Matthew Miele’s Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s is a suitably sleek star-studded behind-the-scenes documentary looking at New York’s über department store.
She’s in Fashion by Laura Bennett
If you’ve ever found yourself lingering on a 5th Avenue sidewalk marvelling at the intricate beauty of an elaborate window display; if you’ve ever hoped that in a parallel universe somewhere, you might one day sashay confidently à la Carrie Bradshaw straight to the shoe salon; or if you’ve ever simply wondered what goes on inside this institution that is the beating heart of New York’s fashion industry and a symbol of the city’s overarching capitalism, then Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s is for you.
Directed by relative newcomer Matthew Miele, Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s has a cast of luminaries from the world of fashion who provide their perspective on the grand dame of New York’s retail scene. From the biggest name designers to new kids on the block; from Hollywood fashionistas to costume designers and stylists; from expert retail analysts to eccentric nonagenarian fashion gurus, they’re all here. Such is the privileged position held by Bergdorf Goodman.
Giorgio Armani, Christian Louboutin, Bobbi Brown, Manolo Blahnik, Dolce & Gabbana, Karl Lagerfeld, Rachel Zoe, Patricia Field and the Olsen twins all feature, to name but a few. But despite this stellar list of names, some of the film’s most compelling insights are offered by Bergdorf’s employees. Early on, we meet David, the understated window designer. Following David and his team on the run up to the 2011 Christmas window season, he takes us to the slightly less glamorous location of Long Island City, home to the shop’s multi-storey window prop storage warehouse. An astonishing treasure trove-cum-curiosity cabinet, its contents are augmented every year by bespoke items handmade sparing no expense by the city’s premier craftsmen. 2011’s “mosaic aquarium” window is described as the grandest ever and will be seen by 1.5m pairs of eyes per week, belonging to everyone from well-heeled loyal customers to wide-eyed children and multicultural tourists.
In US terms, Bergdorf’s is a historic monument. Founded in 1899, it has been at its current location on an entire New York City block at 5th Avenue and 57th Street since 1928. French immigrant Bergdorf had already been bought out by Goodman by 1906, although fittingly retired to Paris to live off the proceeds. Although now part of the Neiman Marcus group, Bergdorf’s was the last independently owned department store in America before its sale in 1972. Described as the “royal family of fashion”, for many years the Goodmans lived in a sixteen-room apartment on the store’s top floor with unobstructed views of Central Park; remarkably, in order to comply with building regulations they were listed as “janitors”. Never has the world known such sartorially elegant caretakers!
The film provides a clever window onto Bergdorf’s hidden side. In addition to championing fashion world heavyweights, who give the store their own air kiss of approval, Bergdorf’s is also celebrated for the support it gives young, emerging designers. It is seen by many rookies as a landmark in the development of their careers. Chief trendspotter, Linda Fargo, is described as being friendly and approachable in a world that often seems anything but, and her genuine passion for fashion and giving talented people their first break is refreshingly apparent.
The strength of the film is its tapestry of anecdotes that are just fabulous darling and could only come in a beautifully wrapped Bergdorf Goodman package: regular customer Elizabeth Taylor ordering 200 pairs of mink earmuffs to distribute as Christmas presents; Yoko Ono purchasing 70 fur coats totalling $400,000 on Christmas Eve in an otherwise slow sales year; and designer Michael Kors being discovered working with a mouthful of pins in a boutique across the street by the Bergdorf’s legendary former fashion director Dawn Mello.
Brief mention is made of the 2008 financial crash and a loss of customers unprecedented since World War II, but if one thing is clear, conspicuous consumption is alive and catwalking on this Manhattan plot. Even its sales staff can make half a million dollars a year! Although in many ways an extended promotional film, Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s succeeds in teasing out the special place the store holds in the aspirational world of the American dream. Serving the ever expanding multitude of millionaires living in luxury on New York’s Upper East Side, this fashion icon is here to stay.
Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s is released in the UK on 6 December 2013