The celebrity-studded night was designed to lure shoppers into stores for celebrity spotting, music, giveaways, food and drinks, and, of course, shopping. By early evening in New York, the basement beauty floor of Bergdorf Goodman was packed.
Madeleine Russell of Manhattan, wearing her FNO shirt from last year, got her nails done ahead of a long line. She attends FNO events every year.
"I'm inspired by all the fashion around me and I get my own ideas."
Like the FNO pro she is, Russell planned to head home from Bergdorf to put on makeup and her Manolo Blahniks to see Cyndi Lauper at the Blahnik store.
The event — launched in 2009 in New York by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour — has proven so popular that it's now a fixture in some 19 countries, over three weeks involving tens of thousands of shoppers.
In New York, Kim Kardashian was signing $123 gift sets of her perfume True Reflection at Lord & Taylor, while Nicole Richie and Jennifer Hudson promoted their new clothing lines at QVC and Lauper promoted her new musical, "Kinky Boots."
"Kim is the only person I put my life on pause for," said Aaron Ward, 26, a personal trainer from the Bronx who showed up at 4:30 p.m.
He bought the Kardashian perfume gift set for his mother and has purchased more than 50 other items from the Kardashian brand as gifts.
"I love Kim but I am not a girl," he added. "I am a Kim Kardashian curator."
Donna Karan schmoozed with Miss Piggy at the DKNY store on Madison Avenue, the pig in a black dress designed by Karan herself — fittings and all. The two fashionistas posed together with hunky New York City firefighters featured in the fire department's calendar, their ladder truck parked outside.
Michael Kors helped judge a karaoke contest with Debra Messing and Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover girl Kate Upton at his Madison Avenue store. He called Fashion's Night Out the trifecta: "It's starting the new season, you're excited to see what's in stores. You're reminded it's fun to shop and you can feel the energy."
At the nearby Ann Taylor store, bank worker Lenore Muller of Manhattan headed inside for a chance to be made over by stylist Mary Alice Stephenson and get counted among 50 women to pose in the store's windows for the crowds outside.
"We call it window glamming," Stephenson said.
Muller, in a Taylor top, is a regular shopper at the store. "I'm getting together with girlfriends and this is a reason to get together," she said.
At the Macy's in Herald Square, 38-year-old customer service rep Keisha Carter from Brooklyn picked up two shirts and a dress on sale, but she admitted she hadn't realized it was Fashion's Night Out — for the second year in a row! She said she enjoyed the energy.
"People are more helpful," Carter said. "There's a busy-ness feeling, even more than usual."
In the makeup department, Lorrin Lynn, 24, a CPA, got a free makeover at Bobbi Brown after buying her special FNO lipstick. She also went hunting for reality star Bethanny Frankel showing off her shapewear line in the intimates department and "Bachelorette" star Emily Maynard at the Benefit Cosmetics counter.
"It's fun to go out to the stores, see the trends, and there's free booze!" said Lynne, cruising the night with a friend for their second FNO.
By dusk in Paris, the luxury shopping district was awash with thousands of people — both the serious shoppers and those who just wanted to enjoy themselves.
"There are too many people here to buy clothes. But people get to know the brands, and buy another time. Today, it's all about fun," said Corine Marneffe, 50.
Chloe produced one of the best spectacles in Paris: A parade of dancing cheerleaders who descended in camp style from a Chevrolet truck.
In London, models Yasmin and Amber Le Bon (wife and daughter of Simon) were walking in a fashion show at the Westfield shopping centre along with Lizzy Jagger (daughter of Mick).
Does all the starpower and hoopla help at the register? "Ask me tomorrow," Max Azria said with a laugh backstage before his BCBG presentation at New York Fashion Week. He said it can't hurt to meet shoppers.
Stores across the U.S. are also holding events, though they're less star-studded. In Chicago, Saks Fifth Avenue will offer free cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and music; in Atlanta, Lenox Square Mall is giving out gift bags, will hold a fashion show at Banana Republic and offer makeup touch ups at Aveda. In Dallas, fashion shows were planned at Galleria Dallas and NorthPark Center, where the Neiman Marcus will show "The September Issue," provide snacks and a contest for a $2,500 gift card.
The event, timed for the first day of New York Fashion Week, also coincides with the final night of the Democratic National Convention. A Vogue spokeswoman said the event was planned a year in advance with thousands of retailers.
She added that Wintour is a supporter of President Barack Obama and noted that shoppers had five hours of events — plenty of time to get home to watch Obama speak if they wish.
"That's what Tivo's for," said Simon Doonan, the creative ambassador-at-large at Barneys.
NBG Productions analyst Brian Sozzi said Fashion's Night Out started inconspicuously but has gained traction over the years.
"It gets customers into stores in a non-peak hour after work and it gets them energized," he said. "It's a win-win for retailers who are piggy backing on Fashion's Night Out's own marketing so it's not a big investment for them."
On Twitter, Fashion's Night Out's hashtag, (hash)FNO, was one of the top trending keywords. Laura Ashley tweeted about goodie bags while designer shoe label Christian Louboutin shared a special Fashion's Night Out Spotify playlist.
Kelly Talamas, director of Vogue Mexico & Latin America, said that last year's Fashion's Night Out boosted local sales. For its second year, Fashion's Night Out Mexico more than doubled the number of participating stores, to 250 from 100 in 2011. FNO Mexico will also expand to the Mexican city of Guadalajara, where activities will be held Sept. 13.
"Mexico is one of the strongest countries in the fashion scene, there is knowledge about fashion and interest in shopping," Talamas told the AP. "All the brands representatives told us that they sold a lot. There were some who said to us: 'Wow, we sold more than ever! This has been the most successful day in the year,'" she said. Talamas added that those brands included Fendi and luxury watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre.
In Paris, Fashion's Night Out is also an opportunity for young fashion designers to showcase their work. Rising star Anthony Vaccarello — now a staple fixture of the Paris fashion-week calendar — moved into trendy boutique Colette for the evening to show off his new work. It included an exquisite one-shoulder white satin gown.
"Here in Paris it's about window shopping, looking, celebrating fashion. In New York, the emphasis is on purchasing. It's just two different styles of the same evening," said Vaccarello.
Associated Press writers Mae Anderson, Anne D'Innocenzio, Samantha Critchell and Leanne Italie contributed to this report from New York. Thomas Adamson contributed from Paris, Cassandra Vinograd contributed from London, Isaac Garrido from Mexico City and Jamie Stengle from Dallas.