When it comes to films about addiction and recovery, there’s a plethora of titles that explore these themes in terms of drug use and sexuality. Director Simon Rumley examines these topics through a different lens that is universal to all of us — at what point do we separate creating our own individual identity using clothing vs. a full blown addiction to the material? Fashionista analyzes the harrowing journey of April (Amanda Fuller) who runs a vintage clothing store with her partner Eric (Ethan Embry). As distrust and infidelity begin to create an undeniable rift in their relationship, April delves further and further into her (literal) mountains of clothes at work and at home as a means to relieve the anxiety and emotional distress that she cannot seem to escape. Interspersed throughout the film are brief yet striking scenes of foreshadowing, including a parallel story of Alex Essoe’s solemn character residing in a mental institution, that all tie marvelously together in the closing scenes of the film. During an interview with the cast and director, Rumley describes his deep interest in the textures and the look of clothes and cites that “it’s something I’ve always wondered about, how to do a dark film about clothes”. When researching for her role as April, Amanda Fuller stumbled across a multitude of blogs with “women confiding in each other with their addiction to clothing being their crutch for body dysmorphia […] to see that it is at the forefront of our society even if it’s hidden between the crevices” goes to show how easily our culture dismisses the signs of clothing addiction as opposed to something more obvious like drug addiction. “[I]t’s not an exciting addiction to pay attention to, but I think it’s something we can relate to in a way”, states Fuller. Ethan Embry expresses that one of the few things that will send him into a nervous state is deciding what specifically to put on for the day. “Whenever we go anywhere, what’s the first thing we think of? What identity am I going to wear?”
The cast and crew were eager to jump on board with Rumley’s script, Embry citing arthouse thrillers being “the most interesting part of films these days” and wanting to fully embrace a story that left the audience disconcerted and allowing stimulating conversation around the film for some time to come. Austin has become such an integral part of filming for Rumley (Fashionista being the third film he’s directed in the city) due to the location’s vintage store community and thriving artistry and multiculturalism. “People do these things because they love the craft” states Rumley, rather than due to any kind of excess monetary value or for status. However, since returning to Austin several times in the last decade, Rumley has noticed the recent gentrification occurring at a rapid rate throughout the city. In a sense, Randall (Eric Balfour)’s character can be seen as a subtle subtext for the wealth and upscale gentrification happening in Austin as well as other major metropolises. Dispersed throughout the film are tracks from local Austin bands emphasizing the musical roots that deeply signify the city, yet there’s also the occasional extreme of EDM and techno music at full throttle during Balfour’s scenes that underlines a clash of the city’s attempt to preserve its arts and culture but simultaneously forced to reckon with the high-end and affluent.
Inspired by director Nicolas Roeg’s films which lean towards the fragmented and non-linear, Rumley describes Fashionista as “a film where it’s always left unexpected [as to] what’s happening… there’s a mystery to it, to not tell everything up front or in sequence and to keep all your cards close to the very end”. Shot in a mere 18 days, the film didn’t allow for any kind of actor’s preparation, rather the cast learned to trust the process and to show up to set every day being completely present and honest in their respective roles. “I lost my shit every day”, laughs Fuller when recalling the process. With Fashionista‘s extreme pacing and dramatic performances, the most difficult part for the cast was to come into bits and pieces of the conversation throughout the entirety of the film and to have to immediately react. Fuller recounts the importance of “so many intense emotions that are brought to the surface the entire way through April’s journey and to not cluster them all up to be the same thing in order to honor the moment of the journey that she’s on”. For those looking for an unsettling cinematic ride complete with multi-dimensional and fleshed out characters, Fashionista does a terrific job of delving into anxieties and general malaise in a fashion not usually touched upon, secretly and gradually shining a beam of light on the inevitable and subconscious darkness of addiction and recovery.
Trish Connelly is the Austin-based guru who does booking and promoting at Cheer Up Charlies under The Nothing Song. She’s always down to collaborate and plan a show or event in town. She’s an expert with mixtapes (for all musicians out there you’ll want to send her your stuff!), and making connections with the cool kids. She may have a tad obsession with comics and Corgies, but she keeps it under control. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.