For those not in the know, Bergdorf Goodman is a department store. For the upper upper crust of New York (like, the Olson twins, who are in this movie), it is the department store. A place where personal shoppers will escort you through floor after floor of five-figure shoes and dresses while mercilessly putting you down. People happily pay for this experience.
Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s is a documentary about this rarified air, based on a line from a New Yorker cartoon (what else!?), a panel whose art you can obviously imagine without me having to describe it.
As movies about retail stores go, Bergdorf’s is pretty good. Director Matthew Miele does an excellent job of distilling why people love it. He interviews celebrities like Candice Bergen. He talks to the staff of the store at length. He spends lots of time with designers, namely Michael Kors, who was basically discovered by the store and, despite being interviewed indoors, does not remove his sunglasses once.
Miele leaves no stone unturned regarding the origins (rich people) and present day realities (owned by Nieman-Marcus) of Bergdorf’s, but he reserves the considerable majority of the film for an exploration of what is apparently B-G’s biggest draw: Its window displays. These elaborate dioramas employ an army of designers and artists and are true, temporary art pieces. A walk through the warehouse where all the props of years gone by would be both a dream and a nightmare.
But… who cares? Touting the supremacy of America’s most indulgent shopping destination is a bit like watching The Apprentice. At first it’s got a sort of aspirational curiosity. Ultimately it becomes clear that everyone involved is mostly interested in opulence strictly for the sake of opulence. Most of the garments seen in the film are described as either “very expensive” or “very expensive.” Tales of Yoko Ono buying dozens of furs are tossed off as if, somehow, Bergdorf’s had a divine right to this business. The whole celebration of excess is laid increasingly thick as the film wears on.
In the end, the movie itself isn’t unenjoyable, and if I was a billionaire I’d surely buy everything here too. But I imagine that watching a movie about Bergdorf’s is probably a little like shopping at Bergdorf’s. It may feel good in the moment, but in the aftermath, you start to feel a little sick about the whole thing.