The crowd squeezing into Bergdorf Goodman’s restaurant to glimpse the Olsen twins tending bar, knocking a door off its hinges in the melee, said it all: Fashion’s Night Out brought out celebrity-crazed hordes and masses of fashion fans like the rush before Christmas — even if the level of business didn’t quite match.
Between Bette Midler singing at Oscar de la Renta; the cast of “Hair” performing at Macy’s in Queens, and Victoria Beckham and the Olsens triggering bedlam at Bergdorf’s, to cite just a few of the night’s highlights, the mood was like Mardi Gras — entertaining and often frenetic. And that was only in New York; similar crowds were seen in Milan, Paris and London.
This story first appeared in the September 12, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Some consumers sought to connect, if not transact, with the designers making store appearances; others came to socialize and grab a drink, while a minority did actually shop. Several retailers told WWD that Fashion’s Night Out, during which more than 700 stores stayed open until 11 p.m. and offered events, celebrities and designers, did lift the day’s business. However, most emphasized the main purpose was to bring fun to the stores; elevate the industry’s image as important to the economy; support the NYC AIDS Fund and the National September 11 Memorial Fund, and put people in a shopping mind-set, if not for the evening then for the weeks ahead.
As the dust settles, retailers will examine the evening’s impact, look for a residual sales effect and think about whether they want to duplicate the affair next year. Nothing has been decided.
“It was worth doing,” said Claudio Del Vecchio, chairman and chief executive officer of Brooks Brothers. “We do a lot of events, and we generally don’t get a lot of business from them. It’s more to show people what we do and who we are, rather than sales that night. There is always a certain percent that comes back to shop. The best thing about Fashion’s Night Out is that a lot of people came out and are still looking at shopping in a positive way, even if they didn’t shop.”
Del Vecchio said Brooks Bros.’ Black Fleece shop on Bleecker Street did generate good sales, with designer Thom Browne there to launch the Black Fleece fragrance.
“I don’t think I got off my feet for five hours,” said Stephen I. Sadove, chairman and ceo of Saks Inc. “Vendors were terrific. They stayed for hours, interacting with customers. People enjoyed the evening. It wasn’t about shopping. It was about getting excited about fashion and having fun.”
“It felt like Saturday before Christmas and Halloween rolled together, and then some,” said Bergdorf’s president and ceo Jim Gold. “It also felt like a celebration that the city has been waiting a year to have. It’s been a rough year. People were just bursting at the seams. We were extremely pleased with the sales results,” though he didn’t specify what they were.
“There was a lot of energy in our stores,” said Bloomingdale’s chairman and ceo Michael Gould. “We had a positive impact. Bloomingdale’s added no discounts to the evening.
“What it really reflects is that whether it’s a special night out or any time Bloomingdale’s does events, the customer comes. And so we need to do more and more of that as best we can to try to get as many things going on in the store to create excitement.”
Stores could, though, try to capitalize on the momentum by adding price promotions in the days ahead, some experts noted.
ShopperTrak reported Fashion’s Night Out spurred a 3.4 percent nationwide traffic increase in apparel and accessories stores, with nearly a 50 percent rise in Manhattan. ShopperTrak also determined that on the four Thursdays prior to Sept. 10, there was an average decline in the segment of 10.5 percent compared with last year. “Our traffic data proves Fashion’s Night Out was a very successful event for those retailers in the apparel and accessories segment,” said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak.
“It’s clear to me that Fashion’s Night Out had a very positive impact,” said Macy’s chairman, ceo and president Terry Lundgren, who — along with Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg (who got the biggest applause at the kickoff at the Macy’s in Queens) and NYC & Co. — was among the drivers of the event. “Our stores in the five boroughs that participated outpaced the nation in terms of comp-store sales,” Lundgren said, citing shoes, dresses, leggings and skinny pants as among the bestsellers on the night.
“If you ask my store executives, they would do this again next week because they were so pleased with the turnout,” he said. “The real objective was to [underscore] the importance of the fashion industry and the roll it plays in the U.S. economy, and to say it’s OK to shop responsibly and feel good about the purchases you make. In the next few weeks, we should know if it ignited this season. Hopefully the publicity will resonate throughout the country. Without consumption, if individuals are not buying something from someone, the U.S. economy will not work. There’s no possible way. Two-thirds of the economy depends on consumption.”
Brendan Hoffman, ceo of Lord & Taylor, noted long lines waiting for designers and events at the Fifth Avenue flagship. “It was pretty easy to see the impact and how New York trended over the rest of the chain. It definitely had a big blip,” he said.
Lord & Taylor advertised its evening’s activities via windows, taxi TV and e-mails. “We definitely have no regrets,” Hoffman said when asked if the expense of the evening was worth it. “I bet we [retailers collectively] can make a bigger deal out of it next year. Like any other retailer, we worry how to anniversary [the day’s sales] next year, so I would certainly support it again.”
At Barneys New York, jewelry designer Waris Ahluwahlia posed an important question: “It’s mayhem. I see a lot of shoppers — but are they shopping?” The store was packed with those eager to meet designers. Few seemed to be purchasing, though the shoe department was busy. Alexander Wang was greeted by a group of shrieking girls like he was a Jonas Brother, while Manolo Blahnik was besieged by women hungry for autographs. Books did appear to be selling, with customers snapping up Amanda Brooks’ and Isabel and Ruben Toledo’s tomes and getting them signed as many sales associates stood on the sidelines to watch. “I’m counting the shopping bags,” said Barneys creative director Simon Doonan. “My new rule is: no snaps for your Facebook page unless you’re carrying a Barneys shopping bag.”
Dennis Basso on Madison Avenue sold some big tickets, including a sable coat, a chinchilla coat, one gown, two day dresses and two mink coats.
Oscar de la Renta’s store was more show business than ready-to-wear business. De la Renta took to the makeshift stage and launched into a rendition of Julio Iglesias’ “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” occasionally switching the lyrics to “all the girls who buy my clothes.” “In the Dominican Republic, we will sing. Julio, who’s like my brother, sometimes I make him sing.” De la Renta was joined by Barbara Walters in a medley of standards. Sarah Jessica Parker chimed in, then the warbling trio was joined by Bette Midler, who led the crowd in “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “As Time Goes By,” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
At Juicy’s Midtown store, Hamish Bowles belted out Noel Coward show tunes during two performances. Gela Nash-Taylor joined in, but her business partner, Pam Skaist-Levy, was M.I.A., due to a broken foot from surfing. Earlier in the evening unsuspecting shoppers were blitzed by 40 dancers who descended on the store to do the Charleston and then promptly left.
Before his gig at Nine West, Third Eye Blind’s Stephen Jenkins revealed his own retail pursuit: He aims to open The True Meaning, a holiday pop-up shop that will benefit those in extreme poverty. Consumers will pay for water pumps and other necessities many are lacking, but they will not take any of the merchandise home. “People complain about consumerism, but shopping has all kinds of aspects, such as generosity and socializing. We are kind of taking that notion and are judo flipping it to give people the pleasure and fun of shopping but are helping others move out of extreme poverty.”
The event turned the Meatpacking District into one huge street party, which went on almost until midnight. Consumers walked out of Jeffrey toting the store’s oversize shopping bags, but anyone peering in would have found it filled with nothing more than a watercolor done for free by the artist Bruno Grizzo as a promotion for the store.
Von Furstenberg, who played a big role in the shopping event, was unsure at first of whether the crowds were buying. In between doing aerobics for the crowd in the store with the celebrity fitness trainer Tracy Anderson, she said, “I don’t know how much business we’ll do. But it’s building excitement.” Later, after seeing the day’s takes, she concluded business was “huge.”
“I think it accomplished what it set out to do — get people into the stores again,” said consultant Robert Burke, who made the rounds. “The residual effect regarding sales will be felt for the next two months. People saw things they want to buy. I’ve heard certain [stores] had some very strong sales, but I wouldn’t say that I saw a lot of shopping bags.”