09.11.10 12:06 AM ET
Fashion Free for All
They came, they partied—but did they buy anything?
People took to the streets Friday night for the second go-round of Fashion’s Night Out, the festive global carnival inaugurated last year by Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Designed to combat the recession, which has been devastating for retailers, the night is a charitable benefit for capitalism, an exhortation from on high to spend, spend, spend! But when the extravaganza kicked off around 7 p.m. on Friday, it was difficult to hear cash-register ka-chings over the thumping bass of the partying and all those handsomely paid DJs.
At Bergdorf Goodman, Fern Mallis, the former executive director of 7th on Sixth and longtime head of Fashion Week, was taking in the scene. Was she doing any shopping?
Mallis flashed a look of disbelief.
“No!,” she said. “Nobody is!”
Sales figures weren’t immediately available, but anecdotal evidence Friday night suggested the vast majority of Fashion’s Night Out participants came like Mallis: for the love of the evening and more in the spirit of capitalism than the practice of it.
Last year, the event encompassed around 700 stores in 12 major cities around the globe. Untold thousands participated, but few spent any real money, according to industry analysts and scattered news accounts.
Barneys, for example, hosted a bonanza last year, including an appearance by Alexander Wang and a late-night bar-tending stint by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. After the fact, Barneys creative director Simon Doonan said the event was “not incredible from a business point of view” and that “it would be fun to do it again, but we would just have to rethink it a bit because the crowd skewed very young."
Gallery: Fashion's Night Out
This time around, Barneys’ Fashion’s Night Out event included appearances by… Alexander Wang and the Olsen twins! Plus ping pong, karaoke, and musical chairs for the crowd (some of whom looked old enough to legally drink the free booze) and appearances by downtown darlings Proenza Schouler, Rodarte, and Rag and Bone.
In the months leading up to this year’s spectacular, some in the fashion business quietly grumbled about the dismal financials of the night. It costs around $20,000 to throw a pretty basic event, keeping a storefront open late, paying staff, hiring a DJ and serving up plastic flutes of cheap Champagne. For this, brands racked up little in the way of sales and also little in the way of good publicity because when everyone throws a party with DJs and free Champagne, it’s difficult to stand out. But few who contemplated scaling back this year actually followed suit.
It costs around $20,000 to throw a pretty basic event for the night.
Hundreds of people stood on line to get into a mock-up Parisian flea market at the Opening Ceremony store at Manhattan’s Ace Hotel around 7:30 p.m., but few were actually shopping inside.
"I haven't seen anything I really liked," said Rachel Snyder, a young woman milling around the Alexander Wang kiosk with a glass of white wine.
"It's kind of hard to shop with so much going on." said her friend Jillian Zurcher, 21 and unemployed.
No one had trouble finding the open bar.
At the Intermix store downtown, a crush of RSVP-ed guests danced to a house DJ, drank free cocktails passed around by the wait staff, mugged for photographers, and mulled around with celebrity guests Daisy Lowe and Byrdie Bell. A reporter stationed at the cash register observed two transactions in the first half-hour of business: A $25 Fashion’s Night Out T-shirt to Jennifer Yau, who works in sales for the denim brand Mavi, and a second shirt a few minutes later.
“I'm on a tight budget these days,” Yau said. “If I see something that jumps out at me I might splurge.”
Midway through the evening, there had been two more purchases: two more Fashion’s Night Out souvenir shirts. Asked near the end of the evening if any major sales had come through, a sales girl looked around to see if anyone was listening, and then said, “No, just a lot of Fashion's Night Out shirts.”
David Widjaja, a fashion stylist, said, “Compared to last year, I hope [FNO] serves its purpose… at the end of the day, you spend a lot, you need to see some economy moving.”
He was out with his best friend, Lisa Tam, who said wasn't planning on doing any shopping. She’s unemployed.
A few blocks away, Ann Klutz and a friend waited in a line of about 25 people outside Catherine Malandrino’s Meatpacking District store, where store personnel were handing out free “Malandrino” branded shopping bags.
“We’ve been walking around and have accumulated all this free stuff and need a bag to put the stuff in,” Klootz said.
Did she buy anything?
“Some of the stores are too crowded to shop. I think it’s more about being out and having fun.”
Two T-shirts sold in around 40 minutes at the Trina Turk store nearby.
“I’m based in LA, and I was here for our presentation yesterday so I figured I’d stay and the city and see what happens,” Turk told The Daily Beast. “I wasn’t here for last year's, but I heard there were a lot of people hanging out, having a really good time but not a lot of purchases.”
Of course, there were impulse buys around town.
At Jeffrey, the crowd was thin, but their pockets were deep. One thirtysomething forked over his platinum AmEx card for a $1,200 pair of studded Christian Louboutin loafers. “I just loved them so much,” he said. Another shopper, 42-year-old Shawn, bought a $300 lace overlay skirt at Tory Burch earlier in the night. Early in the evening, around 100 customers lined up outside the Billionaire Boys Club for the privilege of dropping $80 on a special shirt.
All the way uptown, lines snaked around the corner at Bergdorf Goodman, where shoppers herded through barricades into the store. But for all the apparent demand, there was little evidence that money was changing hands inside.
Somewhere in the crush was Martina, a Chihuahua in a blue foxhair chubby and a string of jewels, running terribly late for the celebrity dog show on floor three.
Tinsley Mortimer, Kelly Rutherford, and others judged the affair, in the hands of merciless emcee, Robert Verdi, who proclaimed: “There have never been this many bitches in Bergdorf Goodman!” before the show began.
Crowds had been waiting in the center of the women's luxury retail section—between Marc Jacobs and Alaia—but had their backs to the clothes. They were focused on celebrity appearances, meeting their favorite designers, and then getting out of there.
“How can you shop?” Asked one onlooker motioning toward the crush of people blockading every clothes rack.
“Oh god no—not tonight!” said Kelly Rutherford when asked if she was actually shopping. “But it'll give me a chance to preview the clothes.”
Marchesa designer Keren Craig's basenji, Alabama, won the Sarah Jessica Pawwwker award. “Well, if I see something, I brought my credit card,” Craig said. “I think it’s so amazing that people are getting out. It’s such a good thing for the fashion community. I support it 100 percent.”
Designer Simon Spurr brought along his hulking, 90-pound pup Apollo. “I think the economy is turning back around,” he said. “Regardless of tonight, people are shopping again.”
Includes reporting from Jacob Bernstein, Rebecca Dana, Lauren Streib, Joyce Tang, Isabel Wilkinson, and Claire Howorth.