A Look Back at Designing Women: Costume Legends Patricia Field and Ann Roth

By Katie Chambers

In the coming weeks, we will reminisce about Designing Women’s past with photos, videos and anecdotes here on the NYWIFT blog while we gear up for this year’s event on June 13th! Now in its 17th year, Designing Women, co-presented by Variety, has become a staple of the NYC entertainment industry’s spring calendar, celebrating the creative alchemy of design, character and story…

They say “clothes make the man” – or woman – which is one reason why every year NYWIFT honors costume designers at our Designing Women awards. When a character appears on screen, his or her clothes are often the first thing we see. Costume designers don’t just make actors look pretty (though they sometimes do that too) – they pack a wealth of information into every thread.

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Designer Ann Roth chats with a guest in front of her costume display at Designing Women 2015

Unlike other award shows, which honor a person for work on one particular project, Designing Women celebrates a designer’s entire body of work.

At the very first Designing Women in 2000 (then called Designing Hollywood) we started at the top by honoring costume designer – and fashion visionary –  Patricia Field. According to IMDB, Field was the consulting costume designer on a whopping 1,421 episodes of the soap Guiding Light. While that series called for a lot of “everyday” costumes for its cast, Field is perhaps best known for her work on some knockout glam projects. At the time of her award she was the costume designer for Sex and the City so yes, you can thank her for Carrie Bradshaw’s shoes. And six years after receiving her Designing Hollywood trophy Field went on to work with fashion maven Miranda Priestly herself, designing the costumes for The Devil Wears Pradain addition to costuming the fashionistas of Ugly Betty.

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Meryl Streep and Patricia Field on the set of The Devil Wears Prada

Field brought her wild style into people’s homes with her own eponymous collection of shoes, boots and clutches for Payless. She also owned a popular boutique in the East Village, which just closed last year. Her styles are still available for purchase online.

17 years after her NYWIFT honor, Field is still very active in the business – she’s currently the costume consultant on the TV Land series Younger and will design the costumes for Fear of Flying, the film adaptation of Erica Jong’s controversial 1973 novel which was infamous for its portrayal of female sexuality and figured in the development of second-wave feminism. How cool is that?

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Sex and the City

Fast forward to 2015: we honored another legend, Ann Roth. Roth started her career painting scenery for the Pittsburgh Opera as a Carnegie Mellon undergrad before segueing into costume design. She is a legend in the entertainment industry — name a classic, and Ann Roth designed the costumes. Midnight Cowboy. The Talented Mr. Ripley. Hair. Working Girl. Cold Mountain. The Birdcage. The English Patient. Angels in America. Most recently, she costumed Meryl Streep’s rocker chick in Ricki in the Flash, and just completed work on the feature film adaptation of the smash hit Gone Girl-esque novel The Girl on the Train.

While Field and Roth have both created iconic looks, Roth explained in her Designing Women highlight reel that a costume designer is not a stylist. Some of the most interesting characters have no style at all. Design is about creating what that real, full, interesting character would wear.

“You have to know how much money [the character] has. Where did these clothes come from? How old are they? Who made them? When she takes them off at night, is she sober? Does she throw them on the floor?” Roth said. Roth’s daughter, Hannah Sorkin, quoted her mother’s frequent collaborator, the late Mike Nichols, as she presented the award. He said Roth’s ruthlessly detailed designs can project “awkwardness in a button. Hope in a shiny skirt.”

You can watch the reel and see then 83-year-old Roth – quite the character herself – accept her award here:

 

In just a few weeks we will honor another costume designer with a Designing Women “lifetime achievement” award. Sarah Edwards will get this year’s honors – you can see her designs in theaters now in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (starring Arrested Development‘s Will Arnett, who will join us as a presenter). Edwards also designed the wildly inventive costumes for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and suspenseful films including The Interpreter, Salt and Michael Clayton.

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Join us! Buy your tickets for Designing Women – June 13th at 7 PM at the CUNY Graduate Center. $75 for NYWIFT members; $150 for nonmembers.

And stay tuned to the blog in the coming weeks for our exclusive look back at Designing Women’s 17 year history!

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