Documentary filmmaker Matthew Miele admits he never visited Bergdorf Goodman’s — the inimitable luxury department store on Fifth Avenue in New York City — before making “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s.” His love letter of a movie premieres at West End Cinema (2301 M St. NW) this Friday and includes cameos from such fashion elite as Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs and Giorgio Armani.
Your first movie was about a homeless man in New York City, followed by a documentary about a popular Manhattan cafe. Why was Bergdorf’s next?
I wanted to write about iconic things from New York, similar to how Woody Allen treats the city. I was intrigued as a young boy with the Fifth Avenue department-store windows, and Bergdorf’s was the highlight. So that was really the jumping-off point.
Was fashion of interest to you before you started filming?
I’m a fashion outsider. I had never set foot in the store prior to filming. I was really more of an exterior viewer of the store. I loved the windows, and that’s something you can do on the sidewalks. When I first walked in, there was an intimidation factor, but there was also this feeling of history. That’s where it started for me
There are so many wonderful stories in the movie. Were there any that didn’t make the final cut?
The 90-minute length was unfortunate. There was one about a journalist who came from a wealthy family and was able to buy Bergdorf Goodman clothing. He was reporting from Afghanistan, and people there, beyond anything else, wanted to know where he bought his sweater. And it was remarkable to him to see such oppressed people want freedom of expression through fashion.
How did you get so many designers to make cameos?
One of the first things I did was go to the store directory and take down all the names. I knew if we got the biggest names, it would be a good housekeeping seal of approval. All of them agreed that once you make it to Bergdorf’s, you’ve really made it in fashion.
One of the first interviews is with Joan Rivers, who says, “People who take fashion seriously are idiots.” Do you agree with that?
Right up front we wanted to say, “Oh fashion’s idiotic and it’s not taken seriously as an art form.” Then the rest of the movie proves that’s not the case. And once you come out of the film, you appreciate it and respect fashion on many different levels.
Critics are saying your documentary is not critical enough.
For people who aren’t used to seeing documentaries about a business, it’s going to feel like a marketing tool. People are saying it’s puffy. But when you’re walking through those doors, that’s exactly how you feel.