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Lights, Camera, Bergdorf's

   Palm Beachers are no strangers to luxury shopping. Spend a spring afternoon on Worth Avenue and you'll encounter the threads of Gucci, Chanel, Ferragamo and Armani, to name just a few high-end couturiers. But, while Worth Avenue might be Florida's Rodeo Drive, the true mecca for fashion is located at 754 5th Avenue in Manhattan.

   Bergdorf Goodman, the 112-year-old luxury retail store, is the subject of a new documentary from director Matthew Miele. Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's–a riff on the famous New Yorker cartoon by Victoria Roberts–tells the history of this American institution through the eyes of those that work, design and shop there. The film features more than 100 interviews, including Diane von Furstenberg, Vera Wang, Oscar de la Renta, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Iris Apfel, Jason Wu, Giorgio Armani and Christian Louboutin. Star power aside, Scatter My Ashes' greatest strength is its tone, one that praises the store and its role in the fashion industry while simultaneously highlighting the innate frivolity of fashion with unparalleled wit. Just ask Joan Rivers, who remarks early on "People who take fashion seriously are idiots."

Cartoon by Victoria Roberts from the April 30, 1990 issue of The New Yorker; courtesy of Entertainment One Films US, 2013.

   The film's main narrative revolves around the creation of Bergdorf's signature window displays. David Hoey, the store's senior director of visual presentation, is in full Christmas mode, planning five menageries all made from different materials. Hoey–whom you never see out of a three-piece suit even when visiting paint-stained artist studios–envisions a superabundance of super-luxurious animals constructed out of wood, paper, mosaic tiles, plush and metals, and complemented by one-of-a-kind designer garments. The audience sees every aspect of the process, from the meetings about the concept to the works in progress and, finally, the installation. Though the narrative itself lacks tension (Hoey notes that, surprisingly, he is ahead of schedule), it is intriguing to peek behind the curtain and see how the magic of Bergdorf's is created.

David Hoey checks in on the progress of the Bergdorf Goodman 2011 Holiday window display; courtesy of Entertainment One Films US, 2013.

   These 'behind-the-scenes' looks at how Bergdorf's operates make this a must-see film for all fashion fans. In addition to Hoey, the audience meets a team of Bergdorf heavyweights. Linda Fargo is the silver-haired fashion director, revered in the industry for her keen eye and light-hearted approach–she jokes that she is often mistaken for Vogue editor Anna Wintour. All joking aside, Fargo plays a key role in determining national trends and fostering designers. One of the best segments of the film is Fargo's critique of NAHM, a shirtdress-based fashion line founded by Nary Manivong and Ally Hilfiger, Tommy Hilfiger's daughter. Fargo passed on the line, and the company has since closed. To quote Michael Kors, "Fashion isn't for sissies."

   From curation to distribution, the sales team at Bergdorf's is second to none. How much can one sales person make in one year at Bergdorf's? The camera crew busts preconceptions through guerilla filmmaking, asking people who have just left the store that exact question. If you guessed between $400,000 and $500,000, you'd be right. This salary range becomes all the more feasible when buttressed with anecdotes about John Lennon and Yoko Ono buying 70 fur coats one Christmas Eve or Elizabeth Taylor ordering 200 pairs of custom-made mink earmuffs.

   Betty Halbreich is the jewel of Bergdorf's sales team. A fierce octogenarian with a strong sense of style, Halbreich is honest to a fault, a quality cherished by the celebrities and costume designers she calls clients. When asked what she would be doing if she wasn't doing this, she quickly replies "drinking."

   Between the interviews with Hoey, Fargo and Halbreich, the audience visits with the designers whose clothing graces the halls of Bergdorf Goodman. While nothing groundbreaking is divulged, it's always fun to check in with the likes of Isaac Mizrahi (who delivers a few chucklers in his signature blasé tone), Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig (the effervescent duo behind Marchesa) and Karl Lagerfeld (who, between his German-French hybrid accent, black-studded gloves and white-powdered hair, is a character just screaming to be animated by Pixar or Dreamworks).

Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld in Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's; courtesy of Entertainment One Films US, 2013.

   Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's isn't the most revolutionary fashion documentary to come out in recent years; it doesn't reveal the politics of fashion as well as The September Issue nor does it evoke a humble personality in an image-driven world quite like Bill Cunningham New York. Between its emphasis on wealth and an inflated sense of importance, it could be construed as a 90-minute commercial for the brand. These shortcomings, however, are undercut by the fantasy evoked by a store like Bergdorf Goodman. None of these larger-than-life anecdotes, characters, dreams and aspirations would exist without that store in Manhattan.

Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's opens today, May 24, in Palm Beach County at the Living Room Cinema 4 in Boca Raton, Regal Shadowood 16 in Boca Raton and Regal Delray Beach 18 in Delray Beach.

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January 2017