Even without the context, most of us can recognize Jackie Kennedy's pink pillbox hat and where she was when we saw it. The matching suit that accompanied it is locked in government storage for another 90 years, but the hat has been missing since Dallas, 1963.
What fewer people know (or remember, at any rate), is that the hat was designed by Halston. And he did his work at Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan.
Fashion has a way of gently steering the culture this way or that, and one department store on the richest street in the world has always had its hands on the wheel. Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's lightly covers the history of the iconic Bergdorf Goodman, its role in both the historical and modern fashion world, and more deeply, those extravagant window displays.
To paint the picture for us, writer-director Matthew Miele assembles a lot of names you'd expect: Michael Kors, Giorgio Armani, Marc Jacobs, Vera Wang and both Dolce and Gabbana. He also reaches into the trick bag and gives us Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and Nicole Richie, who, while technically designers, probably do not meet the minimum criteria for anyone seriously interested in a film revolving around the heights of high fashion.
Like most things they make documentaries about, Scatter My Ashes is interesting, but largely in that "Oh, I didn't know that, but then I would have never bothered to think about it" sort of way. More a paean to the confectionary world of New York Fashion Week than an exploration of the American success story it truly is, this documentary is missing a key ingredient: Why the hell is any of this important?
The traces of something bigger and better are there, but Miele never examines why fashion means so much to so many, how trends are imported and exported, and the role—like Jackie Kennedy's hat—clothes play on us even 50 years later. It's like a 90-minute retirement party: Just give us the good stories everybody loves and go home.
If that's what you're ordering, then the film is largely a success. Fans of, say, Sex and the City and Mad Men—shows that are heavily grounded in New York and fashion—will appreciate it. But those looking to understand why an Alexander McQueen exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art attracted lines out the door might not get enough to satisfy them.
There are nice chapters; the previously mentioned piece on Halston is good and the behind-the-curtain look at the store's personal shoppers is pretty funny. But some of the designers seem—brace yourself—not incredibly down-to-earth. There are also quick blurbs from the likes of Joan Rivers and Candice Bergen, which seem entirely superfluous, even in a movie that treats itself that way.
The only truly compelling part of this is the window displays. Each Christmas, traffic stops in front of Bergdorf Goodman and stares. The store's creative team spends months planning the execution and the theme for each window, working with local artists, designers and craftsmen to create a holiday dreamscape. The centerpiece in each window is a custom dress created just for this occasion.
It's good to watch those come together. And perhaps, because they are smaller and a little more self-contained, Michael Miele should have just focused on the windows here. Pardon the pun, but the rest really is window dressing.