- Associated Press - Friday, September 10, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - Fashion’s Night Out, the one-night-only celebration dreamed up by Vogue’s Anna Wintour, had shoppers heading to stores across the country on Friday for special events and brushes with celebrities.

Highlights of the second annual celebration of shopping include Naomi Campbell promising to dance in the street in front of Dolce & Gabbana, a ping pong tournament with the Rag & Bone designers and a karaoke contest judged by the Olsen twins.

Wintour made an early stop at Ralph Lauren, where she posed in a Fashion’s Night Out T-shirt with David Lauren and Halle Berry. She said the event had grown in a year “by slightly epic proportions.”

“We have to get out there and have people have fun. We have to spread fashion and do something good for the economy,” she said.

Madison Avenue was packed with taxis, with shoppers crowding the sidewalks. Natalie Jackson, 18, picked up a $250 ring at Barneys with the Black Eyed Peas’ “I’ve Got a Feeling” on loud. Why tonight to whip out the credit card?

“I love the fashion industry. I’ve had my eye on it for a few days but I wanted to wait until tonight. This atmosphere, it makes you want to shop,” said Jackson, of Manhattan.

More than 100 cities across the country planned events, and 16 countries planned their own versions. Events were held earlier this week in London and Paris, where a hoard of fashionistas brought traffic to a crawl.

One thing shoppers won’t find: bargains. The idea is to help the economy, not hook shoppers on discounts, said Susan Portnoy, a Fashion’s Night Out spokeswoman.

“The incentives really are about getting to know designers and getting to have an access in a way they haven’t before,” she said. “If you’re going to get excited about fashion and retail, the first step is just to get them in the door.”

Last year’s extended hours and blitz of promotions did provide a sales lift for New York City merchants, said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis for MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse, which includes transactions in all forms such as cash.

This year, cities across the country plan their own events. In Los Angeles, a Ferris wheel on Rodeo Drive will give complementary rides to shoppers while Will.i.am was to perform at the Beverly Center. Cirque du Soleil will be performing around the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. In Portland, Ore., a fleet of pedicabs will shuttle shoppers from Director Park to shops downtown.

Miami plans a block party for shoppers, while Bellevue, Wash., will have shopping by candlelight. Neiman Marcus planned different events around the country _ presentations by local musicians and artists in Austin, Texas, a runway show in Denver and a design-your-own cupcake bar in Minneapolis, for example.

But with the fashion crowd gathered for Fashion Week, the events with the highest star wattage were scattered throughout New York. Wintour compared last year’s debut to that of an unknown candidate, “and now people know us.”

“The minute we all went to bed last year, I woke up and there were all these e-mails saying ‘When will we do it again?’” she said.

Berry, in a Ralph Lauren jacket and sheer beaded top with Rag & Bone pants, said participating was a no-brainer.

“I know how important the night is for fashion, our industry and the economy, and there’s so much going to charity,” she said. “It’s a win-win-win.”

The NYC AIDS Fund has been tapped as a beneficiary of Fashion’s Night Out.

At the newly reopened Chanel store in SoHo, Jennifer Davis, a 33-year-old pediatrician from Harlem, got a makeover while she was waiting for a free manicure.

“It’s fun,” she said. “I just figured it was a nice thing to do during Fashion Week, since I am not going to any of the shows.”

Luxury purveyors definitely need a boost. After enjoying rebounding sales earlier in the year, many upscale merchants have seen their U.S. customers pull back again since the spring amid signs of a halting economic recovery.

Luxury spending is still recovering faster than other segments, experts say. But luxury sales, excluding jewelry, are down almost 14 percent from 2008 levels and revert back to 2005, according to McNamara.

And experts don’t think the affluent will return to their old ways of buying anytime soon. They continue to look for bargains at private sales sites like Gilt.com and Ruelala.com. They’re updating their wardrobes with status handbags and shoes, but not filling up their closets with disposable pricy fashions.

Overall, Saks Fifth Avenue and other upscale stores have responded by working with designers to offer more affordable fashions, and have started their own private sales sites.

“The psyche of the luxury shopper has changed,” said Robert Burke, a New York-based luxury consultant. “The idea of spending $2,000 to $3,000 on something that’s identifiable to just one season isn’t there.”


AP writers Anne D’Innocenzio, Jocelyn Noveck, Leanne Italie, Lisa Orkin Emmanuel and Lisa Tolin contributed to this report.

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