The fashion industry is turning to the music business to boost its fortunes as part of the second annual Fashion's Night Out on Sept. 10. Musicians will perform at some of New York's top fashion houses as part of the event, aimed at luring in consumers with the bonus of in-store performances and guest appearances.
Musicians "have to be savvy at your business these days and know alternative ways to be heard, and, in my case, be seen," says model/musician Karen Elson, who will perform songs from her debut album, "The Ghost Who Walks," at the Balenciaga shop.
In its first year, Fashion's Night Out -- a collaboration among American Vogue, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, NYC & Co. and the City of New York -- drew in crowds with appearances by TV and movie stars. Macy's had Kate Hudson. Bergdorf Goodman had "Top Chef" host Padma Lakshmi and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and Charlize Theron appeared at Dior.
This year, designers and brands are turning to musicians. Besides Elson at Balenciaga, Joss Stone and Train are scheduled to perform at Macy's Herald Square, where Sean "Diddy" Combs will also make an appearance. Stone will also stop in at Nine West on Fifth Avenue, while Mary J. Blige will play Bergdorf-Goodman, Pharrell Williams will appear at Billionaire Boys Club/Ice Cream, Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas will play Saks Fifth Avenue, Bryan Adams will perform at the Calvin Klein Collection store, and Gwen Stefani will make an appearance at Sephora's Broadway store to sign her new Wicked Style fragrance.
Other cities across the country will hold their own Fashion's Night Out events. CBS will air a special on Sept. 14, with an appearance by Justin Timberlake. Fashion's Night Out is one of the highlights of New York's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which kicks off Sept. 9.
Elson says she agreed to play Balenciaga after doing a photo shoot for the luxury brand earlier this year. She's known designer Nicolas Ghesquiere since her early 20s. "It was sort of one of those moments that made perfect sense," she says.
But Elson says musicians have to be careful which brands they align themselves with. "Even for me, because obviously I'm in the fashion world and now I'm writing and playing music, it is a fine line. It's very difficult these days to sell records. If there's a situation with a fashion company that makes sense for a musician, that benefits them or gets their music out to an audience not being reached, I can understand."
For the fashion brands, the hope is that performances by well-known artists will drive foot traffic and boost sales, says Martine Reardon, Macy's executive VP for marketing and advertising. "This year, we looked at how we could top last year," she says.
The retailer decided to bring in Train because it fit with designer Tommy Hilfiger's line -- exclusive to Macy's -- and has always been tied to music.
"It's not like we went for musicians -- it's just that all the fashion designers we work with all have music as a major part of their lives, so those kinds of synergies work well for us," Reardon says. Earlier this year, Macy's partnered with Combs, and last month, it launched the Material Girl line from Madonna and her daughter, Lourdes.
Reardon says Macy's isn't specifically targeting artists for partnerships, but when it's part of a push for both brand and musician, it'll do it. "It's really about the product. I think those folks that have that real strong bent toward fashion, yes," she says. "For a bunch of musicians out there, fashion's not the most important thing to them. They just want to be musicians."
Even Elson says she isn't obsessed with fashion, though she thinks both can inspire each other to a point. "I'm certainly not going to write a song about Prada shoes and handbags."