Fashion’s Night Out comes to Alexandria

September 9, 2012

Alexandria may be far away from the runways of New York and the pages of Vogue magazine, but this year the city put its designers and retailers on display during Thursday evening’s Fashion’s Night Out, an international after-hours shopping event.

Alexandria put a decidedly down-home spin on the festivities, with a lineup of nearly 90 independent and small businesses, including art galleries, antique shops and a store that specializes in olive oil. There was a fashion show featuring clothing from the 18th century — a nod to the vintage shops in the area — and a story time session at Hurray for Books, where patrons were invited to come dressed in their favorite pajamas.

“We have every type of independent business participating, regardless of whether they sell clothes or not,” said Maurisa Turner Potts, who organized the event for the Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association. “At Tysons, [Fashion’s Night Out] is very mall-centric. In Georgetown, it’s mid-size businesses. We wanted to do something different.”

Potts, who lives in Alexandria, began working on the event about a year ago. She said she had expected about 50 local businesses to participate.

“I couldn’t believe we ended up getting 89 on board,” she said. “The thing about small businesses is that they’re very mom-and-pop. Staying open late, even for one night, can be a challenge when you don’t have a big staff.”

Potts said it was too soon to tell how many people attended the events in Old Town and Del Ray, but said that many businesses had reported big increases in foot traffic.

“This is about fashion — and we’re girls, we love to shop, so why not?,” said Ester Koopman, 19, who bought a pair of sunglasses at 3 Sisters, a boutique in Alexandria. “There was great music in the store. The DJ was playing hip hop, and it was just a really fun way to shop.”

At Verdigris Antiques and Interiors on King Street, owner Ursula Baukol said there had been a steady stream of people coming in once Fashion’s Night Out kicked off at 6 p.m.

“It’s not so much that they’re buying things, but just getting them in here is the big part,” she said. “Most of the shops here close at 6 or 7, so we’re getting a feel for whether people will come in after work on a Thursday or Friday.”

Fashion’s Night Out, an after-hours shopping event, was started by Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, in 2009 as an effort to ramp up sales at fashion boutiques and designer outlets during the economic downturn. The event has expanded to 18 countries.

The festivities in Alexandria signaled a departure from the glitz and glamour of traditional Fashion’s Night Out events. This year’s New York City festivities included appearances by Justin Bieber and Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade, while Georgetown offered free facials at Kiehl’s and a style contest at BCBG.

Even so, local businesses said sales were up.

“Sales were at least double what we do on a normal Thursday,” said Amy Rutherford, owner of Red Barn Mercantile, a home goods store on King Street. “Our store was introduced to a lot of new people.”

At Lotus Blooms, a shop that sells lingerie, Rebecca Hiles was adding up the day’s sales at 10:30 p.m.

“There were a ton of people in here,” she said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for small boutiques in the area.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section.
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