A Spree Minus the Shopping

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2014 New York Times News Service

NEW YORK — Amid the attention surrounding New York Fashion Week, few seem to have noticed the quiet disappearance of Fashion’s Night Out, which began with great fanfare in 2009 and lasted all of four years, going on hiatus in 2013.

Masterminded during the thick of the recession by Vogue, the Council of Fashion Designers of America and NYC & Co., the city’s tourism marketing agency, the September event was intended to encourage fearful consumers to shop freely once again. Its inaugural night brought Anna Wintour and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to Macy’s in Queens Center, where — appearing alongside Michael Kors and Diane von Furstenberg — the two gave their blessing for an event that kept more than 800 stores in the five boroughs open until 11 p.m., serving up alcohol, discounts and celebrity appearances.

By 2012, Fashion’s Night Out had expanded to 500 cities nationwide and 30 cities internationally, according to the CFDA. Over the years, celebrities signed shoes at Manolo Blahnik (Sarah Jessica Parker), attracted hordes of teenage girls to Dolce & Gabbana, most of them crying ecstatically rather than shopping (Justin Bieber), and posed for photos with the first 300 fans to spend $135 at Macy’s in Herald Square (Jennifer Lopez). Fans of both fashion and pop culture soaked it all in, chaotically streaming through the streets, a trail of empty Champagne glasses in their wake.

Despite these outward measures of success, in August, Kelly McCauley, director of communications for the CFDA, confirmed that once again there are no plans to bring the event back to New York.

The CFDA, Vogue and NYC & Co., would not elaborate on why Fashion’s Night Out has been canceled in the city (it continues in cities like London and Milan), but Margaret Chin, the New York City Council member who represents an area that includes the SoHo neighborhood, suggested that it may have become too big to properly organize.

“It was just so out of control,” Chin said. “It wasn’t that people were coming in to shop. There were mobs there.” During the event in 2012, the Broadway corridor of SoHo was filled with huge crowds, and the windshield of a car was smashed by revelers as its driver sat inside.

After that, Chin said, she met with Fashion’s Night Out organizers to create a better plan for the next event, but the organizers never followed up.

“It could have worked out better if there had been better planning and working together with the community,” Chin said. “That part didn’t happen.”

Ilse Werther, an owner of Wink, a boutique with three locations in New York City, said: “I don’t think ultimately the consideration for the small businesses was really thought through. It was unsafe crowd conditions that we needed to handle on our own without the support of Condé Nast, which was promoting the whole event.” Still, she said, she believed Wink had to participate, largely because customers asked about the event beforehand.

Some retailers found that the inebriated crowds created theft worries. Phillip Brennan, the creative director of If Boutique in SoHo, said that on Fashion’s Night Out in 2010, two Haider Ackermann leather pieces, each priced at approximately $2,000, were stolen from the store.

“It was a big loss for us,” he said. “We found out that people were going from one place to another to see if they could steal.” And even law-abiding visitors to his store weren’t fulfilling the purpose of the event, Brennan said. “The people who were coming here weren’t going to buy anything,” he said. “They stayed for the band.”

Other merchants agreed with him. “It was very busy, but people didn’t shop,” said Sam Desner, who owns 3NY, a SoHo boutique that participated from 2009 to 2012. “People just enjoyed the drinking and had fun.”

Anise Augustin, a stylist at the Sportmax store (a less-expensive label of MaxMara) in SoHo, said, “I never saw anyone purchasing anything.”

Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s liaison to the fashion industry, wasn’t surprised that some retailers were unenthusiastic about Fashion’s Night Out.

“I’ve heard from people that it didn’t actually increase sales that dramatically,” Glen said, adding that retailers most likely calculated that costs outweighed benefits.

She said the discontinuation of the one-night-shopping-spree-that-wasn’t was not a major concern. “If there’s no Fashion’s Night Out, it’s not going to have a real impact on our objectives,” Glen said. “It’s simply not integral to our agenda.”