Remember the opening sequences of the popular ‘70s TV show “That Girl” and the more recent “Sex and the City 2” movie? In case you don’t, here’s a hint: they both prominently featured the iconic New York City department store Bergdorf Goodman. To call “Bergdorf’s” a department store though, is somewhat blasphemous.
Today my daughter and I saw the new feature film/documentary called “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s.” It a enjoyable and historical look at what many consider the store of all stores. The movie consists of interviews with many well-known designers, including Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld, Tory Burch, and Oscar de la Renta to name but a few, all of whom credit Bergdorf’s with putting them on the fashion map. Come to find out in the movie that, when and if Bergdorf’s agrees to stock your line, you are pretty much set as a designer, whether you produce cosmetics like Bobbi Brown, design shoes like Christian Louboutin, or create jewelry like Lorraine Schwartz, you hope and pray Bergdorf’s buyers give you the green light.
I find all of this fascinating not only because I love fashion, but because I’ve personally experienced some of that Bergdorf magic. I remember buying my first Tod’s bag at Bergdorf’s while visiting NYC with Smitty and Kristen, and just this past February during my annual college girls trip, the girls and I had a wonderful hour or two in the store’s famed shoe salon. One of the salesmen featured in the movie was the very one who attended to our every need. I was amazed to find out that he, like the very nice man who sold me my bag years ago, can make upwards of $500,000 a year! When you watch Elizabeth Taylor’s mink ear muffs story in the film, as well as Yoko Ono’s fur coat splurge, you’ll understand how and why.
Founded in 1899 by French immigrant Herman Bergdorf, the luxury goods store is today owned by the Neiman Marcus group but stands on its own nonetheless. Edwin Goodman, a young 23-year-old merchant worked as an apprentice for Bergdorf and within two years purchased a major interest in it, which was renamed Bergdorf Goodman in 1901. In 1906 the store moved to 32nd Street, but after Bergdorf’s subsequent retirement, Goodman, then a popular women’s tailor, decided to move his business uptown. He constructed a five-story building at what is now Rockefeller Center and moved to the store’s present day location at 5th and 58th in 1928, building the famous Beaux-Arts style store on the site of the former Vanderbilt mansion. Today the retail store and accompanying spa and popular Goodman’s Café take up a whole city block in Manhattan right on 5th Avenue and adjacent to Central Park and The Plaza Hotel. The fact that one family owned the coveted property is astonishing, but, even though what’s sold at Bergdorf’s is very selective, the family was reportedly more down-to-earth than you’d think and for years quietly and privately lived in a 16-room apartment on the top floor overlooking Central Park and Fifth Avenue.
In addition to its famed merchandise, level of service, and famous purple bags, Bergdorf’s is perhaps best known most for its innovative window displays. “Bury My Ashes…” devotes quite a bit of time to these famous windows, which are seen by 1.5 million pairs of eyes a day and are considered New York tourist attractions all their own. The Christmas windows are by far the most celebrated, taking months to create and produce and nearly two weeks just to assemble in each of the five street-side windows. So important are these displays, that an entire staff at Bergdorf’s is dedicated to their production alone.
Most of the retailer’s staff follows the leads of Fashion Director Dawn Mello and the famously silver-bobbed “Jacqueline of all Trades” Linda Fargo. Celebrities such as Cher and Susan Lucci sing their praises in the film, as does uber-stylist Rachel Zoe. It’s Mello’s and Fargo’s fashion sense and fashion eyes that have made household names out of the likes of Michael Kors and others, and introduced Jackie Kennedy to then Bergdorf baby Halston. His pink pillbox hat that Mrs. Kennedy wore on that fateful November day in Dallas will go down in history as perhaps the most famous hat ever.
It comes as no surprise that Bergdorf’s has been featured prominently in many films and television shows, including “How to Marry a Millionaire” starring Lauren Bacall, “That Touch of Mink” starring Doris Day and Cary Grant, the 1996 Natalie Wood film “Penelope,” 1970’s “Airport,” 1981’s “Arthur,” the legendary “North by Northwest, as well as TV’s “Boston Legal,” “The City,” “Sex and the City,” and “The Apprentice,” on which a winning team was given a shopping spree to Bergdorf’s. Oh what Carrie Bradshaw would have done to win that! And before I forget, the “That Girl” opening sequence I mentioned earlier? It consisted of Marlo Thomas looking at a mannequin of herself in a Bergdorf store window. We, like her character Ann Marie, may not be able to buy everything we want at Bergdorf’s, but we can certainly picture ourselves doing so. Just look into one of their dream-like windows and smile!