In the likeable and affectionate, but extremely scattershot fashion documentary Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s, director Matthew Miele goes behind the scenes and behind the history of one of the most iconic shopping destinations in New York City. Since it’s a film that’s almost entirely about fashion and commerce, it’s about as shallow as it sounds on paper, but there’s an affability to the film that’s hard to shake despite Miele never really knowing what to do with all the great anecdotes he’s being handed like they’re pearls strewn out across a platinum platter.
For those who don’t know, Bergdorf Goodman has been at the top of the New York City fashion food chain for over a century now. It’s clientele of dignitaries, celebrities, and the upper crust are regarded as some of the most discerning in the world, and the product buyers and personal shoppers match those lofty expectations. It’s the only major outlet on 5th Avenue still owned by an American company. It’s launched the brands of Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, and dozens of others. It’s seen as having the most famous and important window displays in the fashion world. They’re kind of a big deal.
The tone here is unquestionably one-sided, lauditory, and glowing, which means that hardcore fashion hounds will eat this one up far more than casual audiences will. Glimpses inside the sprawling shoe salon, their attention to detail, and talks with more celebrities and designers than you can shake a stick at (occasionally narrated by stylish actor William Fichtner) will keep the same kind of people who shop at stores like this glued to the edge of their seat.
That’s not to say that casual observers and the poor won’t have anything to really look at. There are some great anecdotes about selling Yoko Ono and John Lennon hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of furs on Christmas Eve and literally bag ladies coming in off the street to pay cash for some fancy duds. There’s an extensive look at the construction of the store’s famed Christmas display windows that actually add a bit of drama and disappointment that the other sections of the film sometimes lack. There are also some though provoking detours to discuss recession era business, the politics of exclusivity to fashion lines, the concept of fashion as art, and the impact Bergdorf’s had on the neighbourhood throughout history.
The real problem is that despite all the style and good will in the world, Miele simply can’t find a way to form his film. He’s bouncing around from topic to topic at breakneck speed, but he also can’t find stories or anecdotes that he wants to cut. These are simply bullet points, but they aren’t really assembled into much of a list as they are just tossed together. It’s easy to see the allure of what Miele sees within Bergdorf’s, but it never really fits together.