Matthew Miele's Scatter My Ashes is a love letter to luxury
Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's is a celebration of fashion, and a love note to luxury brought to life by filmmaker Matthew Miele. The new documentary about the iconic New York department store takes its name from the caption of a 1990 New Yorker cartoon by Victoria Roberts. In the same vein as The September Issue, this film collects insights from fashion industry heavyweights and Bergdorf insiders to create an oral history of the store.
As a New Yorker, Miele was enraptured by the elegance of the four-corner area by Bergdorf's and Tiffany's. "I love New York history and this whole notion of what used to be in certain areas," he says. "You know, the Vanderbilt mansion was on that [Bergdorf] plot of land."
Miele's inspiration for the film came from the beginnings of a screenplay about a window dresser he was researching. "The Tiffany's mystique, that whole Audrey Hepburn coming out of the cab and going up to the windows, that was really my starting off point," he muses. "I love that moment. I always thought to myself what a great image that would be taken from a different angle of a woman in black going over to Tiffany windows, but you see it from across the street or kitty corner. I always wondered who would be out there at 5 a.m. watching this happen, and I can only think of a window dresser at Bergdorf's."
Miele uses the windows at the department store as a loose story arc throughout his film, from concept to creation during the holiday season of 2011. "The windows to me are very thematic," he says. "They tell stories on their own. The windows are always so magnificent. They're museum quality. They're known worldwide. Over a million people pass them in two weeks, so I just thought what attention these need to be given on the background and the people behind them."
Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's isn't Breakfast at Tiffany's, but it's definitely got heart -- however gilded in gold leaf and Swarovski crystals that heart might be.
Critics have judged the film for being long (though it only clocks in around 90 minutes) and glorifying an upper-class ideal through thinly veiled marketing. Truth be told, there is something intrinsically PR-flavored to anything about a particular store or person, and that's the danger of doing something centered on such a high-profile, high-priced brand. However, Miele defends his work, having already completed several films on other tiers of New York society in the past.
"We shouldn't strive for mediocrity," Miele warns. "We should strive for the best. And I think Bergdorf's represents one of the last bastions of excellence in fashion."
Miele had only been a fan of the windows before he started the project. "I hadn't set foot in the store before I started filming," he admits. "I would say, because I consider myself a fashion outsider, that I have such an appreciation now for what these people do. They design on a museum quality level. We featured the Alexander McQueen part because we wanted to highlight that the general public can embrace fashion just as much as the fashion community. The lines [at the Met exhibit] were unheard of. It was remarkable to see that."
While the store executives now enjoy the film, they were initially worried about revealing too much about Bergdorf Goodman. "They were a little skittish about the film," Miele starts. "With the attention it's getting, and having some of the facts in there--like the amount employees make. It was something they didn't want in there that I convinced them to put in." (To put it lightly, it's an astounding amount.)