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Originally published Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 3:04 PM

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Wit, style on display in Bergdorf Goodman documentary

Matthew Miele’s documentary “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” is essentially a commercial for the famed department store, writes Moira Macdonald — but a very entertaining one.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3 stars

‘Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s,’ a documentary directed by Matthew Miele. 93 minutes. Rated PG-13 for a brief sexual reference. Varsity, Meridian.

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As if the title of Matthew Miele’s documentary “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” wasn’t doing enough to pare down its audience, let me note that this film is, basically, a commercial for a department store. But when that store is Bergdorf Goodman, the 112-year-old doyenne of high fashion that sits on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue just a diamond’s throw from Central Park ... well, a 93-minute commercial, particularly one made with the wit and style of this one, might well find an audience.

Despite an early scene in which Joan Rivers, a loyal Bergdorf’s shopper, notes that “People who take fashion seriously are idiots,” “Scatter My Ashes” at times has a reverential tone that doesn’t serve it well. (Particularly off-key: Somebody early on oozily opines that ultraexpensive stores like Bergdorf’s are a necessity — “you need this for the American dream.”) But as the movie merrily hops through more than 100 interviews, it’s often a wickedly funny showcase for the fashion world’s numerous larger-than-life personalities. There’s Karl Lagerfeld, looking like he’s on a break from duty on some sort of extremely dapper firing squad; “Sex and the City” designer Patricia Field, hair glowing like a cherry lollipop; Michael Kors, rasping from behind his sunglasses; legendary Bergdorf’s personal shopper Betty Halbreich, clearly someone you wouldn’t want to mess with. (“What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?” an off-camera voice asks her. Halbreich, who’s in her 80s, doesn’t pause for a second: “Drinking.”)

A fascinating middle section of the film describes the history of BG’s dignified 1920s building, which sits on the lot of the former Vanderbilt Mansion, and which for many decades housed the Goodman family in a 16-room apartment on the top floor. (The Goodmans had to be registered as janitors, in order to get around building-occupancy codes.) And it’s a treat to follow the progress of the store’s famously fanciful holiday window displays, which provides a throughline for the film. They are, when finished, a gloriously gilded wonderland — the stuff of dreams, on view for everyone.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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