It covers an entire city block of New York’s Fifth Avenue, a Dover marble and bronze citadel of consumption at its most conspicuous. Bergdorf Goodman is shopping at its highest end, a fashion arbiter at the oh-so-exclusive retail level, the capital of aspirational America. From its exquisite designer salons to its ornate street-level windows, ornate expressions of consumerism as public art, it is a monument, in its own way, to the American dream.
“Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” is a love letter to this New York institution, a celebration of its place within the fashion food chain and those designers who know that when they’ve been accepted there, their fortune is made.
Filmmaker Matthew Miele has made a worshipful, often playful documentary about the history, people, couture and class of this worldwide icon of money-is-no-object shopping.
Designers sing its praises and recall the rituals they endured and the wheeling and dealing that went on to get a foot in the door there, winning the acceptance of fashion director Linda Fargo.
Snippy personal shopper Betty Halbreich keeps an eyebrow ever-raised at whatever it is you’re wearing when you arrive, knowing she’ll send you back out the door poorer but stylish.
We hear about the Christmas Eve back in the ’70s when John Lennon and Yoko Ono dropped $400,000 (in ’70s dollars) on furs in a single night.
We follow David Hoey as he marshals vast resources to create the incredible window displays that the store is known for.
It’s not a film about the battle between Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman, though, which is hinted at. It’s not a movie about the true cost of this sort of consumption or about what sort of laborer makes these expensive goods, and where.
The characters – heirs, managers, shoppers, celebrity fans (Joan Rivers, Susan Lucci) and designers (the Olsen twins among them) – may be overly coiffed and coutured. But they’re never caricatures. Wherever this store sits in the retail hierarchy, there’s nothing extreme and there’s little that’s biting or funny in the way Miele (William Fitchner reads a sparing narration) presents it. Despite inventive ways of showing the history (digital human shadows added to photos from the past), it’s a rather dry wallow in high fashion lacking the drama, wit or bitchiness of the Anna Wintour documentary “The September Issue.”
Here is Bergdorf’s, “Scatter My Ashes.” It says, “Look upon it in wonder.” And we do, even if we wish the tone was more Joan Rivers and less Miss Manners.