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Scatter My Ashes At Bergdorf’s (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time 93 minutes.

OK for children.

At the beginning of the film, Joan Rivers meows, "People who take fashion seriously are idiots." Brilliantly directed by Matthew Miele, however, what follows is a parade of people who take fashion very seriously. This is a delightful, informative, educational, and highly entertaining documentary about the 111-year history of the iconic New York department store Bergdorf Goodman. The title is from one of The New Yorker’s classic cartoons by Victoria Roberts.

Fashion maven after fashion maven appear before the cameras to tell the importance of Bergdorf to fashion and their careers. However, even though the production values of this film are extraordinarily high, the filmmakers make the same mistake made by most documentary makers in that they identify the talking heads by an identifying graphic the first couple of times they appear in the screen, then no more. This is a problem because there are so many people whose faces are unfamiliar to ordinary viewers that it is not possible to remember who is who. Whenever somebody appears on the screen, that person should be identified by graphic throughout the entire film to refresh the viewer’s memory.

Appearing throughout the film are Giorgio Armani, Candice Bergen, Manolo Blahnik, Dolce & Gabanna, Marc Jacobs, Naeem Khan, Michael Kors, Karl Lagerfeld, Lauren Bush Lauren, Susan Lucci, Christian Louboutin, Catherine Malandrino, Gilles Mendel, Isaac Mizrahi, Ashley Olsen and Mary-Kate Olsen, Thakoon Panichgul, Rivers and Jason Wu, and this is just the short list.

But better than all these designers and stars are the detailed stories of the employees who make the store such a special place, including fashion director Linda Fargo the powerful woman who makes the career-making (or breaking) decision of which new designer gets in and which doesn’t; window decorator David Hoey who makes the Bergdorf Christmas windows look like they should be in displayed in an art gallery; and personal shopper Betty Halbreich, who helps A-list movie stars, politicians, and fashionistas make their choices. Her caustic wit is responsible for some of the biggest laughs provided by the film.

There are so many wonderful anecdotes that I don’t want to spoil the film by repeating them. However just as an example, the story is told that one Christmas Eve, Yoko Ono called at closing time and said that she and John Lennon wanted to come down and look at some fur coats. Naturally, because of who they were, the store remained open for them. Yoko arrived, but they had to wait two hours for John to come. When he finally arrived they ended up buying 80 fur coats, one each for their entire staff, at a cost of over $2 million.

While I was looking forward to this, because I do like documentaries, even in my anticipation I could not have realized how entertaining this is, clearly one of the most entertaining films of the year. The photography is beautiful, and the graphics are large, shadowed, and easy to read.

There are also some fantastic pictures of New York from the beginning of the 20th century. Bergdorf’s is on Fifth Avenue at 57th St., right across the street from the Plaza Hotel, so the photographs are of a location that should be familiar to the vast majority of people.

I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but when you learn what the Bergdorf salespeople make, your jaw will drop.