Fashion's Night Out: Great for Brand Building. Retail Spending? Not So Much

Last Updated Sep 14, 2010 7:48 AM EDT

For its second turn heralding New York Fashion Week, Fashion's Night Out embraced crowds of fashionistas and wannabe trendsetters to bring on the kind of retail frenzy most stores reserve for Black Friday. FNO, conceived by Anna Wintour, doyenne/editor of fashion's bible Vogue, was to be at once a multi-city celebration of fashion and a kick in the (insert designer label name here) wallet to revitalize consumer spending -- at full retail prices. Alas, with all the free food, free booze, and celeb sightings, the crushing crowds had other things in mind besides shopping. And for that reason, FNO sorta missed the mark.

Macy's (M) Herald Square flagship store in Manhattan hosted FNO's "official" launch fete, a splashy affair replete with a swanky Tommy Hilfiger tailgate party and a performance by rock band Train. Other Hollywood glitterati were on hand including Jennifer Lopez who was hawking her new fragrance amid the wedding china in Macy's housewares department. Macy's played it smart, or tried to, by making J. Lo's appearance itself a special promotion.

The first 300 fans to spend $135 could take a photo with the Latina beauty. Unfortunately, there was a mad rush and security had to disperse the throng. Had the Macy's team anticipated the crazed outpouring of fans, they might have engineered a sale that would have stipulated the lucky spenders needed to unload more cash for goods in another department.

The scene was no less chaotic at Rag & Bone in Soho where the store staff seemed to be as taken with the appearance by Revlon (REV) spokesperson Halle Berry -- and barricading her with velvet ropes -â€" they appeared to forget their main reason for being in attendance. Nando Rodriguez, blogger for told me the place was roped off in such a way that it blocked one shopper's ability to try on a sexy black leather jacket. "She finally flagged down a store employee who cut through the media barricade to retrieve it for her." Rodriguez reports that the woman got her jacket in the end, but who knows how many less-intrepid potential customers were lost?

Aly Walansky, beauty and fashion editor for and a style columnist for, told me she saw a similar scene unfold at the street party outside Tory Burch's Meatpacking district shop. A pile of people showed up for Burch's free eats (catered by Shake Shack!) but not so much for the designer's tony threads and accessories (even a kid's hoodie is $150). Walansky admits, "If the night was about brand recognition, it was an absolute success."

Alex Holt-Cohan, graphic designer, agrees. Hitting up several SoHo hotspots, he noticed the places where people were buying were offering discounts or a special promotion that night.

At Vince the sales staff introduced themselves and were virtually ignored. People weren't rude to them, it just seems like no one was there with the intention of buying anything. When I was in Anthropologie (URBN), they had free drinks and a DJ but no discounts. It might have as well been a club. People were there for the experience not to buy. It was too crowded to buy.

A blogger who helms an exhaustive compendium of all things Anthropologie, Roxy began FNO in midtown and eventually made her way to SoHo as well. She told me, "We did see people buying things, but mostly it was the special edition stuff or FNO-related items." Roxy copped to snapping up some Chanel limited edition nail color and the specially designed FNO T-shirt for herself but told me, "There were a lot of people out and about so if the event was meant to get people excited about fashion I think it worked. I'm sure the economy kept people from spending the way they would have liked to."

On the other coast, Los Angeles' swanky shopping boulevard Rodeo Drive rolled out a carnival for potential shoppers, complete with a (free! â€" with purchase of anything) ferris wheel and (gourmet) food trucks. The fair atmosphere seems to have hit the shopping sweet spot in a way NYC's did not. Perhaps because many of the shops were offering discounts, despite Ms. Wintour's best efforts to encourage full-price spending. Or perhaps people in Beverly Hills are quite used to seeing celebrities out shopping on a regular basis.

Note to Ms. Wintour for next year: perhaps you should wield your editorial scalpel a bit more cleanly in 2011. Encourage more discounting and limited edition goods. As for the free booze, maybe the stores should stick to their knitting (ie: fashion) and let the neighboring restaurants pass the libations and the food -- no charge if you show a receipt for a purchase from a participating store.

Image of Halle Berry at Rag & Bone via Marin NYC