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The blockbuster comedy also spawned countless zingers — from "Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking" to "I'm just one stomach flu away from my goal weight" — and piqued public interest in the inner workings of the magazine world like no film or series ever had before. (Much as the success of The O.C. spawned the MTV reality show Laguna Beach, you might say The Devil Wears Prada paved the way for the 2009 Vogue documentary The September Issue.) Indeed, the movie's lasting impact on the fashion industry as a whole is undeniable; you'd be hard pressed to find an Anna Wintour interview in which the Vogue editor-in-chief, on whom the character of Miranda Priestly is famously based, hasn't been questioned about her celluloid counterpart, or a magazine assistant who hasn't been relentlessly asked, "Is your life just like The Devil Wears Prada?!"
And none of it would've happened without the stylish eye of Patricia Field, the force behind the film's Oscar-nominated wardrobe who previously made Manolo Blahnik a household name through her work on Sex and the City. We chatted with Field over the phone last week to discuss her memories of dressing Meryl, calling in countless racks of Chanel — and, of course, whether she'd be willing to sign on for a big-screen Devil sequel.
Photo: 20th Century Fox
Let’s start at the beginning. What initially drew you to working on The Devil Wears Prada?
The opportunity to work with Meryl Streep, for sure. Working with somebody of Meryl’s caliber is special! The director, David Frankel, was also person I’d worked with in the past many times, and so when he called me and asked me if I wanted to do this, I said, "Yes, absolutely."
Where did you start when it came to creating Meryl’s character, Miranda Priestly? Did you draw inspiration from any real-life editors?
I consciously avoided that, actually. I know her character was originally based on Anna Wintour, but I didn’t want to copy someone’s style. I wanted to create a new character for Meryl, and that started with her clothes. I knew the character had to be very fashionable, but I wanted her look to feel original and also to be tailored to Meryl Streep’s own style. The point was to create something new and beautiful.
I think the hair — that striking white-blond color — was a big part of Miranda’s look, too.
That actually came from Meryl and her beauty person, J. Roy Helland. I had never met Meryl before [starting on this project], so we had a sit-down at her townhouse and Roy was also there, and they told me that they wanted to do white hair. And my reaction was very positive, because for me the pure white provided a backdrop — a color, so to speak — that I could build the fashion onto.
There was some fear within the company that the color was going to make her look old. You know, it’s our job to handle the aesthetics, and producers ... they’re not necessarily clued into fashion. It was very hard to convince them. In the end, Meryl used her power [to change their minds]! And she didn’t look old, and everyone was happy.
How about the wardrobe? I know Miranda wears a lot of designer vintage in the movie.
I don’t really call it "vintage" in that sense. After I met Meryl and got a sense of her body, I had the idea to visit Donna Karan’s archives because when Donna first started in the industry, much of her success was based on the fact that her fits were easy, they were flattering, and they emphasized the waist and shoulders without being extreme or exaggerated, without looking like something out of Dynasty. I knew her archives would provide a good foundation on which to build Miranda’s look. Of course, I pulled other designers, but Donna was an important one. I didn’t have to update much because her clothes are classic; they don’t scream late ‘80s. I didn’t think the audience would even realize that the clothes were from the early ‘90s or late ‘80s, or that they’d even recognize these pieces. You know, there are certain designers who are very recognizable, and so their looks can eventually seem dated, but I just felt that Donna was a good start for Meryl’s character. I wanted to start with a silhouette that was flattering, and timeless at the same time.
Photo: Alamy Stock Photo
How did you go about pulling the other looks for the movie? I’ve read that you didn’t have a big budget to work with...
No, we didn’t! We went about it many different ways. First of all, the fact that we had Meryl Streep opened a lot of doors. And Annie [Hathaway] … this was her first major adult role, since she’d started with Disney, playing a princess. She’d done Brokeback Mountain, but that was a supporting role. So this was an important first step for Annie. I called Chanel, who I have a relationship with, and I showed them the script. And they were very, very happy to work with me, because they wanted to see Chanel on young women. So they were very generous with me. Which was great, because after meeting Annie, I immediately thought of her as a Chanel girl — as opposed to, say, a Versace girl. The combination worked out well.
Out of all the looks she wears throughout in the movie, do you have a personal favorite?
Oh, there are so many. But I really did enjoy that Chanel outfit from her makeover scene. I also loved her montage outfits — there’s a green coat that really stands out. You know, as Andy’s style develops, it remains consistent; it’s a believable transition. That was important to me.
I love that green coat, too. All the looks from that montage, actually.
It’s funny — as we were prepping to start shooting, David kept writing more montages. The throwing of the coats, for example. He’d come into my office and say, "I’m writing this montage…" and I’d say, "Okay, 20 new outfits!" [Laughs] But you know, people always tell me how much they enjoyed those montages.
Photo: Alamy Stock Photo
I can’t even imagine how many coats you must’ve called in for Meryl.
To get all those fur coats, I just dipped into my personal colleagues and connections. I know this one lady from Russia who’s a big furrier and had just opened up a showroom in New York, and she was very generous with me. You know, when you’re dealing with very expensive high fashion, it’s imperative to have the help of your friends! You can’t do a gorgeous movie on H&M, for example. Not that there’s anything wrong with H&M.
Were there any other specific designers you gravitated towards while getting the wardrobe together?
Well, my selection is always based on what catches my eye and what looks good; I never really start with a certain designer in mind. Yes, for Annie I thought Chanel was correct and for Meryl, I thought Donna Karan was a great foundation. But I don’t keep running lists of designers in my brain!
Let’s talk about another memorable scene from the movie: Miranda’s "cerulean" speech.
Meryl played that scene so well — insanely great. And you know, when we started shooting after rehearsals, Meryl said to me, "Now that we’re shooting, I’m telling every actress that this is the last time we’re going to speak." It’s part of her method acting. She wanted to create a natural, believable tension, to make it feel like everyone was genuinely frightened of her. So she couldn’t get too chummy with them in real life! She kept a distance from them. And it showed in their reactions during that scene.
Do you remember anyone from the cast getting especially into the fashion on set?
Emily Blunt. She loved the clothes, and all the accents we gave her. She was very conscious of those details. Her character was the most severely dressed out of the whole cast, I’d say, but Emily could carry it and make it believable. It’s disaster to try to force a look on an actor who cannot handle it.
Photo: Alamy Stock Photo
Stanley Tucci loved the way we dressed him, too. He paid us a great compliment in an interview when he said that when he went in for his first fitting, he didn’t really have a focus on his character, but after the fitting he knew exactly who he was supposed to be.
Were you ever concerned about backlash from specific editors or brands?
I personally was not worried about reactions from the fashion industry. We had a few designers who were a bit frightened to participate — because of course the book was based on Anna Wintour, who supports many designers, so they felt uncomfortable. But I just told them, first of all, I’m not doing Anna Wintour, and second of all, I would never want to pressure any designer into something they were not comfortable with. It’s not like we only had three choices in terms of which designers we pulled!
Did you wind up having to purchase anything for the wardrobe, in addition to what was loaned out?
There were some purchases. I think we bought a few pieces for Emily, for example. But only really when it was specific to the script — maybe a robe or something. The bulk of it, especially for the main cast, was supported by the fashion world.
How did you feel when you got that Best Costume Design nomination at the Oscars?
It made me particularly happy because in general, the Academy’s costume design section tends to show a preference for period pieces; contemporary fashion doesn’t really get its due. So that nomination was really great.
Lauren Weisberger’s sequel, Revenge Wears Prada, came out in 2013. Should it ever get a movie of its own, would you be on board to do the costumes?
Well, The Devil Wears Prada had probably one of the most wonderful casts I’ve ever worked with, so my answer would be affirmative. I think if David Frankel did it, that would be a very strong point for me too. The script would matter — although I learned a long time ago not to judge a script right away, because that is not my specialty. I mean, when I first read Sex and the City, I was like, "Who’s gonna watch this?!" [Laughs]
Photo: 20th Century Fox
That’s too funny. And of course, both that show and this movie are now cult classics.
Here’s something interesting about [The Devil Wears Prada], that I also hear about Sex and the City: People like to watch it, and watch it, and watch it again. My god, it’s crazy! Both have been on the rerun circuit on TV for years, and it never stops. And people tell me, "I never get tired of watching it. When I’m feeling blue, I put it on, and I escape." And that makes me very happy, that my work elevates their mood or makes them feel better. That’s why I love comedy. Comedy is an escape, just like fashion is an escape.