Fashionista. 2018. Directed & Written by Simon Rumley.
Starring Amanda Fuller, Ethan Embry, Eric Balfour, Alex Essoe, Alexandria DeBerry, Devin Bonnée, & Jemma Evans.
Not Rated. 110 minutes.
As partly a Marxist philosophically, I tend to find myself drawn to Simon Rumley’s films because they’re often based in aspects of the power structures which exist in our society. Particularly, his work in The Living and the Dead, Red White & Blue, and now Fashionista has touched on everything from Lords in the UK (and the decay of the upper class) to the sociopolitical ramifications when the American Dream finally dies for certain citizens, and finally the serious psychological effects of consumer culture and capitalism on the individual.
Yeah, okay, you were only hoping for a weird little film about fashion, right? Too bad!
Rumley’s Fashionista takes on a lot of things between consumerism and mental health. What it does best is whittle the commentary down to the level of the individual. The story follows April (Amanda Fuller), whose personal, mysterious, and at times chilling journey through a turbulent time in her life makes clear how badly capitalism has permeated every aspect of our social and personal lives, no matter how bad we hope to deny it.
Materialism – and the all around superficial capitalist culture of our current global society – destroys identity and individualism. When there is no identity, then there remains no fixed meaning to a life, or living in general, meaning the concepts of right and wrong being disappearing. So, when fashion becomes an escape and an actual method of pleasure – i.e. retail as ACTUAL emotional therapy, instead of just a fleeing emotional fix – there’s an easy path towards the loss of identity.
April and her husband Eric (Ethan Embry) are business owners in the fashion industry. They own a cute little hipster shop, though it’s not what you’d call thriving. Not only that, Eric is going behind his wife’s back and cheating, too. What we see, clearly, is that April has wrapped her entire existence up in fashion individually, and even her personal life with her husband is tied to materialism in that sense.
This is where we get into the concept of love within not only a capitalist system, but also in a society dominated by patriarchy. Love is no longer love; it is a commodity, it is a transaction. Love, under capitalism, can transform into the simple movement of capital: sex + $$$. Worse, money then becomes something wholly new itself because it’s able to prop up the fragile male ego: it can buy love, sex, respect, power, and authority (at least in terms of surface appearances). No longer does the man need to be those things – money can make man all of them.
What’s most dangerous is the convergence of a loss of identity with this capitalist structure of love. What does a person with no real identity sacrifice in order to feel they do? How do they piece together an identity when they’re busy selling their soul in the name of love, sex, power(etc)? Loss of dignity, trust, self worth and importance, and a lack of connection to the world. This can lead people to highly dangerous places if they’re not able to control themselves on a descent into darkness, clinging to another – as well as the nebulous concept of money and materialism in general – for a sense of self.
April becomes involved with a rich young gentleman, Randall (Eric Balfour), after her marriage starts crumbling. Randall indulges April with clothes, cash, nights out, and everything else. But he’s a perfect example of the male side of capitalism’s effects. Whereas women often internalise the effects of both capitalism and patriarchy, men externalise them. There comes a point when money provides so many options to the rich – and particularly rich men – they start seeking out increasingly odd and dangerous ways to spend it, so they’re able to get their thrills. This is why too much money almost inherently breeds perversity; by nature, too much money is perverse simply because it allows people the means and power to do just about anything and everything they want. April finds herself confronted with this grim reality after Randall plans a horrifying night for them in the city. You’ll have to see it to believe it.
After these events, April beings unravelling. Fashion is an extension of the personality, but April uses it as an avatar of a personality because she doesn’t have her own identity. But fashion is passing, not concrete and fixed, and so her identity is constantly in flux. Her tale is an allegory for the consumerist world in which we live and how it shatters people. April’s “I just wanna look nice for you” breakdown is the reduced mental state of a woman stripped literally and physically bare, as well as figuratively, emotionally naked, too. And she is stripped bare by a materialist and patriarchal society that equates beauty and aesthetics with happiness and identity.
There’s an incredibly surreal sequence that leads into a downward spiral in April’s life, then she winds up in a psychiatric hospital. Afterwards, we witness a figurative suicide by April. She emerges on the other side of a spiritual death as a new person with a real identity – the identity she wishes to have, the woman she’s meant to be, and this allows her to truly live. It’s surrealism at its best, truly, because Rumley switches Amanda Fuller for Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes) as April, and Essoe’s version of the character returns to her old life a changed person, with her eye on genuine identity rather than one cobbled together by scraps of consumer culture.
Through strange visions and character study, Rumley’s Fashionista hammers home the simple idea that fashion does not define you; materialism and capitalism actually erases you + your identity. Fuller gives a knockout performance, and she’s able to carry the emotional depth the story requires. You really feel, at times, you’re tumbling down the rabbit hole of identity right alongside her.
If you’re interested in how capitalism, consumerism, and identity all clash in a postmodern society, Fashionista has got you covered. At the same time, it’s just a damn fine bit of drama with a touch of mystery, and a dab of surrealism. Highly recommended. And I, for one, hope Rumley continues making penetrating films about the various structures of power in our lives, because he’s an unafraid and daring filmmaker.