Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Special Report issue 09/08/2009

NEW YORK — Anna Wintour views Fashion’s Night Out in terms of a military campaign to battle the recession.

Vogue’s editor in chief is spearheading the global event as a way to get consumers excited about shopping again, and, sitting in her office on a steamy August day, makes no qualms about just how much she is willing to put up a fight.

This story first appeared in the September 8, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Speaking about the initiative, she resorts to terms like “battalions,” and how Vogue’s 4 Times Square offices are being turned into “campaign headquarters” to make sure the night is a hit.

“The negativity was at a level that I thought we had to do something that was positive and good for the industry, that would unite the industry, and talk to all of our readers and everybody’s consumers about fashion being fun again,” she said.

Wintour knows she can rely on Seventh Avenue to help her jump-start a program for a good cause, given past initiatives such as 7th on Sale and the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, but even she seemed surprised at the momentum and scale of Fashion’s Night Out. Since she and Council of Fashion Designers of America president Diane von Furstenberg discussed the idea of the shopping event earlier this year, more than 700 stores across the five New York City boroughs have pledged to participate with everything from designer and celebrity appearances to a cabaret shtick, a designer cook-off or a neighborhood block party. On the global front, 12 countries are staging their own versions of the initiative.

“Did I know it was going to be so big? No,” Wintour said. “We all keep saying we didn’t think this would be bigger than 7th on Sale, but it is.”

That doesn’t seem to bother Wintour. More than ever in recent memory, she feels the fashion industry needs to come together to help lift shoppers from their recession blues.

The editor came up with the concept after sensing a spreading doom-and-gloom sentiment in the industry. Her main goal was “to seduce them back into stores, with a sense that fashion is human.”

“I also think there is this slightly psychological block against shopping right now,” Wintour added. “I think what people don’t understand, particularly the ones that are in a position where they can go shopping but aren’t because they feel it’s wrong, is that you are jeopardizing people’s livelihoods.”

With the knowledge that some 175,000 New Yorkers are employed by the fashion industry, which generates $10 billion in total wages, Wintour set out to organize the night, which resembles Paris White Nights, special evenings when the city’s museums stay open all night. Wintour and von Furstenberg approached Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who jumped at the chance to give the city’s retail scene a much needed kick. Then, during the March collections in Paris, Wintour asked editors in chief of Vogue’s international editions to breakfast at the Ritz, where she encouraged them to take the concept and proverbially run with it in their markets.

“I realized that it was the first time we sat down in a room together that didn’t have a runway in front of it,” Wintour recalled. “And we came out of it saying that we should do this more often. I hope that this will be the spirit of this event.”

She is also keen to bring a sense of excitement into stores when the clothes are more in season and at full price — notions that have long been a thorn in many designers’ sides. The idea, she said, was to kick off the fashion week cycle and translate some of the runway buzz into retail energy.

“I have always felt that maybe the clothes going into the stores at that time suffer, because we are all so focused on the next season that we are not thinking about the great things that are going into the stores right then,” she said. “It was also the idea of ‘Let’s look at what is happening in fashion right now, rather than six months away.’

“Listening to stores through these difficult times, one is very aware of the sense that everything is going so fast, and that women aren’t really focusing so much on the wear-now kind of clothes,” Wintour added. “That was also very much part of the thinking we all had when we planned this night.”

Wintour will kick off the event Thursday night at Macy’s in the Queens Center alongside Bloomberg, Michael Kors, Macy’s chairman, president and chief executive officer Terry Lundgren, and a surprise celebrity guest rumored to be Blake Lively.

“Because I don’t sing or dance or do anything like that, I have asked the cast of ‘Hair’ to come and perform three songs,” Wintour said.

She lauded the American fashion industry for its general generosity and philanthropy, which she feels this initiative underscores once more. “Everybody — retailers, editors, designers, models, celebrities — are really putting so much effort and time and creativity into this,” Wintour said. “People are really trying to come up with very original ideas.”

Among them, Shipley & Halmos designers Sam Shipley and Jeff Halmos are expected to journey around the city on bikes with “Fashion’s Night Out” flags; Oscar de la Renta could literally be serenading his customers, singing to them at his Madison Avenue boutique, and Opening Ceremony is taking the idea of a trunk show to the next level, asking designers such as Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy, Alexander Wang and Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez to sell their wares out of vintage car trunks in front of the store’s SoHo location. Justin Timberlake, meanwhile, will have a pop-up store for his William Rast label in Saks Fifth Avenue. Designers and retailers didn’t have to pay a fee to participate in the evening.

“This is not about any kind of advertising connection,” said Wintour. “Everyone is absorbing their own expenses or having them underwritten.”

Wintour’s goal was for the event to be inclusive, “that it’s not, ‘You have to pay thousands of dollars to go to a dinner,’” she said. “This is for everybody.”

Since the initiative kicked into high gear, Wintour and her team have had weekly meetings with NYC & Company and the CFDA, both partners of Fashion’s Night Out. “And it’s a military campaign,” Wintour said. “Obviously, there will be battalions that are more prevalent than others, but we really wanted to be very inclusive.”

As has become usual, her own staff of editors has been recruited to work on the initiative, and on Thursday, the Vogue offices will turn into “campaign headquarters” with a special hotline for the staff on the road, should some things not go according to plan.

Wintour’s goal is simple.

“We want to get people into stores,” she said. “We want to get them excited about fashion. It’s a Thursday night, and we very much hope that it will have a boomerang effect over that weekend, and during fashion week.”

She anticipates a long night for herself, but asked for the one thing she looked forward to the most, Wintour kept it succinct: “Successful sales.”

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