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Boston gets in line

After launching in New York a few years ago, Fashion’s Night Out has been catching on in cities around the world. Next Thursday, FNO takes over Newbury Street (and other parts of the city) with events, parties, and - retailers hope - a boost to fall sales

Local organizers Michelle McCormack and Richard Villani say the night would not have been possible without the Internet buzz that’s now surrounding it. Local organizers Michelle McCormack and Richard Villani say the night would not have been possible without the Internet buzz that’s now surrounding it. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / September 1, 2011

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Next Thursday, for the first time in 15 years, Newbury Street will be closed to cars. Tiffany will be turning its posh store into a Studio 54-like disco. The Ames Hotel will replicate its Woodward bar in a chic pop-up form in Allston, and Neiman Marcus will host karaoke and a book signing with interior design guru Frank Roop. Even Mayor Tom Menino is planning to take in the fashionable festivities.

Indeed, more than 500 stores and restaurants here are preparing for what has become, in other cities, a shopping holiday - Fashion’s Night Out. The brain child of Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour, FNO was conceived as a way to boost retailers and designers after the bottom fell out of the economy - and people stopped spending - in 2008. FNO launched in New York in September 2009, kicking off with celebrities galore and big crowds.

Since then, the annual fashion fiesta has spread to 250 cities in the US, and 17 countries around the globe. Boston, however, was something of a Fashion’s Night (Hold) Out. For the past two years, a higgledy-piggledy smattering of events took place across the city. But many local shoppers weren’t aware the event existed. The result was about as dazzling as a five-watt bulb.

But this year, nearly every store on Newbury Street, along with most of Copley Place, plus neighborhoods such as the South End, Jamaica Plain, and Roslindale will entice shoppers with champagne, beauty and fashion consultations, late hours, and giveaways. There are parties, panel discussions, whiskey tastings, and, of course, fashion shows popping up in all corners of town.

“This is something we believe will bring more people into stores and help create more economic development opportunities,’’ said District 8 Boston Councilor Michael Ross. “We encouraged the Newbury Street League to shut down the street. It just creates a more festive atmosphere and more energy for an event like this.’’

Participation, by shops, designers, and entrepreneurs, is building as the Sept. 8 event draws near. “[In past years] everyone had this buffer of ‘I don’t want to do something,’ ’’ said Boston Fashion Week founder Jay Calderin. “This year, there’s an automatic response of, ‘Of course I want to do something.’ There’s a new energy.’’

That new energy didn’t emerge on its own. Much of the flash behind Boston’s first full entry into Fashion’s Night Out can be traced to Michelle McCormack and Richard Villani, a pair of Boston natives and fashion veterans who decided it was time for local shoppers to join the phenomenon. After 20 years of living in New York and working at glossies like Vanity Fair and Home and Garden, the two friends eventually moved back here. McCormack now runs websites @ LoveTheCool and Secret Boston, while Villani runs the photo and production studio Richard Villani Productions. Both say the night would not have been possible without the Internet buzz that’s now surrounding it.

“Boston is way cooler than it was when I lived here in the 1990s,’’ said McCormack. “That’s why I think Boston is ready for this. Richard first brought up Fashion’s Night Out in April, and to be quite honest, I never thought we’d be able to sell it.’’

As it turns out, generating excitement around the event was not difficult. Word spread quickly through social networking sites, and businesses starting approaching McCormack and Villani to participate. Online retailer Rue La La offered to sponsor the night, and auto dealer Herb Chambers donated money to cover the cost of closing Newbury Street. Chambers is also lining that stretch with luxury autos from his collection. There will even be a bit of Hollywood, as the actresses who played the tough talking sisters in “The Fighter’’ will be greeting fans.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the night will be for shoppers to figure out a plan of action. Every day, more stores add events, posting information on Facebook pages for Boston Fashion’s Night Out and the Newbury Street League. There are also listings on the organization’s website (www.fnoboston.com) and Vogue’s official FNO website (www.fashionsnightout.com). Store and event hours vary, with some retailers staying open as late as 11 p.m.

Stores that participated in last year’s unofficial Fashion’s Night Out noticed a bit of a bump in sales. This year, they’re expecting bigger things.

“We’re a low traffic boutique, so the business we did on that night last year was actually amazing,’’ says Adam Beddie, a manager at Gretta Luxe. “It was pretty informal, but we didn’t see anyone else doing it. This year it’s a real thing. We’re a part of something bigger.’’

“There is a definite groundswell this year that wasn’t there last year,’’ added Paul Mason, co-owner of Rescue on Newbury Street.

Although this is Boston’s first crack at an official local version, the idea for FNO took root a few years ago, after shoppers tightened their purse strings amid the economic turmoil of the recession. The first Fashion’s Night Out in New York was an attempt to put the excitement back into shopping, according to Susan Portnoy, FNO spokeswoman in New York.

“The idea is that you want to celebrate and support an industry,’’ said Portnoy. “And you can’t do that with a business model of discounts. The spirit of it is full price shopping. One of the things Anna [Wintour] really wanted was an interaction between the designer and shopper. So people really understand the creativity behind it all and the idea that they’re supporting everyone from the designer to the delivery truck drivers.’’

Another crucial aspect to Fashion’s Night Out is that all events are free and open to the public. It’s a chance for everyone to participate without VIP passes or paying for tickets. This is also the first year that online retailers will be participating in Fashion’s Night Out. Sites such as Boston sponsor Rue La La will be selling special limited edition products during the hours that Fashion’s Night Out is taking place.

“The spark is there, now it’s a matter of how creative people will be with it,’’ said Calderin. “It will be interesting to see what stores will do, what designers will do. That’s what it’s all about. You want to be in a city where there is that vibrant energy. You want to be excited and surprised.’’

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther


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