Forget Black Friday, it's "Fabulous Friday" to South Coast Plaza.
The high-end shopping center plans extra concierges armed with complimentary bottled water and added valets to ease crowded parking lots.
Preferred customers and media can sip cappuccinos and champagne as part of an invite-only "Holiday Suite" in the "penthouse," a luxury area that includes storefronts for the likes of Christian Louboutin and Oscar de la Renta.
But Black Friday implies deals, not luxury, and while major savings may be found at departments stores, such as Sears and Macy's, which will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, many of the center's famed designer retailers have no plans to welcome visitors before official mall hours start at 8 a.m. Friday.
Buying a purse at, say, Burberry the day after Thanksgiving may have no added benefit over buying it any other day, so if preferred customers stop by the Holiday suite on Fabulous Friday, it will have to be for another reason.
Announcement of the annual affair at South Coast Plaza came wrapped in a gold bow with the mall's 2013 holiday portfolio, featuring samples of "luxurious holiday fashion" from the likes of Miu Miu, Prada, Max Mara and Cartier.
The media packet's cover presented a $4,245 clutch by Valentino. On the invitation itself, black-and-gold lettering heralded an extravagant event, as if to ask: Why not come on a festive day to see it?
Fabulous Friday appeals to customers of all spending ranges, and all stores get their fair share of business, said Debra Gunn Downing, the center's executive director of marketing.
"It's a great, fun tradition, and we gear up for it in a big way every year," Downing said.
And though the luxury goods get much of the attention, discounts will surely abound at South Coast Plaza stalwarts like the Gap, Brookstone, Microsoft and Nordstrom.
Fashion Island's plans
Just across city limits, visitors to rival Fashion Island will have shopping bags in hand Friday — and not just from stores that offer discounts, said Stacie Ellis, marketing director for Irvine Co. Retail Properties.
Much of the Black Friday experience consists simply in waking up early and getting in the mood for Christmas, regardless of whether Kate Spade marks the whole store half-off, Ellis said.
"The reality is, Black Friday is becoming more than just, 'Oh, it's a deal' day,'" she said. "To me, Black Friday at 8 a.m., it's that feeling of Christmas has begun."
Some opportunity for designer deals still may be found. A "pop-up closet" at Fashion Island will be on display with packages valued at $2,000 each from 10 retailers, including flashier names like Vince, where a sweater might ring-in at more than $400.
Anyone who spends more than $250 on Black Friday can also enter to win a $10,000 shopping spree, which could be spent at any store among the Irvine Co.'s three malls — Fashion Island's Kate Spade included.
But at Fashion Island, like South Coast Plaza, most stores open at 8 a.m. Friday, with more affordable options like Forever 21, ULTA Beauty and Macy's proving the exceptions by getting a head-start at 8 p.m. the night before. Another wave, including Urban Outfitter and Victoria's Secret, will open at midnight.
The emphasis for the Irvine Co. will remain on the Irvine Spectrum Center, which gets the most traffic — 20,000 people arrived between midnight and 4 a.m. last year — for Black Friday among their properties.
"The stores that cater to that audience are going to open," Ellis said, "but the luxury stores, they meet what their market demand is."