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Fifty Years In, Lee Fields Is Still Wearing Great Suits | Vanity Fair

Fifty Years In, Lee Fields Is Still Wearing Great Suits | Vanity Fair




Fifty Years In, Lee Fields Is Still Wearing Great Suits

Dan AdlerApril 5, 2019 2:55 PM
That’s Sharp
Image removed by sender.
Photograph by Justin Bishop.
Catching up with the soul singer, whose new album, It Rains Love, is out today, and his wife on a clear day in New Jersey.
Soon, soul singer Lee Fields is going to celebrate his 50th anniversary in music by touring behind his new album, It Rains Love, with his band, the Expressions. But on a recent day at his home in Plainfield, New Jersey, he was mostly talking about his suits.
“Oh man, watch yourself!” he said as he handed over one of them, before breaking into a deep belly laugh. “You almost cut your hand off!” This particular suit was dangerous—it had shards of mirror sewn onto its exterior.
The 68-year-old keeps the hundred-plus bespoke outfits he has worn over his career in basement storage. From the cache, he brought up a few racks of his imaginative and ornate favorites to share with Vanity Fair.
“When I wore this outfit in Las Vegas,” Fields said of the mirrored suit, “my bass player said, ‘Oh man, Lee, this sharp.’ I did a spin, and I moved on with the show. He looked at me and said, ‘Lee, you almost got me.’”

Photographs by Justin Bishop.

Photographs by Justin Bishop.
With Fields, though, even a conversation about clothes turns into a disquisition about religion and politics, or else a dive into his trove of stories. “I like the Stones, I like the Beatles, I like Liberace, I like Elvis, I like James Brown, I like the Temptations,” he continued. “How they were dressing back in the day. I like David Bowie. We went to David Bowie’s concert—we were invited by his keyboardist, and then I thought David Bowie was just absolutely fantastic. The way he had on this outfit, he came on with one outfit, but he was constantly taking pieces off of the outfit and he was changing right before your eyes. I felt he was one of the most creative artists of all time.”
Fields’s wife, Christine, was home that afternoon, too. The couple, who will also be celebrating their 50th anniversary soon, met in New York in 1968, a year after he arrived from North Carolina to pursue a singing career. “As I’ve watched the changes through the years,” Fields said in his living room, “it seemed like every betterment of society came because of love.”
For all Fields’s effortlessly maximalist, Clyde Frazier-level style, he didn’t want to take the credit. “I don’t really pick ‘em out,” he said of his wife. “She does.”
Fields’s mother made some of his earliest suits. “And I enjoyed that, going to the fabric stores, picking out fabrics,” Christine said. “She knew exactly what to buy, because she was actually a stage person, too. I took it from her, to be honest, and I loved picking different styles, different colors, and just having this vision.”
“We used to ride around for hours,” Fields said of his early trips with his wife and mother. “Some days, maybe ride around for six, seven hours. Until we find that right material and everybody agreed on it, it didn’t work.”
After Fields took a break from music to pursue real-estate interests in the 80s, it was Christine who put him back on track. “I had drifted so far from music, I felt like I’d missed my shot,” he said. “I was planning on opening an eatery over in Newark. I thought, we get this place, rent out the three floors, and turn the bottom storefront into a fish place, where you carry out, where you come get your fish and you go. So then we won’t have to worry about dealing with people that might sit around for a while, and might cause a lot of trouble. I thought it was a great idea, so I told my wife about it.”

Photograph by Justin Bishop.
“She wasn’t that excited about it but I said, ‘I’ll take you over to the place and let you see the place.’ So we drove over to Newark and she saw the place. She thought it could be a good idea. But she looked at me, she said, ‘What do you know about fish?’”
He paused, and his laughter beat him to the punch line. “I said, ‘Well baby, they taste good.’”
Christine told Fields that he should just stick to what he did best. At one point, he gestured to her. “That’s really Lee Fields, over there.”
On It Rains Love, Fields sounds as vital and enlivened as ever, his voice warm and restrained. His still-growing stockpile of suits is a capsule of his career, but also an expression of his intention to keep pushing it forward. Before he left his house, he put on a lime green jacquard jacket.
“I always dressed a little futuristic,” Fields said. “A lot of people that look at my music, they don’t see the future. But I’m very much about the future. You know, I wear the regular suits, too. But sometimes, man, for me to really be expressing myself, I got to just take it to the full metal. I got to go out there.”

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