By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Clothing retailers and big-name fashion designers around the world joined together on Friday at festive promotional events aimed at enticing recession-weary shoppers to go on a spending spree.
"Fashion's Night Out," the brainchild of Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour, was designed to jump-start an industry battered by the global recession. Events were set in Australia, Asia, Europe and 100 U.S. cities from New York to Los Angeles.
In New York, fashion hubs like Soho and Madison Ave were mobbed with shoppers who dressed up, sipped cocktails or mingled with designers Diane von Furstenberg, Alexander Wang and Donna Karan.
"The whole city is having fun, it's happy," von Furstenberg said inside her store, describing the event as an "incredible" phenomenon that had "spread all around the world."
In Milan, tens of thousands of fashion-hungry shoppers and party-goers flooded the Italian fashion capital's small streets for a party Thursday, hoping to rub elbows with big-name designers at Valentino and Prada who offered champagne and artistic performances.
"This city, usually, is dead at night, and that's not because of the downturn," said fashion legend Giorgio Armani.
London events featured actress Gwyneth Paltrow and model Claudia Schiffer.
'NATIONAL HOLIDAY FOR SHOPPING'
More than 1,000 New York stores and galleries mixed fashion, art and celebrity events, including a Valentino charity poker tournament, karaoke and a best-in-show event with designers and their dogs at Bergdorf Goodman.
Naomi Campbell performed a fist-pump dance to rapper Jay-Z's "Run This Town" at Dolce & Gabbana, where Wintour made an appearance. A crowd gathered outside Gant to watch a bare-chested male model pretend to take a shower behind a screen.
"Its a party," said Camille Noel, 30, who was window-shopping on Fifth Ave, but didn't plan to buy. "If something catches my eye, we'll see, but that's not why I'm out."
An ice rink in Houston was transformed into a fashion runway, Cirque du Soleil performers were playing in Washington's streets, Miami was hosting a shoppers' block party and shoppers on Rodeo Drive could take free rides on a Ferris wheel in Los Angeles.
"It has spread very rapidly .... It's almost like we have created a new national holiday for shopping," said Steven Kolb, head of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
The night was aimed at turning around shoppers worn down by economic hard times. But many retailers said do not measure the precise economic impact of the event and some conceded it was more of a social event than sales boost.
Foot traffic jumped in New York stores after last year's event by 50 percent, according to research firm ShopperTrak.
NYC & Company, the city's tourism and marketing company, found 75 percent of shoppers bought something in a survey of 1,300 consumers. Von Furstenberg hoped to top the $60,000 she estimated the store made last year.
Saks Fifth Avenue expanded the event to 34 U.S. stores, offering dance lesson with designers. Chief executive Steve Sadove called it "a perfect way to kick off the fall season."
Cesar Roman, 24, said the events made shopping less intimidating.
"You don't have to be a millionaire to come out tonight, that's what it's all about," he said.
(Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Basil Katz and Gemma Haines in New York and Antonella Ciancio and Ilaria Polleschi in Milan; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Stacey Joyce)