“Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” swipes its title from the caption of a 1990 Victoria Roberts cartoon that appeared in the New Yorker. But nothing satirical or even vaguely skeptical emerges in this slick, flashy kaleidoscope of kowtows to the exclusive Fifth Avenue institution, where $6,000 shoes fly off the shelves and where every designer longs to display his wares. In contrast to recent Tribeca entry “The Director,” Christina Voros’ elegantly composed ode to Gucci and its present-day maestro, this scattershot docu — an undiluted advertisement for this temple of high-end consumerism — jumps skittishly from subject to subject, disjointed and repetitive for all but dyed-in-the-wool fashionistas.
Not that the docu lacks interesting figures or potential structuring points. Bergdorf’s charismatic fashion director, Linda Fargo, described as a warmer, friendlier Anna Wintour, effortlessly commands centerstage for long stretches as she vets new designers’ collections for kindly “maybe later” rejection or “welcome to the family” acceptance. Top personal shopper Betty Halbreich, who helps select celebrities’ clothing for personal wear, TV shows and movies, is entertainingly sharp-tongued and disinclined to suffer fools gladly.
And David Hoey, who designs Bergdorf’s extravagant, fantastical window displays, provides the docu’s throughline as he visits artisans’ workrooms in oddball corners of Gotham, monitoring progress on the varied mosaic, paper, wood and metal components for his whimsical Christmas 2011 windows, elaborate variations on “Carnival of the Animals.” Hoey touts his displays as Bergdorf’s democratic gift to the city, since rich and poor alike can come to gaze in awe and photograph their hallucinatory splendor. But since the docu otherwise proves so haphazardly structured, these cutaways feel forced and arbitrary. Similar structuring devices — such as historical timelines and photographs of the hotel’s opulent top-floor apartment, once inhabited by owner Edwin Goodman and his family — likewise promise more than they deliver.
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The amusement value of anecdotes about famous people is somewhat undercut by the film’s emphasis on the monetary windfalls they bring. Elizabeth Taylor’s much-anticipated visit to the fur salon first yields disappointment because she only wants mink earmuffs, then euphoria when it becomes clear she wants them for everyone on a voluminous Christmas list. John Lennon’s holiday purchase of 70 coats for friends is fondly remembered as last-minute salvation for a poor luxury-fur season. The 2008 financial crash, along with Madoff’s deprivations, causes the permanent disappearance of many longtime customers. But the rich, apparently always with us, soon help Bergdorf recuperate.
Everyone who is anyone in the fashion industry parades through the docu, helmer Matthew Miele delivering in spades as idols Oscar de la Renta, Michael Kors, Karl Lagerfeld, Isaac Mizrahi, Jason Wu, Manolo Blahnik, Vera Wang, Marc Jacobs, Giorgio Armani, Bobbi Brown, Christian Louboutin and Dolce & Gabbana, to name but a few, rhapsodize about the importance of inclusion in the Bergdorf lineup. Meanwhile, Susan Lucci, Candice Bergen and Joan Rivers inject their favored-clientele spin on the fabled store. A long black-and-white excerpt from a 1965 Barbra Streisand special, in which she swans through Bergdorf, lends a last-minute touch of class to this mostly graceless undertaking.