I do love a good fashion movie. Unfortunately, Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s is not about fashion. It is about money – lots of money.
Bergdorf Goodman is a department store. They just celebrated 112 years in business, so there is a lot of retail history connected to the store. They are considered to be one of the top, if not the top store in New York. It seems that one of the main objectives of this film was to convince the viewer that Bergdorf Goodman is not only Number One, but that there are no close competitors. And a big reason this is so is because the clientele is so special. That’s because their clientele has money.
There was a steady stream of celebrities (Nicole Richie? Joan Rivers? Susan Lucci? Why?) and fashion people who essentially said the same thing – that if you do not have your clothes in or if you do not shop at Bergdorf Goodman, then your life is not worth living. Okay, I exaggerated that a bit, but after hearing nothing but heaps of praise for the store and how it had changed so many lives, it made a trip to Saks Fifth Avenue sound like slumming.
I guess my expectations were just too high. I thought there would be a lot about the history of the store and about how they became the best shopping experience in New York. Instead, the skimpy history was woven through the film by the use of a timeline with tiny print. And key elements of the story were omitted. Not a single word was uttered about Bergdorf Goodman’s famous made-to-order salon and workrooms.
There were also inaccuracies. From the time the store was built in the 1920s until the 1980s, the Goodman family lived in an apartment on the top floor of the building. In the film one interviewee stated that the Goodmans were listed as the building’s janitors because building codes did not allow just anyone to live above the store. What the film did not say was that is because the workrooms were classified as a factory, and that was why occupation was not permitted. People were living above their stores all over the city.
But as tedious as it was at times, I can’t say it was all bad. Quite a bit of it showed how the holiday windows at the store are developed and executed. They began with the idea of the 2011 Christmas windows, the Carnival of the Animals, and how the design and the props were made and acquired. Then we were treated to the installation of the five windows that fit the theme. I can tell you, there is a lot of time and energy put into those wonderful windows.
But back to my original point, that the film is about money. They talked about how much things cost. They talked about how much money the best sales persons make. They talked about John and Yoko saving Christmas one year by buying $400,000 worth of furs.
I realize that it is pretty difficult to talk about a store without talking about commerce, but the idea put forward over and over that the store is exclusive and aspirational combined with stress being put on the cost of the merchandise makes one think that perhaps the filmmakers agree with F. Scott Fitzgerald when he wrote that the very rich really are different from you and me.
Considering that there were over 100 persons interviewed for the film, it seems a bit odd that so many of them were saying pretty much the same thing about the store. It gave a scripted feel to the work. Maybe this can be better understood when you know that one of the backers of the film was Andrew Goodman’s grandson, Andrew Malloy. The Goodman family no longer owns the store, but they do own the building.
And the lack of history can partly be attributed to the lack of an archive. I read in an interview with the filmmaker that the only archive of the 112 year old business was a group of photographs. In showing the apartment the film had to use photos that were used in a 1965 magazine article.
Since it is not the holiday season, the Bergdorf Goodman windows were pretty simple. I loved this modern art angle. Can you tell that is an Alexander Calder type mobile? The Thom Browne dress on the left is just as much a piece of modern art. This was the dress I was so taken with in Saks, and I can tell you that no photo that I can take would ever do it justice. The folds of the skirt are carefully placed and are attached to an underdress, giving a floating look to the folds. And you cannot really see the beautiful insets on the bodice that supplied the shape, but this was one special frock. But, it is not exclusive, as Saks had the same dress on display on the sales floor where shoppers could see it in the round and study the structure. Click the photos to get a better view.