For lovers of fashion who think of designers as Greek gods, and Bergdorf’s as their Olympus.

James Plath's picture

If you’re into fashion, you’ll want rent or buy “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s,” a 2013 documentary that’s so gushing in its affection for Bergdorf Goodman, the retail capitol of the North American fashion world, that it feels like a “roast” without the jokes. It’s the kind of positive tribute that, if the store ever shuttered and one of its designers decided to turn it into a museum, could loop in the education room to get visitors psyched for their tour of the place. In short, it feels like one long promotion for the store. If you’re a lover of documentaries, you might wince at the film’s lopsidedness.  But if you watch the “Fashion Police” and want to get caught up in the world of high fashion and mega-upscale shopping, this is the film for you.

One main theme that runs through it is that EVERY designer wants to be in Bergdorf’s, and that sentiment apparently applies to a film about the high-fashion store as well. Name your brand, name your designer, and there’s a good chance that he or she appears on-camera talking about Bergdorf’s. Writer-director Matthew Miele had no trouble getting people to sign on. You’ll see (in no particular order) designers like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Nicole Richie, Tom Ford, Georgina Chapman, Rachel Zoe, Giorgio Armani, Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld, Naeem Khan, Diane von Fürstenberg, Michael Kors, Vera Wang, Isaac Mizrahi, Gilles Mendel, Tory Burch, Christian Louboutin, Lauren Bush, Oscar de la Renta, Manolo Blahnik, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, Jason Wu, Patricia Field, Lela Rose, Thom Browne, Olivier Theyskens, Alber Ebaz, Catherine Malandrino, and Thakoon. And they all speak glowingly about the store.

“Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s takes its title from the punch line of a New Yorker cartoon, and it reads like a who’s who of the fashion world, really. Of particular interest are the stories of celebrity shopping—like an incident when Yoko Ono invited a Bergdorf’s personal shopper to their apartment to show them fur coats, and they bought enough of the high-ticket items to give to everyone on their Christmas list. Candice Bergen, Susan Lucci, and Joan Rivers are among the featured celebs.

Everyone who appears on camera says a variation of the same thing:  Bergdorf Goodman is as major a brand in the fashion industry as any designer—something that CHH and Neiman Marcus, which acquired the legendary store, thankfully realized. They kept the name and the storied history, which was something Macy’s should have done when they bought out Chicago’s landmark store, Marshall Field’s. 

In this film we get an abbreviated history of the store, which opened in 1901 and relocated to its present location at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street in 1928. Of particular interest is that like many New York shopkeepers Andrew Goodman and his wife lived above “the store.” Of course, their apartment was a penthouse, and to get around zoning codes the Goodmans were listed as custodians of the building. And one anecdote in particular suggests Mr. Goodman took that role seriously, as, before the store opened, he padded down in slippers and bathrobe and told one of the floorwalkers to attend to the removal of a dead fly he noticed.

I wish the film had gone a little more in that direction—the quirky history of the store. There are segments on history, on designers, on store employees (including the window dresser) and such, but the closest that director Miele comes to pursuing the truly quirky is during a segment about personal shopper Betty Halbreich, a crusty, tell-it-like-it-is woman who’s outfitted Bergen, Rivers, and Meryl Streep, and also dressed Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, and Cynthia Nixon for their “Sex and the City” characters. She’s a character herself, but asked to tell a few stories on-camera, she declines, saying she’d lose her job. Well, at 85 years old, she could probably afford to slow down. More likely, she was saving the material for her own memoir, one which Rebecca Keegan of the Los Angeles Times says was just optioned by HBO.  

More history—more cultural history, and perhaps a dissenting voice or two—would have added some texture to the film and made it more interesting for lovers of documentaries. As is, it’s for lovers of fashion who think of designers as Greek gods, and Bergdorf’s as their Olympus.

“Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” has a runtime of 93 minutes and is rated PG-13 for a brief sexual reference.

For a DVD, the quality is very good. There’s a nice amount of detail, colors are bright, and skin tones are natural looking—well, at least on the people who don’t go for spray tans. “Bergdorf’s” is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio.

The audio is an impressive English Dolby Digital 5.1, and I say “impressive” because it has uncommon heft. It feels substantial, though the bass isn’t any more pronounced than the average dialogue-driven documentary. Subtitles are in English SDH.

Additional interview outtakes are included.

Bottom line:
Bergdorf’s occupies a storied place in American culture, but in my opinion the director seems too star-struck by the fashion world’s glitterati to see what’s really interesting about Bergdorf Goodman’s history. If you're equally mesmerized by fashion icons, then there's plenty here to sate your appetite. Despite the slant, it really is well edited, and you have to give Miele credit for assembling so many big names in one film.


Film Value