Matthew Miele approached his latest documentary, Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's, knowing very little about the industry.
A self-proclaimed “fashion outsider,” Miele admits the level of interaction with designers and buyers while filming allowed him to appreciate the artistry behind creating couture collections, gorgeous gowns and tailored suits. “They do it on a museum quality level,” the director said over the phone Thursday. “I had full access to these figures over the course of several years,” adds Miele, whose team would film twice or three times a week.
Interestingly enough, the designers pale in comparison to the emphasis on the storied department store’s window displays. “Windows for me are very cinematic,” says Miele who spent hours with David Hoey, the mastermind behind Bergdorf’s detailed windows. “Those designer window dressers really go all out,” he continues.
Hoey’s love for weaving stories within his display cases is chronicled in the doc, pointedly with the conception and production of his 2011 holiday windows for the department store dubbed, “Carnival of the Animals.” There’s plenty of “brass,” quite literally, a medium Miele seeks out to assemble his vision of elegant bird-cages and jungle creatures.
Miele comments on the other breakout subject of the film, personal shopper Betty Halbreich, who he describes as “not abrasive, just honest.”
“Entering her office was like entering a therapy room,” he adds. “Shopping is therapy for Bergdorf’s clients. They all come with baggage and get attached to the store,” he explains. “Betty has become their friend.”
If Betty has become the aunt of Bergdorf’s, so one subject says in the film, then fashion director Linda Fargo is the super hip mom of the store. Miele sings the praises of Fargo, whose warm personality and eye for fresh design talent is captured in the most complementary light. “The way she dresses and the way she carries herself,” trails Miele,
The director also sheds light on what it was like to interview the industry’s biggest stars. “People who are really at the top of their were the most honest,” he says, noting Karl Lagerfeld, Vera Wang and Bobbi Brown to name a few of his favorite interview subjects. Miele lists Lagerfeld, the mastermind behind Chanel and Fendi, for his insight in the fashion industry and because “he was really funny.”
The documentary may seem severely skewed, some have even called it a long advertisement for the Fifth Avenue department store, but Miele makes it clear that his documentary is about the business. Bergdorfs, he explains, is the American story. “It’s an institution,” he says.
The director's interest in this sub genre blossomed as he worked on Scatter. “I am actually starting a new film,” he shares. “It’s involving another iconic brand, and people will appreciate its history, too.”