AS BLUE HORSES appear and disappear in vacant lots and leases are snatched up by national retailers, there's no doubt that trends are changing on Broughton Street.
The imminent transformation of the historic downtown shopping corridor by Ben Carter Enterprises has been the subject of much controversy, and Savannah’s traditional small businesses are adjusting to the addition of flashy corporate chains.
But the organizers of the yearly style extravaganza known as Savannah’s Fashion Night have no qualms mixing up new trends with the classics.
For the past three years, SFN (formerly Fashion’s Night Out) has shut down the street for an electrifying evening of fashion shows, art events, music and of course, after-hours shopping. Over 5000 people paraded through the street last year, again sending sales records through the roof. Similar success is expected from his year’s SFN on Thursday, Sept. 4, when the intersections become catwalks and shoppers dance between the racks.
“Stores report they double, even triple what they sell on Black Friday,” says Erin Wessling, one of SFN’s founders. “I think we’ve shown the value of this event.”
Wessling and co-organizers Bree Thomas and Cecelia Russo have definitely broken in their Louboutins in this fourth year and are ready to run with cutting-edge ideas and some surprising new relationships.
To best showcase the 25 participating retailers, they’ve linked up with international design guru and celebrity stylist Ashley Borders to curate the evening’s dynamic runway shows bookending the event. Borders is working closely with Halo Agency director Stephanie Duke-Andrews to wrangle the models and schedule fittings.
The shows will be set to live music for the first time, and there’s no better partner for that than MusicFile Productions maven Kanye Lanahan, who brings the beautiful noise with Stopover faves Dent May and dreamy D.C.-based duo GEMS. Lanahan has also booked neo-Southern folk stars Matrimony for the VIP party stage on the block between Whitaker and Barnard.
Also au courant this season is the addition of ArtRise Savannah, the local non-profit dedicated to supporting artistic community and livelihood with its First Friday Art March.
ArtRise will host “Art in the Streets” on Barnard, an open-air fashion gallery where vintage style expert Nathan Saludez will craft four different “looks” out of reclaimed pieces. Artist Jose Ray will transcend the limits of the canvas with a live-painting performance that invites the audience to collaborate. The silkscreen hot shots from Steam Printing are slated to have their press out on the asphalt, demonstrating how art becomes affordable fashion right before our eyes when it’s transferred to a T-shirt.
An artistic presence has always been part of Fashion Night, but ArtRise executive director Clinton Edminster sees the official partnership between his organization and SFN as a fortuitous harbinger of a robust local art economy.
“Art plus commerce IS fashion, and that sums up Savannah,” muses Edminster, echoing the sentiment expressed by the two statues that sit atop City Hall.
The commerce end of the SFN banner is held up as always by the Downtown Business Association, though some locals may be dismayed by another formidable hand: Ben Carter Enterprises itself.
While some may balk that the developer’s vision for Broughton doesn’t align with that of local businesses, SFN’s title sponsor extends a more harmonious position.
“Fashion Night is a perfect parallel for everything I am trying to do with my project, which is to bring life back to Broughton through retail, fashion, art and community collaboration,” said Ben Carter in a press release.
SFN organizers welcome the support of Carter, recognizing it as a profitable alliance for independent and corporate brands alike.
“This is our chance to help our local retailers shine,” assures Wessling. “We can use those big names as pedestals to stand on.”
While national chains with a local presence like Banana Republic, Urban Outfitters and Free People weren’t able to get corporate clearance to become official SFN participants, Wessling says they have helped promote the event and will keep their doors open for legions of fashionista foot traffic. Wessling also notes that other local retailers will also have their doors open, but only purchases from official SFN participants (look for the window decal) will be eligible for entrance to the VIP party featuring local craft brews and live music. Spend $75 or more at Civvies, Copper Penny, Half Moon Outfitters, Paris Market, ZIA, J. Parker Ltd., Marc by Marc Jacobs, Terra Cotta and plenty of others to get beyond the velvet ropes.
Not all Fashion Night players are Broughton Street residents, by the way: Pop-up shops by Bleubelle, Mamie Ruth, Kathi Rich, Trunk 13 and Veronica’s Closet have found buddies to share space with or are temporarily occupying empty storefronts owned by Carter. Sara Jane Children’s Boutique will even have Savannah’s first “fashion truck,” an Airstream trailer decked out at the corner of Bull and Broughton.
SFN co-organizer and fab’rik boutique owner Bree Thomas will bring Satchel back to Broughton for the evening, showcasing Elizabeth Seeger’s original leather works along with fab’rik’s swank apparel.
"This event is a prime example about how a community can come together, join forces and create something amazing,” says Thomas.
“Even with all of the changes that are happening to Savannah and the downtown area, its events like these that help keep the culture and creativity of Savannah alive.”