Introduced by writer/director Simon Rumley at Glasgow Film Festival’s FrightFest alongside Amanda Fuller, leading lady of his latest feature, Fashionista was atypical of the offerings of the weekend and of the expectation which precedes Rumley; though his resume includes drama, thriller, comedy and romance as well as the horror for which the attendees know him, the difference is that horror fans remember and follow directors in a way which rom-com fans do not.
This is not to say that the world of retro fashion retail is devoid of atmosphere and intrigue, the opening scenes channelling the creepiness of being somewhere which is normally hidden from sight, the boutique after hours, in silent darkness, no customers, no piped muzak, only the lone woman surrounded by the racks of second hand clothes and mirrors.
Each garment unique with a history and an untold story, this is Eric’s Emporium; he manages the business end from upstairs in the office while his wife April takes care of everything else, the stock, the staff, the shop floor. Their apartment overflowing with garments, pushing in from the walls to form tunnels which guide them from the bedroom to the bathroom to the scant kitchenette, every aspect of their lives are dominated by clothes.
The superficially transformative power of April’s clothes does not change what is beneath; she is jealous and possessive of Eric even as she herself flirts with the customers, zipping them into tight leather jackets; when Eric is offered a chance to open a second branch of the Emporium in Dallas part of the deal is that it will be sales assistant Sherry who runs it as it is her uncle providing the capital.
Understandably April is less than pleased at the time they will be spending together, and with her insecurities becoming obsessive she begins stalking her husband, following him to the home of another colleague; instead of confronting him she sets them up so she can walk in so they witness her outrage, her vengeful anger fully justified but unspent as she next turns her attention to Eric’s business assets, those irreplaceable and flammable garments piled high.
Shot, edited and soundtracked in a style which matches the grungy retro chic of the expansive wardrobe, Fuller plays April as a chameleon whose moods switch as frequently as her attire but who is unable to find that perfect outfit which will compensate for the emptiness which drives her self-destructive impulses.
Surrounded by relics of the past April is destroying her present, but instead of dealing with it she distracts herself with Randall, handsome, rich, refined and interested in her but controlling, their relationship bordering on a transaction where he holds the purse. Where Eric’s attention was split between his work and his wife, in his spacious and formerly beautiful home now run down, Randall’s demands are cold, April as much an object to him as clothes are to her.
With its sustained surreal foreboding and accretion of violent consequence, Fashionista reminds of The Neon Demon with its toxic mix of damaged people and its worship of the superficial, April and Eric’s apartment full of visual cues for her deteriorating mental state with the framed posters ranging from the early sighting of Je t’aime… moi non plus to Warhol’s Dracula, Fulci’s The Black Cat, Argento’s Tenebrae.
Present in almost every scene, the film belongs to Fuller as she dresses for thrift store success with Ethan Embry’s weary Eric, transformed from the skinny bookworm of Can’t Hardly Wait and the hesitant son of Late Phases, his love for April never doubted despite his mistakes, and in seductive gowns bought on credit for Eric Balfour’s smoothly seductive Randall, his charming mask never quite concealing the menace.
After all the clothes, all the pretences, everything she tries to project and protect, it is only as April is stripped of her layers that she must face what she has become and what she has created, but inevitably there will be a price to pay in a film which manages to be deeper and more affecting than the deceptive appearances upon which it plays.