By  on September 22, 2005

NEW YORK — What had an estimated 6,000 preferred customers, a troupe of half-naked dancers and a herd of goats?

If you answered Saks Fifth Avenue's party Tuesday night to launch the luxury store's ambitious 12-week promotion, "Wild About Cashmere," you're right.

"It's like a petting zoo with go-go boys," said Carson Kressley, one of the stars of TV's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

Saks is banking big on the "Wild" campaign, having boosted its cashmere buy about 50 percent. It needs a strong season, and in particular a good September, considering it is up against some solid gains made a year ago. While Saks' luxury sales haven't kept up with Neiman Marcus and other upscale retailers, company officials stayed positive.

"This is the single biggest promotional event Saks has ever undertaken," Fred Wilson, the store's chairman and chief executive officer, said during a news conference before the party. "We are buying hundreds of millions [of dollars in] Italian products and we bought more" for "Wild About Cashmere."

Sources estimated that Saks buys about $800 million [at retail] worth of Italian goods, with a good chunk of that being cashmere.

"Our objective is to become a temple of cashmere all across America," said Andrew Jennings, Saks president, adding that all 56 stores are participating in the promotion.

"A basic cashmere turtleneck in the winter — nothing is yummier," said Fabiola Beracasa, one of the hosts of the event, which raised support and awareness for the Central Park Conservancy.

"Cashmere is the only thing that keeps you really warm," said Oscar-winning actress Marisa Tomei, who complained that growing up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, she had to keep turning up the thermostat against her father's wishes. "I've always been cold-blooded."

They were joined by Sean "Diddy" Combs, Diane von Furstenberg, Vera Wang, Susan Sokol, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Steve and Karen Sadove, Mark Badgley and James Mischka, Dana Buchman, Ira Neimark and Christian Louboutin, among others, for the private shopping night and party.

"It's great to see excitement coming back to retailing and stores doing something special," said Marvin Traub, the former chairman of Bloomingdale's, who staged many flashy import promotions. "It makes it more fun."

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