E1 Entertainment // 2013 // 93 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 8th, 2013
If fashion had a home, this would be its address.
If pressed, most Americans can name at least one famous fashion designer. Whether it's a name like Jimmy Chu from watching Sex and the City or Louboutin from listening to Kanye West, there's a name there somewhere. Similarly, most people can name a fashion model or two, from Kate Moss to Cindy Crawford, not to mention all the Hollywood starlets who've appeared as the "face" of various fashion houses or cosmetic manufacturers. Even photographers get their share of love -- names like Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton might not roll off the tongue but their imagery is recognizable to most. What gets conspicuously less discussion in the world of fashion is in some ways the most crucial aspect -- where customers can actually buy the fashion that the designers design, the models model, and the photographers photograph. Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf'sthe place to buy fashion in the world.
On Fifth Avenue, taking up a whole block, shoppers can find Bergdorf Goodmans, a luxury department store founded in 1899. Using interviews with designers and tastemakers, Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's chronicles the history and importance of the department store to the world of fashion for the last century.
I admit to total ignorance of Bergdorf's aside from having heard the name before viewing this doc. However, now I can see how the department store has elevated itself from the usual fashion purveyor to an icon of history and style. Through visionary purchasing decisions and faith in budding designers, Bergdorf's has become the place that designers all want to sell their creations while simultaneously the place where discerning customers go to find the latest couture.
The doc itself is episodic and based on numerous interviews with everyone from famous stylists to famous customers. There's some discussion of the store's history, it's buyers, the designers who lusted after a spot on the sales floor, and the customers who return year after year to update their wardrobe. The entire affair feels very much like being let into a secret world. Interviewees seem enthusiastic to be talking about the store, and lots of personal anecdotes pepper the interviews. We also get to hear a lot of personal stories about the designers themselves, from Jason Wu's dressing the First Lady to Dolce and Gabana worrying about exclusivity with the store.
This DVD is pretty strong as well. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is clean and bright throughout. Detail is up to contemporary broadcast-style standards, with well-saturated colors and decent blacks. The film tries to add visual variety by cutting away from interviewees to shots of Manhattan, and these scenes look especially good. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is wasted, but the interviewees are always easy to understand and the use of music is clear and well-balanced. A set of additional interviews are included as the disc's extra.
If I have one complaint about the documentary, it's that it is so episodic. Though I enjoyed hearing the interviews and getting the different perspectives on the store, I still felt the lack of a central narrative. Obviously I don't want the filmmakers to manufacture a story, reality TV style, but I think the material might have been even stronger (and better able to hook those who think they don't care about fashion). Those who care little for fashion might find the film a bit celebratory, though as someone well outside that world I can say that the story of Bergdorf's rise to prominence is interesting, and it's nice to see that designers are real people with funny stories despite their sometimes formidable catwalk creations. I can also imagine some finding the doc difficult to watch in these troubled economic times. Bergdorf's definitely represents aspiration, and some will certainly balk at the laudatory description of commerce so far out of reach of so many.
Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's is a must-see for fans of the world of fashion. The retail world is rarely discussed except in docs that diss big-box sellers, so it's nice to see a documentary that talks about the cultural impact and historical import of a century-old fixture on one of Manhattan's most famous avenues. Even those who don't care about fashion can get into these human stories of artistic aspiration. It's worth at least a rental for those who care about the culture of fashion and its wider impact on the world.
Expensive, maybe, but not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2013 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Bonus Interviews
* Facebook Page