going forward, besides my website, I am continuing my TV and film career. Presently I am costuming a TV show called Younger, a funny little comedy, which has been successful and picked up for its third season. I love talking to people and want to continue my speaking engagements, as face-to-face is the most fun. All of this makes me feel good inside. I am invited to speak in Shanghai as part of TEDx this May. The subject is balance. My response was: “Balance? I like it, I get it, I know it. I’ll do it.”
“I’m always coming in there because first off y’all had music in there like a club, and I feel like I’m going to a club when I come in!”
Missy—Wow, congratulations! I will most definitely check the online gallery out for sure too.
Patricia—I’m also talking to somebody about a book. I’ve tried it before but I never found the right fit so I walked away, but I’m still open to it. And take some time off and do a little traveling and see my friends. Of course, I want to sprinkle in a little travel and some more partying. Come to Greece with me Missy, I’ll be your ambassador.
Missy—Yes! I gotta come to Greece!
Patricia—Lets plan to travel together. I want to introduce you to Greece—it’ll be fun. I did a fashion show there, and I used some of your music in the runway. It was good. Do you have any plans for the future, Missy?
Missy—Yes, I am doing what I do. We are so much alike because everything is just organic for me. Stuff comes and I don’t really make out a list. Of course I’m constantly working on music. I’m just living life because I’ve realized over 20-some years I’ve been in this music industry, and I’ve only taken two vacations in my whole career. One day I just looked up and realized that I have worked, worked, worked, worked, worked non-stop. Now I just want to enjoy life. I want to still do music, but I don’t want it to consume me and I realize in another 20 years that I’ve only had one vacation!
Patricia—I agree with you. As long as you’re feeling good and happy with your day-to-day, that’s what’s most important.
Throughout the whole thing, the balance you find is that you’re enjoying it—you’re on the surfboard and you’re riding that surfboard and it can be a big wave or a smooth ride and the whole experience is good.
Patricia—One of my attractions to you was your individualism and staying in control of your world. We share that in common. I never wanted to work for some company that told me what to do or made decisions for me or interfered with me and my thoughts and creativity or my future. So from the very beginning, I opened up my own business because that was the only way to control my life. I see that you do that; you’re a unique entertainer in your own right—an original. You grow in your career and you produce for others. You expand your career like I’ve expanded my career into movies and TV shows. I’m up for whatever excites me in a creative and intellectual sense. I go for it. I think you do the same, and that’s why you’re Missy and why you caught my eye. Your music started it and then our relationship grew from there.
Missy—The first time I came in the store I said, “Clothes-wise this speaks to how I am or who I am.” It was different, unique, daring, bold.
Patricia—One of the things we share is comedy. I love watching your videos because there’s always that touch of comedy that really makes me laugh. I love your attitude. I think it’s strictly yours; I don’t know of anybody who could do that. I think a lot of people, they have some formula or they’re inhibited. But for you, nothing bothers you in that sense and you retain who you are. That is a gorgeous thing and will always attract my attention.
Missy—Thank you, thank you. You know a lot of that comes from me being an only child. I don’t have any siblings, so as a child I had to, well, I guess everybody as a child has to create imaginary friends. But because I didn’t have any siblings, it was really deep for me. I created a world by myself. That played into me as an artist. Coming up, I was with a camp where we couldn’t really listen to other people’s music or watch other people’s videos. Because we didn’t see nor hear, we ended up creating our own sound.
Patricia—You never were exposed to copying anybody.
Missy—No, no, because the person that mentored me didn’t allow that. So in not seeing or hearing, I didn’t know that I was doing something different. All I knew was what I was doing. I can’t say it was necessarily purposeful, it was just that my ears and eyes were closed to everything around. I didn’t hear what was hot out there, so I didn’t go and try to make something that sounded like something that already existed. The same as the seeing; I didn’t make videos that I had already seen because I didn’t see. I didn’t know that I was doing anything different, because I didn’t see what was happening around me.
“They called me the Peggy Guggenheim of my day, and I didn’t even realize who she was!”
Patricia—That’s cool. It’s making me think of myself and those times.
Missy—I don’t know what’s hot on the radio right now. Some things are just obvious because of the internet, but I’m really just using the same formula that I came up with and what the person who mentored me taught me; I try to use that same formula my whole career. Now you speak on yours and how you see fashion. I would like to hear how we fit like a puzzle. When I came in the store and I saw the things that were in there, it spoke to how I am as an artist musically. That was the connection for me.
Patricia—I’m going to tell you—you’re going to get a kick out of it. In the end somewhere in each of our lives we came together, and for whatever reason it was a fit. This is me: I grew up in a large family—not in terms of sisters or brothers, as I only had one sister—but I had a grandmother and young aunts who were my mom’s sisters. My mom was in business, so I got shipped off to my grandma’s house everyday as a kid because they couldn’t afford to hire somebody. Thank God! I had my grandmother who loved me no matter what I did. My aunts were all young gals who were out and dragging me all over the place.
I had approval. I was never given rules or regulations – I was free. I was approved of, so I learned to just do it my way. It was reinforced, in me the same thing that was reinforced in you, in your story. I got the same message, but through a different experience. I grew up this consummate independent way. I was like, “OK, I’m good, I’m great.” I didn’t have any complexes or insecurities or whatever. I grew up doing my thing and never looking around. I never looked around to see what was the fashion of the moment, whether designers or trends. I was simply like: “I see it, I like it, I want it.” I didn’t ask questions. If I like it and it attracts me, or it makes me laugh or it’s interesting to me then it’ll be interesting to my clients. I want to give them a special story, a personal story not just a mass-produced, cookie-cutter, boring story. In the end the product came out the same—yours and mine. I never look around. People ask me, “Oh, was the designer of x, y, z in the scene of this movie?” And I’m like, “You’re asking the wrong person, I never look at designers, I don’t remember them. I don’t care” I look at the thing and I like it and together that’s it. It’s not that I don’t like designers, but I’m not there regurgitating the designers, I’m there making my own collages—my own pictures.
Patricia—It then becomes original, which is what you and I have in common.
Missy—Now let me ask you this: will you be mentoring any up-and-coming people who are out there? You have a lot of people who have clothes that have been in your store. Will you still mentor some of them?
Patricia—When you were talking before about mentoring, it’s true—I mentor all the kids in the store, all the clients—I mentor artists. It’s a wonderful place—they called me the Peggy Guggenheim of my day, and I didn’t even realize who she was! [Laughs]. So for me it’s rewarding, it’s wonderful, and it makes me feel good inside. Any opportunity to do that in the future, I definitely want to do that.
Missy—I was wondering because I know musically, a lot of things have changed. In the fashion world—if that’s the right word I want to use—in that world have things changed? Have people become more about the name brand instead of just saying, “I could go to some cheap store and get some cute little jeans and do it with a cute top and still be fly?” Has it become more about the brand names instead of people really knowing how to piece clothes together without spending tons and tons of money? Things have changed in the music world: the way music sounds and the way music is promoted now. When you look back between how you started and now, is it a huge difference? Is the grind different? Is the thought process different? I’m quite sure it is, but is it a huge difference?
Patricia—Time, for me, is liquid. It’s always moving; there’s no stopping time. You adjust to time in your own way. There is a huge difference, and I’m sure the parallels are in music too. Now, there’s a high volume of the same product. Whether it’s a musical product or a garment, it’s mass production, and the result in both areas is a meltdown—everything is kind of the same. I see that and I saw that, but at the same time I was seeing young artists who painted clothes, who made different clothes, and this is nothing new. I go back to the days of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat; those kids were all in my store hanging out the same way as today.
Patricia—I saw a comeback of that. People were coming to the store and they would say things that made me understand that everywhere they went it was the same old thing. When they came into my store they got a lift or something different to look at. It encouraged me to develop it even more, because through the years all the little special stores have gone out of business. Now the whole industry is controlled by the giants. And I think it’s the same with music. If you look at the politics of today, all they do is repeat themselves, and it is so boring. It all loses my attention and interest. [Laughs].
Patricia—The internet is great; it opened up a whole new world for people, but at the same time this standardization and controlling of the mind is the part of it that I dislike. It’s everywhere, this idea of globalization. I think it’s the same with music. I’m looking to learn something and be inspired, and these fucking people are up there saying this bullshit night and day!
Musically, you continue to make it with your style, your identity—and it is recognized in the end. For all I know, it could stand alone until new things will come that have identity. But you know they say: “From shit comes the flowers.”
“Maybe you have to shout out a little louder to stop the traffic whizzing by, but if you offer something to people that’s a new idea, it’s your gift to them.”
Missy—It can get tough because there was a time when it wasn’t just the same—there was a balance. Back then, people did their own thing and now it’s a little different.
Patricia—That’s when it’s bad, when there is no balance.
Missy—I have had to stay strong and stand my ground to not conform and become somebody else or sound like somebody else. I don’t care what anybody else is doing; I have to be true to myself, and I believe that if it feels good to me then it will resonate to other people. It has to be true to me. Even if it don’t sell or it don’t work, at least I’ll be able to sleep at night. I never want to do something that is not me just to see if it works or sells tons and tons of records. That has just never been me—I always want to be true to myself. At least if it don’t work I can say, “I believed in it,” as opposed to conforming and kicking myself in my ass the rest of my life! When it’s my time to go, I want to leave this Earth with the knowledge I have touched people in some way or have encouraged people to be original and different. There are plenty of young kids I’m quite sure come in that store and are getting into fashion and the feeling of, “I want to be like that,” looking at you thinking, “I want to be like her; she was risky, fun, quirky, whatever—all the things! She wasn’t programmed, there wasn’t a formula, she didn’t follow the format.” The greatest thing is to just impact people like that, and that’s what you have done and will continue to do.
Patricia—That’s what you have done as well.
Missy—Ah, thank you.
Patricia—You just said to me before that you have an idea for a song, and it’s your idea and you like it and you go for it—it’s your own chemistry. You’d rather go that way than look around and see what’s the trend; you want to make your own decisions. That’s your magic; that’s what makes you an original. In the world today there are fewer and fewer originals, because the momentum of this globalized communication—globalized everything—dumbs everything down to one kind of lump. Listening to people about what they said and what they would look at, I was getting the message from my clientele that they’re looking for something unique, one-of-a-kind, and different.
Patricia—That encouraged me to push on in my own way, like your way. If you’re original, you’re not going to be right all the time, but it’s your decision—right or wrong. Like you said, it’s better than doing something trendy and then in the end it’s no good and you’re sorry you ever went there. I don’t want to go there!
Patricia—Today the game is faster in general. So maybe you have to shout out a little louder to stop the traffic whizzing by, but if you offer something to people that’s a new idea, it’s your gift to them.
Missy—That’s where we connect. We have a gift and it don’t matter how old or how young. I always say with the music you get to a certain age they may be like, “OK, you don’t really know no more.” Not me! I feel like my ears are still good, and the same with you. You have a gift that’s in another league so you still are in there like, “Look, basically I know what looks good together,” and I love that about you!
Patricia—You’re right, I do know, and thank you! In the end you’re taking it with you. All I can do is present then you gotta dance to it, or like all you do is present and I gotta dance to it. We make people dance.