Miele Explores the American Dream in ‘Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s’

Matthew Miele (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

Karl Lagerfeld, Michael Kors, the Olsen twins and Joan Rivers in the same movie?

Though it doesn’t sound likely, director Matthew Miele captured lightning in a bottle with his new documentary, “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s,” a 93-minute love letter to Manhattan’s iconic department store Bergdorf Goodman.

Bergdorf Goodman opened in Manhattan 111 years ago as a modest tailor shop. In the decades following, the store morphed into a world-renowned luxury goods mecca filled with expensive fashions from designers such as Chanel, Prada and Dolce & Gabana.

On any given day a customer could bump into a Hollywood star browsing the shoe racks or a high-profile politician fingering through the store’s vast collection of clothes. The store’s elite crowd paired with its sky-high ceilings and impeccable selection makes Bergdorf’s the No. 1 destination for New York’s wealthiest.

Interviews with designers, Hollywood stars and store employees help Miele reveal the rich history behind the Fifth Avenue staple and its vital role in the fashion industry today.

“These brands and businesses are just as important as a person or an athlete or a world event,” Miele told me during a recent chat. “Documentaries should be telling stories about brands just as much as anything else.”

The director originally set out to profile the store’s famous window displays, which thousands of native New Yorkers and tourists flock to see each year.

“I was captivated by the windows. That is what really sparked my interest,” he revealed. “As a cinema aficionado, a director and a story teller – those windows really do it all for me. They tell great stories and are a genre all their own.”

But Miele, a total fashion outsider, quickly realized that what lay behind Bergdorf’s beautiful windows was far more interesting.

“Bergdorf’s is really on another level. For designers, if you make it there, you’ve really arrived. It is the same for consumers… it is one of the things you get when you succeed in America. It’s like a private jet or a private island. It is that great vacation you can take,” he said. “Bergdorf’s is an escape for people who have made it.”

Karl Lagerfeld (Photo by Getty Images)

Thanks to a clientele that has included revered celebrities such as Liz Taylor and Barbara Streisand, as well as first ladies Jackie Kennedy and Michelle Obama, Miele believes Bergdorf’s represents the ultimate American dream.

“It serves two purposes. One, it is a place you should reach for. Two, it is a place you can shop in when you’ve really arrived,” he said. In an American society like ours which tries to emphasize the best, the most winning… this is the top of fashion.”
Getting some of fashion’s biggest names, including Vera Wang, Giorgio Armani, Manolo Blahnik and Marc Jacobs, to speak on behalf of the store didn’t prove to be as trying as Miele anticipated.

“Once we knew we had Lagerfeld and the Olsen twins and some of these great designers on board, we knew we had to have everyone,” he shared. “Once we started, we couldn’t stop. We had to get them all. We traveled all over the world to get them.”

In addition to speaking with designers, Miele profiles several Bergdorf employees in the documentary. Heavily featured is Bergdorf’s Senior Vice President Linda Fargo, who is often spotted in the front row of New York fashion week shows near Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

Wintour, Newhouse and Fargo (Photo by Getty Images)

“Anna [Wintour] is hitting the newsstands with magazine covers. Anna is really relevant on that level. Linda takes it one step further, even closer to where the buying and selling takes place,” Miele explained. “I feel like her relevance might be even more important than Anna’s because everyone in fashion knows that Bergdorf’s is the place. Their excellence has never been matched.  Is she on the level of Anna? I think she is more relevant. The magazine feels a little far from the average consumer.”

Miele realizes that the fashion-heavy flick is not for everyone, but wanted to give audiences a peek inside just how fabulous life at Bergdorf Goodman really is.

“I’ve read some of the reactions to the film and some of it is great and some of it isn’t. Maybe this film should have shown more conflict, but you know, when you walk in there you do feel like you are in rarefied company among clothes and people,” he said. “I just felt like it was unusual, a special place, and I wanted the film to reflect that.”

“Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” opens in select theaters May 24. Click here to order tickets through Fandango.



The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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