For Jessica Kaufman, the decision to attend Fashion’s Night Out happened at 3 p.m. Thursday, right after she got home from high school. That’s when the 16-year-old checked her Facebook page and saw a status update that Justin Bieber would be at Manhattan’s Dolce & Gabbana store that night. She tossed on a dress and bolted for the door of her Westchester home—with her mother in tow. A few hours later, she was huddled inside the Madison Avenue store with a crowd of other squealing teens who had all shelled out $35 for the tube of lip gloss required for purchase to stand in an area of the store where you might glimpse Bieber. “I’m more in love with him than any person I’ve ever seen!” she squealed.
Welcome to Fashion’s Night Out, the annual global shopping bonanza engineered by Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Now in its third year, the event featured 1,000 retailers in New York City, joined by participants in over 250 American cities and 18 countries. Stores opened their doors after-hours to throw parties, host celebrities, and greet customers—all in the hope of selling clothes. Once referred to as “Anna’s fashion stimulus package,” Fashion’s Night Out has become a massive global fashion party.
Last year’s event modestly boosted retail and raised over $800,000 for charity, but the event has become known amongst shoppers as a goldmine for freebies: A night to guzzle champagne, stock up on free t-shirts, and win prizes. This year, though, things were different: Retailers wizened up to the freebie-game—and found new ways for visitors to shop. It seemed to have worked: Around New York, people were slowly willing to shell out if it meant having a good time.
At Diane von Furstenberg’s store in the Meatpacking District, scores of young women came to meet the designer. Standing by the cash register, she had no trouble as doubling as a salesgirl herself. Someone inquired about a bag and von Furstenberg (who is married to Barry Diller, chairman of IAC, an owner of The Newsweek/ Daily Beast Company) began explaining why they should buy it. “Look,” she said, running her hand along a slot on the side. “You can put your iPad here.”
Alexander Wang judged a talent show in the downtown store; Michael Kors joined a kick-line with the Rockettes; Miss Piggy descended on Opening Ceremony at the Ace Hotel—and Sarah Jessica Parker signed Manolo Blanik heels. Shoppers responded, buying cheaper items such as cardcases at Tory Burch, nail polish at Chanel, limited edition key chains at Alexander McQueen, and moccasins at Bottega Veneta.
At Macy’s in Herald Square, Erica Wilkins, 28, had come from New Haven, Conn. for the sales. “This is the first time I’ve ever been to this Macy’s. I could stay all night,” she told The Daily Beast, admitting she planned to spend “a little money.” Did she care about any of the famous faces milling around? Tommy Hilfiger, Coco Rocha, Joss Stone, Samantha Ronson, and designer Rachel Roy were among a slew of celebrities at the department store. “I came for Kelly Rowland and then they said she couldn’t come,” she sighed.
Wilkins wasn’t the only one disappointed with some aspects of the big night. Former Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean was a no-show at Kiehl’s in the East Village. Vandana Madhavan, an economics student at NYU made the trek to the Upper East Side with two friends from school to get an autograph from Jason Wu at Bergdorf Goodman—that is, until a neighboring patron told them it cost $150. “I was going to let you finish the interview,” Madhavan joked to The Daily Beast, “but I need to get out of this line!”
Even some of those with Bieber Fever were disappointed. “The lady said buy lipstick and you could get Justin Bieber’s autograph,” says Natalia Reiss, 15, a sophomore at St. Vincent Ferrer High School in New York, who bought two tubes to see the teen idol, but didn’t get to be up close with the singer. “We’re going to return it because we didn’t meet Justin Bieber,” she said. When the singer finally descended the staircase at 8:40pm, he sang only a cover of Asher Roth’s “I Love College” before sprinting back up the stairs. For a Daily Beast reporter who spent nearly three hours there, the only glimpse of the teen was a blur of his purple jacket.
Designers and editors making the rounds for the night, meanwhile, seemed unsurprisingly upbeat. “The best part for me is really that everybody is so enthusiastic,” Narciso Rodriguez told the Daily Beast at Bergdorfs. “They’re out and they’re interested and they’re shopping, we hope.”
“Getting people into stores is key,” said Elle’s junior fashion editor, Sarah Schussheim. Vogue’s entertainment editor, Jill Demling concurred, saying the event “encourages people to come back to stores, and it’s a great opportunity to get out and celebrate fashion.”
Further up New York’s famed fashion’s paradise Madison Avenue, Valentino Garavani took a casual stroll with a friend while stopping to take photos with admirers along the way. “It’s very amusing, I think it’s a very good idea,” he said.
At the end of the day, Fashion’s Night Out has at least one noble achievement: Making fashion more democratic. “It’s more about being a part of something bigger,” said Kaya Hayes, a 20-year-old FIT student who attended the event at Alexander McQueen.
“It’s getting to see the fashion, the shopping, what’s new for fall,” said Jorge Adrian, 27, in line at Bergdorf Goodman. “If it helps the economy too, that’s great.”
“It’s about enjoying the culture of fashion and celebrity,” said Nellie Gayle, 18, a student at Barnard College standing on Fifth Avenue. “It’s like when you go to MoMa, you’re not there to buy the Van Gogh. You’re there to experience it.”
Jessica Bennett, Jacob Bernstein, Lizzie Crocker, Ramin Setoodeh, Misty White Sidell, and Isabel Wilkinson contributed to this report.