By Laurie Coker
New York City, a place like no other, and one I have visited every year for over fifteen years now. I love it! In spite of these annual visits, Bergdorf’s of New York has never been on my must see list. In fact, to be honest, while I have made an effort to visit most landmarks in the city, even stores like Macy’s, F.A. O. Swartz, and the like, I knew nothing about the luxury, Fifth Avenue department store called Bergdorf Goodman. And rightly so, I guess since, after seeing the self-aggrandizing documentary Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s, I learned I could not even afford to purchase a paperclip in the place.
Director/writer Matthew Miele takes his audience behind the scenes, interviewing clients, staff and designers, and offering laypersons a unique perspective on the historical emporium. Inherently, the problem is that most of us, those who don’t make buckets of money, simply don’t care. Where Miele could have done so much more, like show us the history of fashion through the exploration of Bergdorf’s and its staff and its designers, or let us see more of the glorious store itself, he chooses to, at least this is my take, rub expensive, high fashion in the audience’s face.
Still, I can’t say I disliked the documentary. I found some merit in learning how designers dress its windows and how long it takes (months) to decorate the famous NYC holiday windows. I didn’t hate looking at the clothes (made from the wool of designer sheep and special order cotton, blah, blah, blah) and sparkly, diamond-studded, stiletto shoes, but I also believe, even if I could spend zillions on such things, I wouldn’t. As I watched, I never once regretted not being able to shop at Bergdorf’s. I like my Target T’s and Old Navy jeans. I did find it slightly offensive that Miele never considers his audience at all – we, normal everyday folk, can’t connect to designer/actress/heiress Nicole Richie discussing how relaxing a day a Bergdorf’s is (implying we can all find comfort in a pair of four inch Manolo’s or a Verchace frock) nor can we appreciate the trials of Vera Wang, Jimmy Chu, or Michael Kors or any other mega-rich designers or, buyers, directors or celebrities.
Learning that a sales associate at Bergdorf’s can pull in nearly half a million dollars didn’t make this teacher feel any better about her out of season GAP chinos. I suppose if the price tag for its items and for window dressing weren’t so ridiculous, I might have felt an inkling of sympathy when the store’s director bemoaned the recent store losses due to the 2008 recession. Lord – poor them! Nope, this is an elitist film for an elitist audience, done well, granted, but not done for me or anyone whose income isn’t in the seven digits and beyond category.
I can’t quite put my finger on the purpose of a film like Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s other than to make those involved with its fortune feel good. It does harbor some historic significance, but few outside the mega-wealthy would notice if the store disappeared, or even know it exists. Up-and-coming fashion designers might appreciate the inside peek into the industry, and as noted, I did stay engaged. I am placing a C+ in my grade book. Meile’s filmmaking is first rate, but his subject matter is less than worthy – ironic given the price tags dangling from Bergdorf dresses.