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With `Devil' it's all in the details

The style stakes are high as `The Devil Wears Prada' comes to the screen. Costume designer Patricia Field just takes it in stride.

June 18, 2006|Mimi Avins | Times Staff Writer

New York — FOR every woman or girl who dreams of becoming president, there's another whose fantasies run to having the exclusive run of Barneys on a magical day when everything costs one penny. A second-place thrill might be to actually work at the biggest, most important fashion magazine in America, surrounded by the sort of fabulous clothes and accessories that help transform Kate Moss from a skinny chick with a pretty face and stinko taste in men into a goddess with attitude.

"The Devil Wears Prada," the filmed adaptation of the 2003 bestseller by first-time novelist Lauren Weisberger, may be the closest most style junkies will ever get to fashion's inner sanctum. The movie (which opens June 30) goes behind the scenes at Runway magazine, a style bible much like Vogue, where, in a pivotal sequence, its imperious editor and her glossy posse select clothes to be photographed for the next issue. A spaghetti-strapped number with an overlay of tulle is under consideration. Will it make a statement if a turquoise cowgirl belt is wrapped around it, or does a strip of blue reptile cinching the waist better fit the cocktail-hour-in-Deadwood vibe the editors want to evoke?

The woman with the answer is Patricia Field, the movie's costume designer and a fixture of New York's downtown club culture. During her reign as the trendsetting costume designer of "Sex and the City," she made women all over America want to ditch their jeans and get dressed up to go out.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 21, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 64 words Type of Material: Correction
Costume designer: An article about costume designer Patricia Field in Sunday Calendar quoted her as saying, "Sometimes the director calls me a diva," referring to how she pushes to get the look she wants for a film. It was implied that she was speaking about David Frankel, the director of the film "The Devil Wears Prada," but the reference was to a different director.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 25, 2006 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 64 words Type of Material: Correction
Costume designer's quote: An article about costume designer Patricia Field last Sunday quoted her as saying, "Sometimes the director calls me a diva," referring to how she pushes to get the look she wants for a film. It was implied that she was speaking about David Frankel, the director of the film "The Devil Wears Prada," but the reference was to a different director.

"The Devil Wears Prada" belt dilemma prompts Meryl Streep, as Runway editor Miranda Priestly, to lecture Anne Hathaway, in the role of her newbie assistant, Andy, on how good trends happen to clueless consumers. But Field believes any ability she's had to influence the masses has been accidental.

"Creating trends is not my intention," she says. "Sometimes when you have a show like 'Sex and the City' that's so huge and everybody's watching it, something will catch on like wildfire. It's usually an item like the name necklace or the flower pin, that doesn't require a size 2 body."

Actresses who've been given the Field treatment disagree. "She's so far ahead of the curve that so much of the fashion that I see in the stores now reminds me of things Pat put me in three years ago," says Kelly Ripa, who played a washed-up soap opera star in "Hope & Faith," the late ABC sitcom.

On a sticky June afternoon in New York, Field's trademark flame-red hair is wrapped in a red snood and topped with a woven fedora. Red eyeglasses, big silver hoop earrings and a crimson watch strap accent her outfit of leopard-spotted pants and black, scooped-neck T-shirt. She could easily walk from lunch at a bistro on the Lower East Side to her eponymous store on the Bowery in her flat suede Dior sandals, but she travels the short distance in her turquoise Thunderbird instead. Her whole visual presentation speaks of truth in packaging: This is a woman who enjoys style and doesn't take herself, or it, too seriously.

She met "Devil" director David Frankel more than a decade ago, when he hired her to do the costumes for "Miami Rhapsody." Sarah Jessica Parker was one star of that comedy. Frankel went on to direct several "Sex and the City" episodes. (That's the sound of "It's a Small World" playing in the background.) She had enough history with Frankel to occasionally wrestle with him over creative choices.

"Sometimes the director calls me a diva," she says. "I tell him: 'Don't patronize me. I'm not a diva. I'm a hardworking woman. I'm just trying to give you the best I can. If you don't want it, fine.' "

*

Fresh but faithful

ONE of Field's paramount goals on "Devil" was to give Streep the look of a chic career woman. "Meryl is smart, she's witty, she's just normal and so talented," Field says. "I wanted to do the best I could for her. There are many times when she's played a character that isn't supposed to look good, or when she appears as herself at events, she doesn't always look good."

Streep's Priestly is known behind her back as "the dragon lady." The novel's author was once a flunky at Vogue, toiling in the service of Editor Anna Wintour (known behind her back as "Nuclear Wintour"). Although the media made hay of the temperamental similarities between Wintour and Priestly, the last thing Field wanted to do was ape Wintour's style.

Her concept for Runway's ice queen was a wardrobe of "super-expensive, rich lady's clothing," so Streep wears a number of heavily embellished jackets by Valentino, Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta. "I had to fight for those jackets," Field says. "The studio thought she looked like a lady who lunches. I had to explain to them that Meryl liked them, and we were taking these overdone jackets and putting them with a pinstriped skirt and a white shirt, and that's the look of this powerful woman in fashion. It's not a lady-that-lunches look."

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