Thursday, June 11, 2015
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the release of one of my favorite fashion movies of the 1990s. Party Girl was an indie film that my fashion school friends and I felt was made just for us. Based on the initial box office receipts, it might as well have been.
I lived in the East Village, roamed around St. Mark's Place and Alphabet City those days, just like Parker Posey's character, Mary. My friends and I always knew of an underground rave going on, like the one Mary throws at the beginning of the movie (it was art school and I did live in-between clubs like Webster Hall, Limelight, and Palladium). Sadly, the Palladium is now the Palladium residences of NYU and Limelight is a mall.
Studying fashion and costume history, this movie projected all the looks we saw ourselves in. Costume team Michael Clancy and then assistant Vicky Bartlett (now designer of VPL) used a mix of the trendy labels at the time like Todd Oldham, Vivienne Westwood, and Jean-Paul Gaultier for her colorful, girl-about-town and dancing scenes. When she makes an effort to mature to become a librarian, her looks turn to a mix of super-chic vintage and a twist of retro 1940's and 1970's references.
The movie was hailed as the little indie that could by local trendy publications. Parker Posey was cemented as the "Indie Queen" and her character was dubbed the modern Holly-Go-Lightly as the 1990s update of Breakfast at Tiffany's.
This movie spoke to me because I had just arrived in NYC. I could totally relate to wanting to spend too much on designer clothes because of immature 19-year-old priorities. Then, being in school, I had to balance taking my future seriously at the same time as wanting to party at the best clubs. I remember recognizing how the random strangers you pass every day end up being the people you're comfortable with (in Mary's case, dated). Since so many people at school had moved to New York far away from where they grew up, your local family became all the quirky characters you find a connection with.
The movie was considered innovative because it was one of the first to debut on the internet (back when AOL was the big thing, can you imagine?) The soundtrack broke open Dee-Lite as the club dance favorite. The original box office may have been less than $500K, but it was celebrated at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to be a cult favorite. It inspired a horrible tv show that starred Christine Taylor (later to star in Zoolander) and John Cameron Mitchell (of Hedwig and the Angry Inch). Oh, and did you catch young Guillermo Diaz playing the hopeful DJ? Yes, that's the guy that plays tormented assassin Huck on TV's Scandal now.
I will always love Party Girl as the home movie of my college intro to NYC (at least in my head). It is a fashion time capsule for the 1990s that will forever have a place in my heart.