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The Intersection of Collaboration and Style
For retailers, artists and shoppers, all roads lead to Fashion’s Night Out

Back in the gloomy economic fog of 2009, few shoppers were perusing the iconic shops of NYC’s Madison Avenue.
Clerks twiddled their thumbs while current collections went stale. Designers fretted, CEOs panicked. Shopping, it seemed, had fallen out of style.

Never one to back away from a trend, Vogue editor Anna Wintour hit upon an idea to get people spending again: She, Dianne Von Furstenberg and other members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America would host a party. A huge fÊte, with celebrities and giveaways and special events in stores all over New York City. Everyone would be invited to Fashion’s Night Out, from highfalutin housewives with limitless American Express credit to street–smart fashionistas on a budget. Even Wintour did her part to include the masses, putting in rare public appearance at a mall in Queens.

This “global fashion stimulus package” was a thundering success, drawing tens of thousands of people to the streets and into shops in spite of the recession. The idea of a community shopping event caught on like skinny jeans and platform wedges:

In the following two years, Fashion’s Night Out expanded exponentially, covering all 50 states and over 4500 simultaneous events worldwide, setting record retail numbers from Milan to Los Angeles.

Last September, Savannah debuted its own Fashion’s Night Out, turning Broughton Street into the chic–est of carnivals with two glitzy catwalks, DJs, bands, a skatepark and VIP parties. Shops stayed open far into the evening, inviting upwards of four thousand people to check out the season’s wares.

For Savannah organizers Bree Thomas and Erin Wessling—both style doyennes in their own right—the economic stimulation was good, but the comradery was even better.

“Some of the stores doubled and tripled their historic highs that night,” recounts Wessling. “But I think the real success was how much fun everyone had.”

Thomas, who owns the boutique Fab’rik, found it refreshing to reach out to other retailers for the event. “I think we as storeowners get in this mindset that it’s always about competition, but the fact is collaborating helps all of us who are in business.”

That spirit of collaboration has helped the duo craft an even more spectacular evening for FNO 2012, glamming up Broughton this Thursday, Sept. 6 with two fashion shows, dance parties with DJ D Frost and DJ WillRock, live music from Whaleboat and Cusses, free makeovers, photo shoots, VIP invitations for big spenders and of course, plenty of shopping.

All of it hinges upon, as Wessling puts it, “everyone playing in the same sandbox.”

“It can’t be done without everyone cooperating with each other,” she says. “This is an entirely local production, and everyone gets to share in the success.”

Examples of cooperation abound: Heather Burge, whose Bleubelle boutique relocated south of Derenne a year and half ago, returns downtown for the evening with a pop–up shop inside The Paris Market.

“We’re happy to have aligned ourselves with another retailer that matches our aesthetic,” says Burge. “French fashion, French design—it was a natural fit.”

Alongside the market’s au courant décor, the proprietress will offer a “small sampling” of Bleubelle’s inventory, including signature monogram necklaces, an assortment of cocktail dresses and a rainbow of Michael Stars T–shirts.

The Paris Market’s legendary window displays will feature gowns from Bleubelle Bridal, and the stores will host a Moulin Rouge theme party.

“It’s going to be an exciting evening,” promises Burge. “The night is to sell, but more importantly, we’re showing we can work together.”

Down the street at 24E, Ruel Joyner is rearranging the modern oak tables and Cole leather chairs to provide a backdrop for a flurry of FNO happenings, including a preview of pieces by designer April Johnston, red carpet commentary with Fashion Rehabber video blogger Shena Verrett and more pop–up shops by Kathi Rich and Custard.

“The more the merrier,” laughs Joyner. “I’m happy to lend the space, being a part of this is what matters.”

Joyner waxes enthusiastic about FNO and Savannah’s strengthening presence in the national style scene, remarking that the elevated profile is good for the homes furnishings trade because “furniture follows fashion.”

Joyner has also invited photographer Candace Perry of FashionShots and her team of make–up artists, wardrobe stylists and hair coiffueses from Salon Karma to host a makeover station and professional photo shoot in 24E’s sumptuous atmosphere. Those who wander into 24E’s “Night of Fame” may find themselves bedecked and bejeweled for a fashion moment of their own.

“We’ve got all the skills to put together a look you’d see in a magazine,” promises Perry. “You get to feel like a model for the night. Clothes are of course available for purchase from Kathi Rich, but you get to leave with your hair and make–up for all the red carpet happenings.”

Perry will post the portraits on her website for sale afterwards, but there’s no charge to pretty up for the camera.

The give–and–take dynamic of FNO has extended to the business and artistic communities: Artist Katherine Sandoz and real estate maven Lori Judge are hosting an outdoor installation of several dozen small buildings built out of cigar boxes, each interpreted by a local artist.

The result of “Building Savannah: Art & Commerce” will be a mini Savannah, fashioned by some of its most creative people.

“Those who make, do and think inside these buildings create our city,” explains Judge. “I’m as invested in the buildings as I am the people who live inside their walls.”

Inspired by the two stone statues that (really!) stand guard on top of City Hall, the project celebrates the notion of “Art” and “Commerce” as co–conspirators in economic success.

“These two are important allies that build important cities—for its citizens and for the world,” continues Judge, also an “avid fashion watcher” renowned for her style. “Everyone has dreams for our city that include commercial and artistic aspects. This installation may begin to describe the scope of those possibilities.”

From the view of that pair of opulent ornaments looking out onto Savannah’s downtown district, it looks like one of the most important partnerships forged by this event is between FNO organizers and the city itself.

Wessling confirms that city officials “have been a dream to work with,” particularly Director of Economic Development MarRonde Lumpkin–Lotson, who secured official standing with Vogue and helped convince the city manager to shut down Broughton between Drayton and Montgomery (the Whitaker corridor will remain open for southbound traffic.)

“Shutting down Broughton was just unheard of before Fashion’s Night Out last year, and we had to do some talking because it was an unknown entity,” recalls Lumpkin–Lotson.

“We were hoping 400 people would come out, and we got four thousand, mostly residents who got to reacquaint themselves with downtown. This year we’re anticipating an even bigger festival.”

Lumpkin–Lotson assures that the downtown services team will be out in force to “make sure the area remains and fun and safe and clean.”

Lumpkin–Lotson reminds that sales taxes generated during the evening boost streetscape improvements, education and public parks.

“There are those who might not see the correlation between economic development and Fashion’s Night Out, but this is an economic boost for the entire city. Everyone’s doing their part.”

All that’s left is for the shoppers of Savannah to do theirs.

Fashion’s Night Out Savannah

When: Thursday, Sept. 6, 6-11 p.m.

Where: Broughton Street Between Drayton and Montgomery

Cost: Free