A Film a Week - Fashionista

There has been a lot of fashion in the cinematic year of 2016. But, after Nicholas Winding Refn’s visually astonishing, but story-wise utterly banal extravaganza The Neon Demon and Nocturnal Animals, the stylistically polished thriller by fashion designer Tom Ford, it is easy to overlook Simon Rumley’s (Red, White & Blue) take on the world of street fashion and cautionary tale about addiction set in Austin, Texas. And, boy, wouldn't that be a pity, because Fashionista is the bravest and most emotionally effective of the bunch.

Set around the vintage clothes store owned by April (Amanda Fuller, star of Red, White & Blue) and her husband Eric (Ethan Embry, Fuller’s partner in Cheap Thrills), Fashionista creates a genuine atmosphere early on. Their business is booming, but their relationship is not doing that well. For Eric, clothes are strictly business, but for April they are a matter of passion on the verge of addiction. After confirming her fears that Eric is cheating on her, Amanda burns all the clothes she can find in their cramped apartment. For her, it is the act of liberation, but also a leap into the unknown.

Trouble comes to her soon enough in form of sharply-dressed and obviously filthy rich Randall (Eric Balfour). At first, she enjoys the perks of moving up the class ladder, changing from vintage T-shirts to designer dresses, but everything comes with a price. Here, it’s Randall's pretty extravagant lifestyle that gives her the creeps.

Is it just her, drowning in paranoia, obsession and taste for wrong men? Or is there something more sinister going on, as it is shown in recurring flash-forwards of a mansion in crimson-red, sensing the impending doom looming over our heroine? And what’s with the nameless young woman (Alex Essoe) checking out of a mental hospital and cruising the streets and clubs of Austin? How does all of that add up?

Initally the whole story may seem a bit pretentious, with all the manic non-linear editing, flash-forwards and mystery that casts its spider-web as broad as it can, combined with a washed-up look and unlikely angles from hand-held camera that Rumley favours. Rumley's crediting Nicholas Roeg as an inspiration in the closing credits is no surprise at all, because the whole film works completely as a tribute to the British genre auteur. The look of a vintage cult classic seen on an old VHS tape is completely in tune with its feel and the hipster clothing culture it celebrates. The mystery is somewhat predictable for a trained viewer, some repetitions of certain scenes could be trimmed off and the ending is a bit neat but still enjoyable, as is the whole movie.

But still, this is not just an exercise in style. Rumley masterfully catches the spirit of Austin and its culture and creates the unique, sticky atmosphere, drowning us into the story. The key performance of Amanda Fuller is a tour de force, as she is both manic and fragile, not conventionally pretty, but magnetically attractive. All in all, Fashionista is a great piece of inspired genre cinema: trashy, classy, campy and sexy at the same time, which makes it an almost perfect midnight flick.

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