“Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” – 2013 MIFF Review

The semi-annual New York Fashion Week collections attract all types to its Lincoln Center tents: celebrities, socialites, stylists and journalists. But one group rises above the rest – the buyers who determine which designers’ clothes will make it to their store’s retail racks. Of those stores, one receives more credibility than the rest in the luxury market – Bergdorf Goodman.

The title “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” is based on a 1990 New Yorker cartoon that depicts a woman telling another over tea that, after passing away, she would like her ashes to be scattered across Bergdorf Goodman. As such, the documentary is an overly effusive love letter to the city block-turned-department store that represents the pinnacle of achievement for fashion designers, with praises ringing from a variety of familiar Fashion Week faces, including Lela Rose, Diane von Furstenberg and Oscar de la Renta.

The story of Bergdorf Goodman, intended to be divided neatly into sections, showcase all aspects of the store including some behind-the-scenes anecdotes beyond the consumer’s typical retail experience. These include the role of the personal shopper, highlighting the inimitable Betty Halbreich; and a spotlight on executive Linda Fargo, the gatekeeper of what should and should not be sold on the store’s hallowed grounds. Loosely connecting these sections is the story arc of the annual holiday window displays – in 2011, the five works of art followed a “Carnival of the Animals” theme – intended to show a transformation from Fashion Week in September straight into the holidays.
Ultimately, the dueling timelines of a season-long frenzy versus a half-hearted attempt at the history of Bergdorf Goodman nearly derail the film. By the time David Hoey and his team’s intricate window displays are unveiled, the anticipated moment has lost steam given all the pit stops taken up to that point. For fashion insiders, “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” is a smile-inducing reminder of the industry’s maelstrom and the dynamism of New York. But for those who want a tightly-edited, information-packed attempt at organized chaos may instead find the film equivalent to teetering into Bergdorf’s in stilettos, then getting lost in the massive empire beyond its front doors.
“Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” screened at the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival.