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NEW YORK — Retailers usually compete to steal market share from each other, but come Sept. 10, in an unprecedented collaborative effort to spur shopping, stores in 12 major cities worldwide will band together to stage “Fashion’s Night Out.”
Occurring at the beginning of New York Fashion Week, the event here will involve a cornucopia of special in-store events, from parties to personal appearances by designers and celebrities, live music, fashion shows, freebies, charity tie-ins, extended shopping hours till 11 p.m. and other incentives to get consumers back in the stores. The Council of Fashion Designers of America, American Vogue and NYC & Co. are sponsoring the event. Fashionsnighout.com will outline the program.
The objective, said several of the 100 or so U.S. retailers that have agreed to participate so far, is to offer a fun evening of shopping in order to boost business and creatively transform stores into more entertaining theaters of commerce, rather than the usual, now overused tactic of discounting.
Stores will be challenged to devise new kinds of activities and festive environments, within their limited special event budgets, though the success of the night also depends on the state of the economy and the mood of consumers, and of course, the weather.
The initiative was unveiled Wednesday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who walked into City Hall’s Blue Room escorted by Vera Wang and followed by a phalanx of fashion types that was more impressive than any front row at fashion week. Among them were Terry Lundgren, Stephen I. Sadove, Brendan Hoffman, Ron Frasch, Jim Gold, Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, Tory Burch, Reed Krakoff, Tommy Hilfiger, Francisco Costa, Derek Lam, Phillip Lim, Rachel Roy, Nicole Miller, Zac Posen, Jason Wu, Andrew Rosen, Simon Doonan, Julie Gilhart, Anne Keating, Martine Reardon, Ken Downing and Steven Kolb, standing shoulder-to-shoulder behind the mayor or leaning along the walls.
“Anything we do to remind people fashion week is going on is good, and anything we do to remind people that, in spite of the tough times that we have been and will continue to go through, there is a future and fashion is part of it,” said Bloomberg. “I happen to be reasonably optimistic on the economy, as I have said many times. But even if you are pessimistic, everybody understands that some day we’re going to come out of this and we want to make sure that people have jobs, and can get through this difficult time and make their mortgage payment.…Fashion is very important in terms of bringing tourists to the city [and] employing people in the city.”
Wang characterized fashion and shopping as “an outlet for one’s creativity and character,” adding, “From the high-powered woman in Oscar de la Renta to the postgrad buying his first suit, people can find self-expression, confidence and a style all their own in fashion.”
“Now, more than ever, it is important for New Yorkers to support their local community. The programming for Fashion’s Night Out is a great, fun vehicle to do so,” said George Fertitta, ceo of NYC & Company, the city’s marketing and tourism arm.
After the press conference, Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour, who has spearheaded Fashion’s Night Out, told WWD the event will also happen internationally in cities where Vogue has editions, including in Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Japan, China, Taiwan, Russia, Brazil and India. Each city will involve designers and retailers, while interpreting the Fashion Night Out concept to best represent their cultures.
Said Alexandra Shulman, editor of British Vogue: “This worldwide activity is to remind us all that fashion is to be enjoyed and to mark the contribution that the shopping environment makes to all our lives.”
As of now, retailers haven’t finalized Fashion’s Night Out plans yet. Bergdorf Goodman’s senior vice president Linda Fargo said her store will be lining up designers and celebrities. When asked if markdowns would be on the agenda, she stressed that’s not the emphasis and that for fall, designer prices are coming down in response to the recession.
Lundgren also said Macy’s hasn’t finalized its plans.
Lim is looking to have a band play in his downtown store. Roy plans to set up a pop-up store for her secondary line, Rachel Rachel Roy, and has hired a graffiti artist to tag in the store and welcome anyone to pitch in. She is also having a T-shirt design contest.
According to Wintour, Barneys New York has several creative ideas, like offering knitting instruction. Asked if retailers will try to outdo each other with special events to snare customers, she said they are demonstrating a cooperative, rather than competitive, spirit.
In addition to supporting local retailers, Fashion’s Night Out is a benefit. Proceeds from the sales of a limited edition T-shirt, priced $30 to $35 depending on the style, will support the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Each will have a Willy Wonka-type golden ticket that could win one of 12 prizes, such as a fashion week ticket package or perhaps lunch with Wintour and Diane von Furstenberg. Also, shoppers will be encouraged to donate what Lundgren described as “gently used” or newly purchased clothes at participating stores or at designated drop-off locations. Donations will be collected by the New York City AIDS Fund to benefit HIV/AIDS organizations across the city. Drop-offs will be made on Sept. 12 and there will be at least one collection drop-off location in each borough.
Fashion’s Night Out could be a sign the mayor is trying to appease retailers after disappointing them earlier this month when he proposed a budget that would increase the city’s sales tax by 0.5 percent, as part of his effort to boost taxes and avoid additional layoffs. Under his plan, the city would start charging sales tax on clothes and shoes that cost less than $110. If the hike is approved, it would raise the total sales tax to 8.875 percent, which includes the state and transit levies. Raising taxes could result in shoppers abandoning New York stores in favor of New Jersey and a loss of retail jobs due to the decline in business.
“Taxes aren’t good for anybody,” Bloomberg acknowledged. “Nobody is in favor of raising taxes, but I think everybody understands we have to have safe streets, good schools, to be able to respond in an emergency and also have our cultural institutions, our parks and everything else to drive the city. And the people who work here need to get paid. The state has raised income taxes a great deal, as you know. We’ve already raised our property tax. And at the moment some form of a sales tax is I think just inevitable.”
New York City stores have been among the hardest hit by the recession. Tourism in the Big Apple is on the decline. Layoffs have plagued several industries, from publishing to Wall Street, rents are dropping and there are many vacant storefronts along many major streets and avenues. But Sadove, Lundgren and Hilfiger agreed that while business is still tough, its bottomed out.
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union struck a somber tone, noting retail employees have been particularly hard-hit by the economic downturn and even in good times, often have difficulty pulling in a paycheck that covers household expenses. “The initiative not only serves consumers, but helps provide a needed boost to New York’s retail industry at a time when it’s needed most.”
Upon leaving City Hall, Wang said organizers aren’t projecting sales for Fashion’s Night Out. “It was never a numerical thing. It is very much about stimulating women and men of all generations to shop. We’re working to make them feel good about shopping and how it can be pleasurable, creative. We want people to have some fun. This doesn’t mean everyone has to go out and blow their whole week’s pay.”
She’s got goodie bags for her shoppers come Sept. 10.