Ken Downing is the Fashion Director for luxury department store Neiman Marcus. His job description requires him to jet set around the world to attend fashion shows in New York, London, Paris, and Milan, while constructing his famous “Ken’s Picks” edit, launching new Neiman Marcus ecommerce sites, interviewing designers for NMdaily and working with his buying team for the season to come. Even so, the ever-endearing Downing (no really, he’s a charmer) took a moment to sit down with us at the department store’s Scottsdale location to chat about his role at Neiman Marcus and his top trend picks in what will be a fashion filled two-part post!
SF: What does it mean to be the Fashion Director at Neiman Marcus?
KD: As fashion director, I am the global fashion ambassador and spokesperson. I do all of the magazine interviews and television interviews. I attend every fashion show front row, and I bring back to the company all the trends of the season. I guide the buying teams on what we are going to be buying for the season—what we believe in, and what you’ll be seeing in the stores.
I also work with the advertising team, the marketing teams, the visual teams to make sure that our fashion image and our trend image for the season is consistent through all the channels of the company.
SF: You do a lot as Fashion Director!
KD: I am the fashion Pied Piper. I set the tone and everyone follows my direction—but it is all very much a team effort. We’re an amazing team of people. I really kind of determine the look and the feel of the season. We actually start thinking about trends before we go to market, and I’m close with a lot of the fashion designers, so I have a sense of color, shape, and ideas. Then my own ideas from what’s happening in music, and museums exhibits, and what’s going on in the world of art and style.
SF: What does a day in the life of Ken Downing look like?
KD: Well, it’s usually going to an airport headed somewhere else. My role is very, very diverse. A lot of my time is spent in market with my buying teams. One of my offices is in New York and one of my offices is actually in Dallas where the flagship store is. So, part of my time is Manhattan and part of my time is in Dallas. My staff is actually in Manhattan so I spend a lot of time in New York. When I’m not in market or going to fashion shows and looking for the trends of the season, I am out in stores doing events. I do 15 plus personal appearances a season. I just returned from China. I was in Beijing and Shanghai where we just launched a neimanmarcus.com.cn business.
SF: What is your process? How do you go about choosing trends for any given season?
I’m big on a trend list, which really becomes a roadmap for the buyers early in the season and it also becomes the direction we give customers. I am very definitive. I like a very exacting idea, because there are so many fashion voices: newspapers, magazines, bloggers, the Internet, and retailers.
I like to put a very specific list of the newest and most important ideas in front of the customer. It gives them a roadmap of how they are going to build their wardrobe for the coming season. When I make that list I think, “Okay, today’s spring that we’re talking about, what did I say for fall? What did I say about spring a year ago? What for fall can possibly move into their spring wardrobe?” I think about where I’ve taken the customer and where I want to bring them with some newness and fresh ideas. I also think about conversations I have had with customers.
On the runway, I look at three levels: the obvious, what‘s trotting up and down the catwalk, there’s always that second layer of the trend that’s already been out there that is kind of cycling itself through, and I am very attuned to that new shape, that unusual color, something that tests the masses. That’s what I pay attention to, because that to me is pretty much a good nod of what’s going to be happening for the season to come. And certainly there are influencers, you know what Marc Jacobs puts down the runway influences everyone, what you see happen at Prada, she influences everyone, Raf Simmons at Dior, and now what Heidi Slimane is doing at Saint Laurent, all very influential designers, and even if you’re like “Oh I don’t’ follow anyone”…it’s in the air. It’s just out there.
Interview by Kristianne Young