CEO Summit: Pat Field on Style

Patricia Field never intended to be a fashion trendsetter.

“I just wanted to start a business,” she recalled of her decision to open a Manhattan-based store in 1971. But her eclectic assortments resonated with consumers and paved the way for her career as a stylist.

Thirty-eight years later, Field is still intrigued by the business of fashion. Calling herself a “little CEO” addressing the “big CEOs,” she engaged FN’s summit audience with an opening-night conversation about her take on the recession, her affinity for footwear and the “Sex and the City” phenomenon. Here are some highlights:

On getting her start:

“I didn’t [intentionally] go into fashion. I just wanted to start a business. In 1971, I opened my first store and then moved to a bigger store about five years later.”

On the economic downturn:

“I’m not feeling this doom and gloom at all. These times are good because they level the playing field — they allow young designers to get in the game. We’re all in the same boat and we’re feeling the waves together.”

On the “Sex and the City” tipping point:

“At the end of the first season of ‘Sex and the City,’ we realized it was generating a lot of buzz, but it was really in the second season that we realized that this show had blown out of the box.”

On how shoes stole the show:

“It was me, my team and Sarah Jessica Parker, who is also shoe crazy. She is crazy about every shoe ever created for her to wear — so it became a thing. They didn’t write the show for fashion, but they realized it was the hook and latched on to it.”

On her partnership with Payless ShoeSource:

“I love the people — great to work with, calm, down-to-earth. It’s amazing how far we’ve come. We started when [Collective Brands CEO] Matt Rubel brought this team together and I started to do domestic advertising with them. Then, I was nominated for an Oscar [in 2006 for “The Devil Wears Prada”] and got to make my own shoes for the red carpet. [That turned] into a boutique collection [for Payless] that grew and naturally developed.”

On how hot styles turn up in unexpected places:

“I’m wearing the [Dior gladiator] shoe that created the storm of trends for the last three years — from Manolo to Louis Vuitton. I put it on Sarah Jessica Parker’s foot in the [‘Sex and the City’] movie and I knew what was going to happen. I had found it in New York before Christmastime — it didn’t get any visibility because it must have been a late delivery or something — and bought it because I loved it. I brought mine in to show her, but it was six months later. So we searched and searched, and we finally found it at the outlets in Westchester County in New York. It became a heavy trend.”

On the next “it” shoe:

“I don’t necessarily go trendspotting. I just put things together that I think look nice. But I am getting tired of these heavy shoes. I’m ready for nice, refined shoes. I’m wanting that Halston simplicity. But that’s just a feeling.”

On future aspirations:

“I’m not sure. Maybe directing a movie or having a TV show. [I’d like to] move on from the styling thing. So hopefully new things will come along.”

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