COMING OUT FOR THE CAUSE

Byline: David Moin / With contributions from Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — They gathered first at the Sea Grill in Rockefeller Center for a light lunch, then the big procession of designers and designer executives, over 100 in all, marched to the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship to greet customers and get down to business — selling clothes, for sure, but with a percent of the proceeds earmarked for a charitable cause.
That’s how Saks kicked off its third annual drive to benefit the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Fashion Targets Breast Cancer initiative. Two percent of sales from all Saks Fifth Avenue stores, the Folio catalog and saks.com, from Oct. 18-21, will be donated to the cause, as well as 1 percent from the Saks Off-5th stores. The company expected to raise about $1 million.
This year, with the country at war against terrorism, the event had new meaning. “This is our symbol of getting on with our lives,” Christina Johnson, Saks chairwoman and chief executive officer, told the crowd. She also said that Saks has raised more than $6 million for the cause since 1999. As a door prize, the Diamond Information Center, which co-sponsored the luncheon, gave away a $10,000 two-carat, three-stone necklace representing “the past, present and future.” A similar diamond necklace was given away at Saks on Saturday.
Among the designers participating were Oscar de la Renta, Kate Spade, Josie Natori, Cynthia Steffe, Cynthia Rowley, Nicole Miller, Kenneth Cole, Mark Badgley and James Mischka, Nanette Lepore, Gerard Yosca, Betsey Johnson, David Yurman and Colette Malouf.
Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Craig Natiello, the designer for Halston, came directly to the Saks flagship for a combination of hour-long appearances and trunk shows, and designers said there was a noticeable upturn in consumers at the store from 1 to 2 p.m.
Marc Bouwer brought his spring collection for a trunk show, and immediately found customers gravitating toward separates. There was also interest in evening dresses, despite the overall downturn in that market since Sept. 11. One customer tried on a red one-shoulder evening dress, “but her beeper went off and she had to run to deliver a baby,” Bouwer said.
Oscar de la Renta spent part of the afternoon in the neighboring Bill Blass boutique, helping a friendly competitor.
“I think it’s great that Saks is doing this,” de la Renta said. “The store is full of people. It’s like a nervous splendor. We’re going to live this way for a while.”

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