Film Review: Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s

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A Beacon For Designers and Hefty Prices

For the average shopper, it’s easy to feel unworthy next to Bergdorf Goodman’s, the infamous department store that occupies Manhattan’s 5th Avenue. It’s far more difficult to change this feeling even after you have seen Matthew Miele’s latest documentary about it. This breezy, jumbled portrait of the elite in fashion gives glimpses of its insular world, but by its conclusion, you feel more like a window shopper and less an informed customer.

The title of the film, “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s,” comes from a New Yorker cartoon penned by Victoria Roberts. It has little to do with death and more to do with the inspiring and aspiring powers of a store that makes and breaks the dreams of young designers. Many can testify to that fact, including Marc Jacobs, Giorgio Armani, Michael Kors, and Jason Wu, the man responsible for Michelle Obama’s two inaugural gowns. Celebrity talking heads include the Olson twins, Susan Lucci, and Joan Rivers, whose comedic styling gives a welcomed dollop of perspective on the couture era.

It’s Linda Fargo who is the woman to impress, the head buyer at Bergdorf’s who scans the catalogs, analyzes the potential clients, and ultimately makes her trend setting decisions. Much less guarded is Fargo than the likes of Anna Wintour, but the competitive juices still run deep, evidenced when Bobbi Brown describes how Bergdorf’s only became interested in her lipstick line once Sak’s was about to purchase her.

To the film’s fault, Scatter feels like an ADD rush, jumping from room to room, topic to topic. We get moments of its history featuring the Goodman family and its long line of ownership and then just snippets of some of Bergdorf’s current colorful employees, including Betty Halbreich, a straight shooting saleswoman. Both feared and loved, she elicits knowledge for circumstantial attire that’s unmatched, as are the salaries of Bergdorf’s other flocking salespeople. By far the most engaging is David Hoey and his creative team, the yearly designers of Bergdorf’s Holiday windows that are the hallmark spectacle of the store’s frequent passersby. Crawling through his Long Island City warehouse of props is the grimiest and most fun we ever get.

Little compassion is felt when Bergdorf’s owner speaks about the effects of 2008’s financial collapse on the business. That’s partly due to earlier stories of how Yoko Ono and John Lennon once bought over 70 fur coats on Christmas Eve, or how Elizabeth Taylor ordered 200 mink earmuffs as gifts for friends and family. Yes, its long line of history is impressive, and equally exclusive. As one associate points out to Fargo, “someone told me this is just a club for women.” Miele feels like the bouncer to it, promoting more than informing, making sure we know where the red velvet line starts and more importantly stops.

2.5/5

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