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“People who take fashion seriously are idiots,” Joan Rivers says near the beginning of Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s, Matthew Miele’s documentary about Manhattan’s venerated department store. And for the next 90 minutes, you hear from an array of such idiots—including Rivers again, who admits she’s a longtime customer—gushing about Bergdorf Goodman as if it were the eighth wonder of the ancient world.
The film’s tone is reverential, likely understood by viewers who prioritize style above their own mothers but probably regarded as a bit silly by, well, anyone else. “Stores like this are necessary to make people want to aspire,” says film producer Jean Doumanian. “You need this for the American Dream.” (Er, I didn’t realize that owning a $6,000 pair of heels was a tenet of the American Dream.) Then later: “I think everybody must know Linda Fargo,” says celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe. Um, no.
Fargo, whose precise silver bob balances the pop of her red lipstick, is the senior vice president of Bergdorf’s and its primary fashion gatekeeper. Part socialite and part prison guard—though oh, what a prison!—she’s the one who makes designers’ careers or diplomatically tells designers when their collections are not quite ready for a rack in the store. Among all the fashion-world commentators interviewed here, Isaac Mizrahi is the most blunt about the power of admittance to Bergdorf’s: “If your clothes are not at that place, then there’s no future for those clothes—sorry.”
Miele delineates the history of the grandiose store, which takes up an entire block of 5th Avenue, with elegant black-and-white archival shots or simply drawn timelines. You’ll be stunned at the revelation of what some of its commissioned salespeople earn in a year (up to $500,000), as well as the intense planning and work that goes into Bergdorf’s celebrated windows, a topic which dominates the doc. The eloquent, personable, and infinitely inventive David Hoey, who is in charge of the displays, speaks of their narratives, implied actions, and ability to catch eyes in general. Yes, some of them are spectacular, with pieces culled from the “Bergdorf-y” items collected in the store’s basement. But when Hoey talks about putting chef’s hats on bejeweled polar bears—well, it’s a perhaps too-zany detail whose charm may elude you.
The film’s title is taken from a New Yorker cartoon, which Susan Lucci was unaware of when telling Miele the story of overhearing a Frenchwoman instruct her friend to scatter her ashes on the seventh floor of Bergdorf’s when she dies. And while it’s nice that apparently many clients have such passion and loyalty, the anecdote only makes you think of Rivers’ opening quip.