5 Minutes With: Ken Downing

Friday 7th Feb 2014

I recently had the pleasure of spending some time with the wonderful, charming and terribly stylish Mr Ken Downing – Senior Vice-President and Fashion Director for luxury retailer, Neiman Marcus.

With a career that spans over 30 years, it’s fair to say that there’s nothing Ken Downing doesn’t know about fashion.

Last season alone saw him attending 115 shows and presentations in New York before heading off to London, Milan and Paris. In addition to this, he hosts more than 20 customer events within the 41 Neiman Marcus stores every year, often sharing the stage with Stella McCartney, Mary Kate & Ashley Olsen, Derek Lam, Zac Posen, Donna Karan and Olivier Theyskens to name just a few. And in his free time, he sits on the board of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation, nurturing new, rising talent.

Follow the link below to read Ken’s thoughts on style, trends, fast-fashion and the number of Virgos working in the fashion industry…

What a Woman Wants:
The one thing I look for in a collection is what a woman doesn’t already have in her wardrobe. A woman doesn’t need anything. As a retailer, should I be saying that? Maybe not. But it’s true. A woman doesn’t need anything but she wants something that will emotionally attract her. That will turn her on.

Peculiar vs Pretty:
I learnt early on that women want to look pretty, they don’t want to look peculiar. Pretty always wins.

At the end of the day, we are all 25. It doesn’t matter if you’re 17, 77 or 107. We all want to be 25 and I don’t mean that in a bad way.

Our customers feedback is so important. They share with me what they love, what they are not so interested in, what they are tired of. I bring that information not only back to our buying team, but to the designers as well. I think it’s easy for us in fashion to get caught up in that ivory tower and forget who the end user is.

What brought you to Australia:
You date the people that like you. Australians really love Neiman Marcus. Since we started shipping internationally, Australia just rose to the top of the rank of customers who are enthusiastic about our brand.

Runway fashion:
There are some crazy things that I see on the runway. They belong on the runway because the mystery of fashion is fantastic. The dream of the runway keeps us all going.

Fast fashion:
I’m actually thrilled that there is ‘high street’ shopping for young people who don’t have access to the most ultimate in designer fashion – I see it as whetting their appetite. Over time, you then see them migrate up to bigger brands. Does she ever leave Zara or H&M? I hope not. I think she should still have some charming, cheap and cheerful moments in her wardrobe.

What should we be buying:
Pink… from the palest pink to the most shocking. And what I’m really obsessed with is mixing the two together. The softest with the most intense, it makes it look new.

Yellow… is beautiful and is the most important colour on every runway.

White: is everywhere this season. Women often consider white a little fragile but try a little white dress (I call it the LWD). Its funny how black and white was once a classic and it’s now wildly contemporary.

Crisp white shirts… it can be fitted, it can be oversized, it can be a tunic, it could be tucked in. Wear it for day. Wear it with a great ball skirt and some great earrings or a gorgeous necklace.

Backpacks… The backpack speaks to a lot of the 90s referencing that was on the runway. I’m obsessed, obsessed, obsessed!

Mid heel shoes… when you wear a mid heel shoe, it takes the tartiness out of a short skirt.

Summer booties… I love the idea of an open booty for the summertime.

Cropped pants… there are so many great options.

Culottes… I never thought I’d say culotte again but I’m thrilled that I am.

Stacked bracelets… I saw them all over the runway. I especially loved them at Celine where Phoebe Philo did those great African/cubist looking pieces.

Artistic prints… The Brits have really brought prints to the forefront with designers like Christopher Kane. London used to be the capital of punk and now it’s a capital of print. They have really inspired the entire industry.

Big earrings… They take ten years off of you. I learnt that from my mother. She is 75. (oops, sorry mom!) She still wears enormous earrings everyday of her life and she does it with great, great style.

Designers to watch:
I’m insane for Joseph Altuzarra. Everybody in fashion knows who he is but I want more women outside of the fashion world to know about Joseph. I think he is such a huge talent. I’m also crazy about a young designer out of New York and contemporary, Jonathan Simkhai, who’s just super cute.

A proper lady never puts her arms in her sleeves. She should only wear a jacket over her shoulders.

Star signs:
I am an obsessive Virgo, like Tom FordStella McCartney and Karl Lagerfeld. There are a lot of Virgos in the fashion world. We’re very detail oriented. There are times I wish I wasn’t so detail oriented. I can see a dust ball 14 miles away.

The Fashion Industry:­
In high school, I lived between the pages of GQ and Vogue. I was a freak amongst all the other kids. But today it’s not just one girl in junior high that’s interested in fashion or some boy who wants to be a designer – now everybody wants to be in fashion. I always say as long as you want to do it because you love women and you want them to look amazing, great. If you’re doing it because you want to be a celebrity then you’re doing it for the wrong reason.


Shopping credits
1. Ashley Pittman’ Kuacha’ earrings, $355.50
2. 3.1 Phillip Lim ‘Pashli’ backpack, $1063.60
3. Stella McCartney shirt, $1010.10
4. Tory Burch ‘Audrina’ leather bow slide, $319.40
5. Monica Rose for Lovers + Friends ’Sophia’ culottes, $227.80
6. Balenciaga aviator sunglasses, $623.90
7. Christopher Kane ’Sequined Carnation’ sweatshirt, 1,687.50
8. Prada open-toe ankleb bootie, $825.80
9. Saint Laurent ‘Y-Ligne Cabas’ tote Bag, $2792.70
10. Michael Kors ’Logo-Plaque’ hinge bangle, $136.70
11. Kate Spade New York striped bangle, $116.50
12. Michael Kors bracelet, $112.90
13. MARC by Marc Jacobs ’Letterpress’ bangle, $61.80
14. 3.1 Phillip Lim cap-sleeve shirtdress, $564.50

Comment (1)

leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


[mc4wp_form id=”7171″]