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Fashion Fête:

January 15, 2012

Ken, Doll!

Neiman Marcus’ Fashion Director Ken Downing Schools ATL on Spring Trends

By Nancy Staab

  • Photos by

It’s like a breath of rarefied fashion air, when the boundlessly energetic Ken Downing swoops into town for a “resort report” runway show of spring fashion trends on Neiman’s pink carpet

Co-chairs Marjorie Harvey, Millie Smith and Laurie Ann Goldman with Ken Downing Co-chairs Marjorie Harvey, Millie Smith and Laurie Ann Goldman with Ken Downing




















The VIPs

Co-hosts Laurie Ann Goldman, Marjorie Harvey and Millie Smith, Neiman Marcus Atlanta GM Mark Fillion, and VP and Fashion Director of Neiman Marcus Ken Downing

The Venue

Neiman Marcus Atlanta at Lenox Square

The Highlights

Neiman’s hosted a champagne reception and fashion show of spring trends narrated by the exuberant and very quotable Ken Downing. Among the admiring crowd of fashion dolls: Charlene Crusoe-Ingram, Ginny Brewer, David Goodrowe, Emily Amy, Aida Flamm, Debbie Neese, Sissy Butler, Corrie Jones, Kristen Lattimore, Carole Weaks, Amy Nelson, Eileen Rosencrants, Susan Hurt. As for some of the trends on show, think:  color-blocking, scuba-chic, hot pink and other day-glo colors, an explosion of prints, what Downing terms “fancy pants” in bright colors or prints, flapper fringe and spring’s must-have silver shoe.  Read below for more on the Fashion Tao of Mr. Downing.




Neiman Marcus Fashion Director Ken Downing Neiman Marcus Fashion Director Ken Downing















By Nancy Staab

Downing dishes about SJP, Rachel Zoe, Mad Men style, his stylish Seattle-bred Mum, the Royal Wedding and fancy pants

“I just did an interview with Derek Lam for our resort book. I’ve also interviewed Olivier Theyskens and the designer from Erdem…I’m becoming a journalist!” says Kevin Downing  by way of introduction to this journalist for our exclusive LuxeCrush interview. The occasion: a much-anticipated appearance by Ken Downing for a spring/resort runway show in Atlanta.  I had formal questions planned for the VP and Fashion Director of all of Neiman Marcus, but it turns out that Downing is a high-octane fashion ambassador, who scarcely needs a prompting to talk about his first love: fashion. All I had to do was turn on the spigot and follow the flow of his funny fashion witticisms and newsy gossip. For example, Downing said he also recently enjoyed lunch with Sarah Jessica Parker for a Marie Claire event (though he’d met her once before at Valentino’s farewell Rome gala).

Downing proclaimed SJP “lovely, elegant, chic. She’s what you hoped she would be, and very conversational, we talked about books…she’s always reading,” he enthuses.

The tall, blonde fashion ambassador Ken Downing may have hailed from the not-so –fashion-famous Seattle, but he credits his stylish parents for instilling him with sartorial sense. The way he describes it, they could have stepped straight off the set of Mad Men. His impeccable mother Karen was his fashion touchstone with her wigs and costume jewelry collection. “I find that I reference the things she wore and her design credos (such as: ‘At the end of the day, pretty trumps peculiar’) to this day,”  says Downing. In fact, he says he quotes her so often in the editorial pieces that he pens for the Neiman Marcus books that customers always inquire about her and he’s planning to profile her in his next Mother’s Day issue. “Both she and my father had great personal style. They had four boys and I was the only one with the fashion bug. My parents loved antiquing, flea-marketing, nice homes and looking fashionable. I thought my mom was Jacqueline Kennedy for many years--same hair, same clothes, ” jokes Downing. He sighs, “There was such a grooming expectation back then…” 

When I point out the contrast to today, Downing concurs. “It’s interesting when someone does make the effort with hair and makeup. It stands out. Not that we want to go back to the glove and hat era, but still…”

50’s fashion reveries aside, Downing has much to be enthusiastic about in the spring/resort runway trends for 2012.

“We’re showing lots of precious jewelry mixed with costume jewelry. I love the mix. I say it’s like the good girl/bad boy mix. They shouldn’t go together but they do. Everyone wants to date the bad boy!” 

Continuing, he says “The jewelry is all about the dramatic earring—a very elongated earring like the rhinestone ones of the 50’s and colored stones for everything. Go big or go home is my philosophy about jewelry, and don’t save those diamonds for after dark..."

“I am also loving all the whimsical sunglasses this season, which are very quirky and conversational, either cat eye glasses or very colorful or embellished shades—almost a nod to vintage. You should even wear them at night. They have an Old Hollywood glamour feel.” As for shoes, Downing says Mad Men is still influencing design trends, to wit, “the return of the sexy pump, the prepared coif and the fit-to-the-body clothes.” And “There’s a continuation of ladylike chic with matching manicure and lip color with shoe and bag.” And what bag to bag this season? “This spring is all about the clutch,” says Downing. “The double-handed, structured bag of fall has been replaced by the box clutch or oversize envelope clutch.” And whereas “fall was all about the Bordeaux, wine and rose colors, spring is about brights like hot pink and also yellow--whether you wear it head-to-toe or as one pop of color.” Not only that, says Downing, but “we are seeing color with color, a continuation of the color-blocking from fall…”

“There’s a big Art Deco movment in fashion right now,” observes Downing. “It’s inspired in part by the Stein Family Collection of Matisses, Picassos, etc. now showing in Paris at the Palais Royal, which happily celebrates Gertrude Stein’s art collection, not her fashion style! "

"...Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming remake of The Great Gatsby is also fueling this 1920’s trend.” Think: beaded camisoles, long ropes of pearls, ostrich feather trim, fringe, the flapper dropped waist…

Asked about Neiman Marcus’ decision to carry stylist Rachel Zoe’s inaugural fashion collection, Downing says, “Rachel and I are friends. And we share the same birth date. We are both Virgos. I remember we were at a fashion show recently and we saw something that didn’t exactly enamour us, we exchanged knowing glances and she looked at me and asked ‘what sign are you?’  Virgos are very obsessive and they like everything perfect.” Downing says he got the first preview of Zoe’s collection when it was still just sketches and swatches and later, he hosted a cocktail party at his home in Dallas for her personal appearance at Neiman Marcus Dallas.

He says of Rachel Zoe, “She’s so driven and committed to the collection. She has inherent great style, a definite point of view and a massive vintage collection in her studio that inspires her."

"...There’s possibly a Zoe jewelry line coming down the pike..she loves big, bold jewelry like I do.”  In the end Neiman Marcus decided to carry Zoe’s collection in all 41 of its stores, which Downing says is “unprecedented.”

Of his own role as fashion director, Downing, who flits tirelessly from one fashion week to another in NYC , Paris, Milan, etc.; oversees the Neiman Marcus catalogue shoots and content; and determines, along with his team, what fashions the stores will carry, describes his job as “very collaborative” and considers himself “ like a grand editor.” Says Downing, "Our fashion client is very fashion curious, it is part of my job to put things out there that our client doesn’t know they want yet.” But, Downing says he refrains from being too outré in terms of fashion picks, citing his mom’s credo: “at the end of the day pretty trumps peculiar.”


Other Notable Downing Quotables:


 “This season is all about bold, bombastic color-especially shocking pink! 


“Zebra is the new wild animal in your fashion kingdom.”


“The tailored jacket paired with a more flowy chiffon dress is the new twin-set”


“Tom Ford’s silver shoe is wildly important this season”


“I am big into pins and brooches now. I was watching the Royal Wedding this year, it was all about the pins, the fascinating hats and the bad hair…”


“What I call ‘fancy pants’ is also an important trend…these are colorful or patterned pants.”


“My philosophy on jewelry is that ‘more is more.’ Whoever said to ‘get dressed and then take one thing off’ is not in fashion…I say, throw on five more things and walk out the door!”


“If you can’t see your earrings from two blocks away…go home.”


“Do we wear sparkle and shine in the daytime…You bet we do! I learned that from my mom who said, ‘why waste the sunshine?’ ”


“Turquoise is the leopard print of jewelry…there’s nothing that doesn’t go with it and if you absolutely insist on wearing PJ’s on the airplane….turquoise goes with that too.”


“Yellow is the new neutral.”


“The white shoe was once considered a little ‘wrong side of the track’ but fashion makes the rules and breaks the rules…this season the white shoe is back.”


“No one cuts a dress like Roland Mouret”


“Be bold and mix stripes and florals because your neighbors are watching and looking to you as a fashion director. Go ahead and mix prints—no one will die!”


“I always tell my Northern clients, you’ve got to meet my girls from the South because they’ve figured it out,” says Downing about the Southerner’s penchant for wearing diamonds in the daytime.


Crush Notes

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