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MILAN/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Clothing retailers and big-name fashion designers in the United States and around the world joined together on Friday in 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 and designed to jump-start the industry from recession and encourage shoppers to visit stores, is back for a second year. This time, the events are set in 100 U.S. cities from New York to Los Angeles, Houston and Miami.
Joining in are shops in Australia, Portugal, South Korea and Turkey, along with those in fashion centers who held events last year such as Britain, Italy, France, Greece, Russia, Brazil, India, Spain, China, Germany, Japan and Taiwan.
In Milan, tens of thousands of fashion-hungry shoppers and party-goers thronged the Italian fashion capital's small streets for a party on 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 supremo Giorgio Armani, who offered a live performance of British pop band Hurts.
London events featured actress Gwyneth Paltrow and model Claudia Schiffer helping to draw big crowds.
In New York, more than 1,000 retailers and brands including designers Diane von Furstenberg, Alexander Wang and Donna Karan were set to mingle with shoppers at in-store parties.
"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.
This year, stores were "challenged to think outside of the box and not just have a wine and cheese party," he added.
Taking that challenge, Valentino was hosting charity poker, Bergdorf Goodman planned karaoke and a best-in-show event with designers and their dogs, and Dolce & Gabbana shoppers can watch a dance by Naomi Campbell and other top models.
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 get free rides on a Ferris wheel in Los Angeles.
But while the night was aimed at turning around shoppers worn down by economic hard times, many retailers do not measure the precise economic impact of the event and some concede 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, which promotes marketing and tourism in the city, found 75 percent of shoppers bought something in a survey of 1,300 consumers.
Saks Fifth Avenue, which is hosting dance lessons with designers such as Zac Posen, has expanded the event to 34 of its U.S. stores.
"We were impressed by the response from customers," said Saks' chief executive Steve Sadove, calling it "a perfect way to kick off the fall season."
Designers can use "Fashion's Night Out" to help make fashion feel more accessible, Kolb added.
"Shopping can be intimidating to certain people," Kolb said. "So the truth is someone might not feel comfortable on Fifth Avenue walking into Bergdorfs, or they might think Barneys is a certain place that they shouldn't be in or couldn't afford.
"There is a great movement of fashion becoming more democratic," he said.
Additional reporting by Antonella Ciancio and Ilaria Polleschi in Milan; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton