Saturday, May 3, 2014

Fashion's Night Out and What Came Next

Most of us remember the somber mood of the nation in 2009.  People were concerned about job security, declining home prices and the sinking value of their retirement accounts.

Vogue editor Anna Wintour looked at the glum situation and came up with an idea:  Fashion's Night Out.  She teamed up with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) to co-sponsor a fun evening of shopping and fashion promotion on Sept.10 of that year.

Designers, the mayor of New York, celebrities and stores all pitched in, offering price promotions, drinks and hors d'oeuvres and a fun atmosphere.  Below is a picture of a bevy of fashion models, all in event-themed shirts, running down a street to launch the first Fashion's Night Out.

Fashion's Night Out was a great success.  Within a couple years it spread to 16 countries, then 19, and to many other American cities.

Over time, FNO events attracted huge numbers of people.  Below is a picture of enthusiasts at a store in Tokyo in during Fashion's Night Out in 2011.

And here is a crowd of participants in New York in 2012.

After the 2012 event, clothing store operators had pretty much had it.  There were complaints that hordes of people came for the drinks and finger food but didn't buy any clothes.  There were grumblings about FNO attracting the "bridge and tunnel crowd" (hoi polloi from the suburbs) and not enough classy Manhattanites.

Those who attended complained that the crowds were frustrating and clothing bargains were not to be found.

Last year, the CFDA pulled the plug on Fashion's Night Out, announcing that it was going on "hiatus."

Steve Kolb, the head of the CFDA said, "Everyone feels we had a great four years.  It brought a lot of attention to retail, to fashion's important place in retail."

I decode this to mean that there will not be another Fashion's Night Out.  And why should there be? Things change.  Something that was a good idea in 2009 may not be a good idea five years later.

FNO's Stepchild -- Girls' Night Out

While Fashion's Night Out may have been too much of a good thing for big cities, it seems to have spawned many similarly-themed events that are working quite well in suburbs and smaller towns around the country.

Many suburban downtowns have seen a retail drain as more commerce moves online.  Clothiers, restaurateurs, specialty shop owners, banks and even hospitals are happy to participate in new events to draw people downtown.

Often these are called Girls' Night Out.

My town held its first one in 2011.  It was well-received and I believe will continue for many years.

In February of this year, Alpharetta, GA, had a Ladies' Night Out that included special events at stores, hotels and restaurants.

In March, Stamford, CT, sold tickets for a Girls' Night Out event in the town's Italian Center.  It featured wine and food sampling, beauty makeovers, goody bags for early ticket buyers and, of course, shopping.

Later this month, Spokane, WA, is sponsoring a Girls' Night Out that features many performance art events and a gala dinner and auction.

One evening last week, the Significant Other and I drove to the next town over to have dinner at a restaurant we like.  As he parked the car, I noticed the streets were thronged with women, many carrying bulging shopping bags.

"This must be Girls' Night Out," I remarked, and I was right.  Stores had put out sidewalk displays, and some offered wine and finger foods inside.  A band was playing in a small park on the main street.  The local YMCA had offered free babysitting from 5 to 9 p.m. for those who signed up early.

When we got to the restaurant, we saw a number of tables of women enjoying dinner after shopping at the local stores.  Many, many glasses of chardonnay were being served.  (The evening's menu specials included a Strawberry Cheesecake Martini -- Stoli vanilla, cranberry juice and grenadine -- designed just for Girls' Night Out.  I did not order the special drink, wisely, I think, nor did I see other women drinking it.  A well-intentioned effort, no doubt, but the execution probably went a bit too far.)

Most of the men in the restaurant were clustered in the bar, watching a Yankees game on television.

Girls' Night Out is successful, I believe, because it offers activities that appeal to women -- shopping together and then going for mani-pedis or to share a nice meal.

In my experience, most men don't enjoy shopping, and they certainly don't plan evenings around trolling clothing stores with other guys.  They would rather gather over beers and watch a sports event.
To sum it up, I think Girls' Night Out might be here to stay, but I don't see Mens' Night Out events happening anytime soon.

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