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Fashion on Film: Movie Review, Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's

Millions of people make the pilgrimage up a certain stretch of Fifth Avenue in New York City to see how the rich and famous spend their money. Its anchors of retail are Saks Fifth Avenue on one end and Bergdorf Goodman’s on the other. The documentary, Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s, is made for them, the hoi polloi on the street. Like the Bergdorf’s windows at Christmas time that draw crowds each year, the film gives average joes a glimpse into a store that they probably can’t afford.

Surprisingly, we see little b-roll of what goes on inside the actual block-wide department store. Not surprisingly, that’s because the film isn’t really about the goods for sale at Bergdorf’s or the nitty-gritty of how they are sold. It’s about how the store has come to signify luxury and exclusivity to so many people around the world. Much of the film explores its wide cultural reach. We learn that there are ties between Bergdorf’s and everything from the Halston pillbox hat Jackie O wore on the day of JFK’s assassination to clothing that appeared in Raging Bull, All My Children and Sex in the City to the discovery of such disparate American designers as Michael Kors and Blake Mycoskie of Toms Shoes.  

Anecdotes abound about the relevance of the over one-hundred-year-old department store. Indeed, the film boasts over 175 interviews with celebrities, famous designers and fashion buffs (there’s even a clip of Cher mentioning Bergdorf’s on David Letterman). It all adds up to a bunch of beautiful people who take themselves and their clothes shopping and selling a bit too seriously (except for the interview with Joan Rivers, of course). Really, the title is a bit of a tip-off that the film’s reverence for the store is overblown. Would any sane person really want to scatter their ashes at Berdorf’s? Probably not.

Still, Berdorf’s is so iconic and unique that it surmounts the film’s somewhat unfocused, repetitive and overly-precious handling of its subject. Who would have thought that a sales associate can make up to a half a million dollars a year working at the store? Or who would have imagined that a personal stylist can sell $60,000 worth of merchandise to one client? We get a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into the year-long quest to mount the most creative and extravagant Christmas windows on the avenue each holiday season bar-none. We learn that Linda Fargo, Director of Women’s Fashion, wields enough power in the fashion industry to anoint designers in the eyes of the world overnight. We hear from designer after designer that breaking down the privileged doors of the store to become one of the select designers hanging on its exclusionary racks amounts to grabbing the brass ring of fashion.

No, the documentary doesn’t aspire to too much depth, but skirting on the surface is about what we would have expected from a film about a place that upsells the American Dream. Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s is a glamour-filled peek into the rarified world that is Bergdorf Goodman’s.   

Available on Netflix : Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's

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