Savannah's Fashion Night stands up 

In spite of no national backer, glamorous yearly shopping event is still in vogue

When it was announced in February that Vogue magazine would not be throwing its well-heeled support behind the suite of community shopping extravaganzas known as Fashion's Night Out, fashionistas everywhere shed a few tears, possibly throwing their Céline Nano hangbags down in chagrin.

The organizers of Savannah's local event, however, strapped on their big girl shoes and kept on going.

"Fashion's Night Out has been so successful here, we didn't see any reason why we couldn't come together to do something similar even if we couldn't use the name," says Erin Wessling, who co-founded and coordinated the past two years' efforts.

Wessling and her style cohorts Bree Thomas and Cecilia Russo didn't miss a step when it came to rebranding the event, and Savannah's Fashion Night takes over Broughton Street next Thursday, Sept. 5.

"There was never really a point when we considered not moving forward," maintains Thomas, who owns fab'rik on Broughton's west end. "Other than a few minor changes to the promotional materials, we were able to use the same creative template."

Since the tumbleweed economy of 2009, Fashion's Night Out had been lauded as a way to stimulate local economies and lure shoppers with late night hours, prize giveaways and VIP treatment. Both of Savannah's 2011 and 2012 FNOs drew a tremendous turnout, with thousands of giddy shoppers strolling up and down Broughton with new purchases. Some retailers reported record sales, higher than the busiest holiday spree.

Other U.S. cities, however, complained of unimpressive revenue numbers, over-the-top production costs and unruly throngs. This spring, Women's Wear Daily announced that FNO would be "on hiatus," taking its international branding power and highly-recognizable logo with it.

If retail communities wanted to coordinate an event on their own, they'd have to do it without the air-kiss stamp of Vogue's Anna Wintour.

Which hardly poses a problem for the Hostess City.

"Savannah is not being stopped by the change at the national level," assures MarRonde Lumpkin-Lotson, the city's International Affairs Administrator who first helped the organizers navigate the necessary bureaucratic details as the director of economic development.

"We've been able to continue forward almost seamlessly."

It's no small feat to convince city officials and police to shut down traffic on one of Savannah's busiest thoroughfares, but once again Broughton will become a pedestrian paradise for one night only.

Logistics and musical curation get an infusion of energy this year from Dollhouse Productions' Blake Mavrogeorgis, who's contributing her coordinating expertise to SFN.

Two stages will bookend the block at Montgomery and Drayton, blazing with a live soundtrack by locals Make Westing and lil' girl rapper Flau'jae, plus Florida pop band Saskachewan. DJ will rock and DJ Boodoo are bringing their spinning skills to accompany four runway shows, featuring au courant styles from SFN's participating retailers (see below for the full list.) Art installations, acoustic performances and VIP parties will dot the intersections in between.

But the real action in inside the stores, where shop owners are planning various and sundry surprises for their customers. Shoppers might score free jeans, swag bags and exclusive items while enjoying gourmet nibbles and entertainment.

"We have special order merchandise coming just for the event, " enthuses Thomas.

Artist Katherine Sandoz will be conducting a interactive art installation with her signature fiber landscapes, and Thomas describes the imminent transformation of fab'rik's space as "Alice in Wonderland meets southern garden party."

The spirit of collaboration of previous fashion nights is in evidence, with many Broughton Street storefronts lending their space to other retailers. New partnerships this year include Custard Boutique's match-up with ZIA's exotic jewelry and Red Clover's bloom-up shop in Chive Sea Bar.

It all adds up to a night of stylish cooperation that pads everybody's tailored pockets. City coffers get a big boost, too, though exact numbers are hard to come by.

"We can't measure one day of sales tax, so we can't demonstrate the data that way," says Lumpkin-Lotson. "But we've heard from some of the businesses that the last two years were their busiest sales night."

It's not often that city bureaucracy and small businesses can strut down the same economic catwalk together, and the revamped Savannah's Fashion Night remains feasible (and fabulous) — in spite of Vogue's retreat.

"It works out for the best, because now it's all local," says Wessling.

"Now it's totally about this community."


Savannah's Fashion Night

When: 6:30-11 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 5

Where: Broughton Street btwn Montgomery and Drayton

Info: savannahsfashionnight.com

Savannah's Fashion Night official retailers are: BleuBelle Boutique@The Paris Market, Cardeologie, Copper Penny, Custard Boutique@ZIA Boutique, Extant Fair, Gaucho, fab'rik, Go Fish Clothing, Goodwill Retail Store, Half Moon Outfitters, J. Parker Ltd., J Paige Boutique Pop Up Shop, Kathi Rich@24E, Lucy Lu's Savannah, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Nourish, Paris Market & Brocante, Red Clover@Chive Sea Bar, Sara Jane Children's Boutique Pop Up Shop, Satchel, Savannah Bee Company, Sugar Works Bath & Body, Trunk 13 Boutique Pop Up Shop and ZIA Boutique.


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Jessica Leigh Lebos

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Community Editor Jessica Leigh Lebos has been writing about interesting people, vexing issues and anything involving free food for more than 20 years. She introduces herself at cocktail parties as southern by marriage.

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