It seemed like a good idea, and for a short while it was: for one night of the year, in balmy September, stores along New York’s Fifth Avenue, Lower Broadway and in the city’s Meatpacking district — everyone from high-end brands like Gucci and Stella McCartney to mid-market names such as Ann Taylor and Guess — stayed open late into the night, welcoming would-be-shoppers and treating them like VIP’s, or at least like part of the otherwise impenetrable fashion community.
To this end, designers and hired celebrities appeared in stores and mingled with guests while deejays and free drinks provided the setting of a surprisingly democratic fashion party. Goodie-bags were handed out and -- in a laudable effort -- forty percent of the proceeds from special FNO-branded merchandise sold during the event went to the New York City AIDS Fund.
Yet today’s announcement, in WWD, that until further notice Fashion’s Night Out will no longer take place in American cities suggests that all that fun may have come at too high a cost.
It all started in 2009, at the height of the economic crisis, as a vehicle to boost the struggling U.S. clothing industry. Jointly sponsored by Vogue, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and the City of New York’s tourism agency, the thinking went that if shoppers could be induced to just step into the stores and were plied with free drinks and entertainment, they would return and spend money. In addition, the media coverage of the highly publicised event would reach millions of consumers outside of New York (through the pages of Condé Nast magazines and its web domains), helping restore consumer confidence even among those who weren’t out on the streets of Manhattan.
People did turn up, in hordes, giving the impression to organisers that theirs was a winning plan. FNO became a yearly event and by 2009, every medium-sized American city had its own version, while international editions started sprouting up around the globe, from London and Madrid to Seoul and Mexico City. But as it spread like a virus, did anyone stop to assess Fashion's Night Out's real merits and weigh them against the possible shortcomings of the expensive production?
While the so-called celebration of shopping did attract more in-store traffic, increased numbers of people did not necessarily translate into increased sales. More importantly, the event soon turned into a circus, as more and more crowds showed up for the complimentary champagne and to take photographs of the stars. One consequence was that serious shoppers stayed away that day, to avoid what often devolved into a boozy street-fest. As the party element became the focus of the proceedings, the intended sales-boosting element was all but forgotten, and it became increasingly difficult to take Fashion’s Night Out seriously.
But staging the event came at an extraordinary cost for participating stores, who often only took part because everyone else was doing it and out of fear of falling out of favour with the powerful organisers. And as the event’s popularity increased, brands had to invest more in order to compete with other stores and offer something that stood out and had at least the veneer of exclusivity. The bottom line was that the extravagant once-a-year expenditure not only failed to generate sales, but also became an unnecessary distraction, especially for emerging brands, who would have been better served spending their money on more fruitful projects.
The official story released today is that FNO is going ‘on hiatus’ even though it was an unqualified success. In any case, the decision is the right one, as it will allow designers to reallocate their budgets on more worthwhile revenue-generating initiatives.
It was fun while it lasted, but like any overheated, unsubstantiated romance, it had to come to an end.
Editor’s Note: This article was revised on 28 February, 2013. An earlier version of this article misstated the year that Fashion's Night Out was launched. It was 2009, not 2008.