Fashion’s Night Out returns to Chicago

By Brian Dukerschein

Vogue magazine launched Fashion’s Night Out in 2009 to aid the retail and fashion industries struggling in the grip of the recession. In New York City and 12 other international fashion capitals, stores and designers threw parties, fashion shows and special events that drew shoppers by the thousands.

The following year, Vogue invited stores from 100 cities around the world to participate, including Chicago’s The Shops at North Bridge, 520 N. Michigan Ave. and Water Tower Place, 835 N. Michigan Ave.

The 900 North Michigan Shops did not participate.

The building’s marketing director, Sarah Burrows, said retailers didn’t feel the night would have a strong impact on Chicago, and they didn’t want to spend money promoting an event that was so focused on New York City.

“So my marketing team actually went to New York to experience it firsthand, to get ideas and see how the whole energy was,” Burrows said. “And then this year, we started doing our research and poking around and discovered that we thought it was going to be even bigger, so we knew it was time for us to participate.”

This year the shopping center, along with scores of other Chicago retailers, is joining stores in 17 countries on Sept. 8 in what has become the world’s largest celebration of all things fashionable.

“It’s wonderful! We have stores [participating] in over 250 cities,” said Susan Portnoy, Fashion’s Night Out spokeswoman for Condé Nast, Vogue’s parent company. “It really has exploded.”

On all of Chicago’s major shopping thoroughfares, retailers are planning fashion shows, styling seminars and parties complete with food, drinks and disc jockeys. While the official hours for Fashion’s Night Out are 6 – 9 p.m., some stores are remaining open until 11 p.m.

In addition to being a party, Fashion’s Night Out is an opportunity for retailers to show what they have, according to Erica Strama, marketing manager for The Shops at North Bridge.

“This is really the best of the best in terms of fall merchandise, so they’re able to debut the newest, hottest trends,” Strama said. “It’s an opportunity to put shopping in the limelight.”

Macy’s on State Street is using the night to promote the local fashion industry. Andrea Schwartz, vice president of media relations and cause marketing for the retailer’s North and Midwest regions, said the store’s windows will be used to showcase the collections of the six designers participating in the Chicago Fashion Incubator.

Although many stores are offering promotional sales during the evening, Strama said Fashion’s Night Out is about celebrating style and not bargain hunting.

The reason Fashion’s Night Out started when it did was to help retailers hoping to “shake consumers free of the discount mentality,” Burrows said.

According to Portnoy, it is important for shoppers to understand the health of the fashion industry has a much broader impact than some might think.

“I think that a lot of people look at the upper layer of any industry … which in our case tend to be the larger stores or a specific designer,” Portnoy said. “But there are a huge amount of people that participate in the fashion industry, from the cutters to the men who deliver the fabrics. Focusing on fashion and focusing on full-price fashion is what will keep all of these stores and designers economically healthy so everyone who works with them in an extended manner can be supported.”

Although the original purpose of Fashion’s Night Out was to increase sales for troubled retailers, some Chicago event organizers said they believe the night is about more than simply lining up customers at the cash register.

“It’s a way for the entire fashion community to unite,” Burrows said. “Whether we’re in the best of times or the worst of times, in terms of consumer shopping habits, I think it’s great to see retailers come together to push fashion and put it in the spotlight for one night across the world because this truly has

become international.”

Schwartz agreed and said retail is more than an economic barometer.

“I think retail definitely reflects the times that we live in: recessions, depressions and during really good times and excessiveness,” Schwartz said. “It’s definitely a huge indicator of how our nation is doing, but I think it’s really important to consider that fashion is an art. It’s great to elevate fashion to being its own event for one night and seeing what’s out there.”

For a complete listing of stores and events visit: