New York stores were jammed Thursday for Fashion's Night Out, where shoppers rubbed elbows with celebrities — sometimes quite literally.
Amateur photographers jockeyed with paparazzi to get pictures of Victoria Beckham and stood on banquettes to get a glimpse of "Top Chef" host Padma Lakshmi. The hope was that the event, a brainchild of Vogue Editor Anna Wintour, would help at the cash register during New York Fashion Week, which opened Thursday.
"It's a nice night. We're tired of waiting until the recession ends," said Stuart Weitzman.
The shoe designer played pingpong with customers at his store, and confessed that as a former high school pingpong champion, he was a bit of a ringer. "It relaxes me. I play two or three times a week."
Security had to close off Bergdorf Goodman's seventh floor, where Lakshmi judged a cook-off between designers including Cynthia Rowley — who made tipsy tomatoes, described as "upscale Jello shots" — and Peter Som, who made panko-fried oysters.
The winner: Lela Rose, the crowd favorite for her corn crepe topped with lobster and cilantro salsa.
"There are far more people than I was expecting, but I should have known everyone would want to meet Padma," said Linda Fargo, fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman.
The store's elevators were overflowing and women wore cocktail dresses as they snapped up hors d'oeuvres and drinks in the lobby. The Olsen twins served cocktails and Beckham posed for pictures.
"I was not expecting this type of turnout," Lakshmi said. "I was just hoping the room would be full."
Outside Tiffany & Co., all lit up in blue, people lined up for a coffee cart on the street. Inside were a DJ and Vogue editors offering styling assistance.
At Bendel's, women lined up to have red lips drawn on by Gucci Westman, Revlon's global artistic director. Eric Damon, costume designer for "Gossip Girl," helped shoppers choose accessories and posed for photos with them.
"I'm helping girls mix and match, over-accessorize and overindulge," he said.
It was difficult to judge the impact of the event — held at stores all over the city. Justin Timberlake was making an appearance at Saks, Charlize Theron at Dior, Kate Hudson at Stella McCartney. Oscar de la Renta was singing to loyal customers. Wintour herself made an appearance at a Macy's in Queens.
But everywhere, people said the event brought something much-needed back to fashion: fun.
"Fashion has been so flat. The party element hasn't been there," said Terri Coleman, partner in the brand Tuccia, who made custom sandals at Henri Bendel's in 30 minutes or less for a steady stream of clients.
"This gives them a reason to have fun."
Some shoppers jumped at the chance to spend. Keith Carollo, 37, said he bought a $250 Proenza Schouler wallet and a second copy of a book he already owns by Ruben and Isabel Toledo so that he could have each signed by the designers at Barney's.
"I've been super excited. I'm a very big fan of fashion," he said.
But others came just to see celebrities.
"Tonight is a browsing night," said Jessica Evans, 27, who went to Bergdorf to see Lakshmi and the Olsen twins. "It's a little too crazy, but I will come back."
One person, at least, was in the mood to shop — Victoria Beckham: "Because I'm in New York, FAO Schwarz and toys for the kids."