On Fashion’s Night Out, Customers’ Wallets Stay In

Article and photos by Elisha Fieldstadt

Henri Bendel
Gawkers line the atrium levels at Henri Bendel.

The idea behind Fashion’s Night Out, introduced in September 2009 by Vogue editor Anna Wintour, was to celebrate fashion with a night of in-store promotions and events that would draw those-most-likely-to-spend, thereby providing a boost to sales and the industry’s overall business.

By this year’s fourth annual Fashion’s Night Out, on Sept. 6, the event had been held not only in New York but in more than 500 cities in the United States and in 18 countries. Whether it has increased consumer spending is hard to determine, as the event has morphed into an extravaganza of celebrity appearances, free makeovers and mini-concerts that sometimes seem to distract consumers from taking out their wallets.

“It’s really just like a party,” said Arianna Montaldo, the manager of Anthropologie, a women’s clothing store in Chelsea Market. “I don’t stock extra because there’s really no need. If anything, we sell less.”

Still, each year more stores compete with events, hoping to increase the number of shoppers. This year, Anthropologie appealed to its demographic by advertising a performance by the indie singer Lucy Schwartz and offering mini-pizzas and lemonade. The concert drew a crowd, but many people seemed preoccupied by two hours of live music and free food rather than shopping.

“I didn’t buy anything,” said Faith Bowen, who has participated in Fashion’s Night Out for the past two years. I didn’t even consider making a purchase,” she added. “To me, Fashion’s Night Out is more about the entertainment. Honestly, I didn’t even know that people went to FNO with the intention of making purchases.”

The cash registers at Anthropologie in Chelsea remain empty as guests gather near the refreshments.

Performances like Cyndi Lauper’s at the Manolo Blahnik boutique made Anthropologie’s soirée seem low-key. Larger department stores like Macy’s boasted not one but many celebrities, including Bethenny Frankel of “Real Housewives,” Emily Maynard of “Bachelorette” and the designer Michael Kors, making it difficult to move around.

For some, the night wasn’t always about free food and celebrity sightings. At her first Fashion’s Night Out, “I spent around $250,” said Fallon Prinzivalli. “Last year, I spent around $70. This year, $0.” At last week’s event, she said she “waited in line for an event that took place an hour and a half later than scheduled, and I was too exhausted to do anything after the fact.”

If it was deals she was looking for, Fallon doesn’t need to regret that she spent the night standing in line in line at Bloomingdale’s to meet Twilight star Kellan Lutz.

In previous years of Fashion’s Night Out, shoppers could look forward to receiving free gifts and heavy discounts; this year retailers were discouraged from using such tactics to induce people to spend. On the retailer FAQ section of the FNO website, retailers were warned: “The goal of Fashion’s Night Out is to celebrate and support the fashion and retail industries, so discount promotions are discouraged and cannot be promoted by the Fashion’s Night Out team. Instead, we urge you to take advantage of Fashion’s Night Out to promote full-price shopping and new deliveries with creative incentives.”

Fashion’s Night Out was founded by Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, who put in an appearance last week.

As data about retail sales have consistently demonstrated, shoppers enjoy the hunt and the feeling of getting more for less, even if it is just a free tote bag with a big purchase. They also know that if they wait, prices will drop – that’s one reason that more Christmas shopping now takes place closer to Christmas Day.

At this year’s Fashion’s Night Out, Wintour steered clear of the stores; her surprise appearance took place in a tent in the Meatpacking District, where she signed the September issue of Vogue and posed with fans.

Four years after its inception, Fashion’s Night Out may be just as much fun as it was in 2009, but its lasting positive impact on the economy is debatable.

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