bal harbour blog

Ken Downing Debuts His Runway Favorites for Spring 2014 at Neiman Marcus Bal Harbour


By Tali Jaffe

Ken Downing, Neiman Marcus’ Fashion Director and Senior Vice President, is a busy guy. When he’s not hopscotching across Europe and the U.S. for the collections, he’s visiting designer showrooms and traveling to far-flung cities to keep on top of the fashion pulse. This peripatetic pace—not to mention his well-honed eye—is just part of what positions Downing as one of the most influential voices in the fashion industry.

This week, Downing will make an exclusive appearance at Neiman Marcus Bal Harbour where, alongside a runway presentation, he will share his perspective for the Resort and Spring collections. We caught up with Downing to get a little preview of what’s caught his eye (hint, stock up on art prints) and what continues to keep him inspired and engaged every day.

Traveling all over the world as you do, which city were you most recently intrigued by in terms of style?
Shanghai and Sydney were exciting style cities. The runway awareness and fashion enthusiasm in Shanghai was fantastic. The streets are an amazing dichotomy of the past and the immediate present. Sydney's great weather and athletic attitude influences the style in the streets. Super savvy and sexy Australians everywhere you look in Sydney.

You've been with Neiman Marcus for more than 20 years. What keeps you inspired there?
What inspires me today is the same thing that inspired me when I joined Neiman Marcus 23 years ago. The excitement that surrounds every changing face of fashion, no day is every like the next. And the customer! Customers inspire me, educate me and keep me grounded to the reality of why I do what I do. You will never succeed in fashion if you forget about the customer. Without the customer, there is no industry. They are why I'm here.

In what ways has technology and media impacted the fashion industry?
Technology has changed fashion enormously. changed the industry with the ability to see the world of fashion at our desk top or in the palm of your hand. Technology has connected the world. Customers are watching live streaming fashion shows from their home or office while I am sitting front row around the world.

The ability to communicate fashion trends to my teams can happen in a nanosecond. The ability to engage the customer with educating and entertaining ideas about style trends and designers is endless. Not to mention is has created an entirely new business model. Making the shopping experience a 24 hour, 365 day a year, international opportunity. Social media has only helped create an enormous excitement around the world of fashion and helps tell the story of style to a huge audience.

With the access we all have now, it seems like the fashion audience is loaded with information like never before. How does that impact your job in staying a step ahead?
The world today has more fashion information than ever before. I love that so many people can participate in the world of fashion at so many levels. As a fashion leader to stay ahead, gut instinct leads me. My voice is decisive, definitive and always with great authenticity. I find an authoritative voice is welcomed in a world with so many that have something to say.

How do you feel about runway shows now, which seem to be driven by spectacle and the built-in Instagram moment?
The runway allows the designers to dream. The fantasy of fashion that will become the reality of a customers wardrobe. Fashion shows creates a moment in time, a moment defined by the sociological position of the world. A reflection of art, music, society. There are many opinions about the need and relevance of the runway show. Fashions shows are theatre, entertainment—they are story telling. The runway tells the seasonal story of the brand. It keeps the mystique of fashion alive. I love the ability to see the clothes come to life.

Do you think the retail experience is as important now given the digital marketplace?
The brick and mortar retail experience only complements the online experience—and vice versa. Physical retail stores help to tell a brands story and solidify its image. Many customers who shop in-store also shop online. The online experience allows our customers across the country and around the world to experience Neiman Marcus.

With a brand as large as Neiman Marcus is, you have to think about a broad audience. How do you introduce emerging brands that catch your eye to this audience?
New and emerging brands are important to Neiman Marcus and to the future of the world of fashion. New and emerging names and collections are introduced to customers through many channels. Social Media, Online and traditional print interviews and profiles and videos, in store personal appearances, collaborations, all help to ignite a new name in the industry. I am also involved with the Ecco Domani Fashion Fund and the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund with Anna Wintour, Diane von Furstenbeg and other industry greats to keep me in front of many new names and talents. Nurturing emerging talent is something that I enjoy enormously.

What do you think of the Spring's contemporary-art influenced trend, as seen at Prada, among others?
As a collector of contemporary art, I am a big fan of the contemporary art trend for the Spring season. It is one of my most absolutely favorite trends I saw on the runway and have made artistic prints one of my top 10 Trends for Neiman Marcus for the coming season.

Are there any designers whom you feel you've personally had a hand in launching or at least furthering their careers?
I have been at the beginning of many designers careers and always lend my support and guidance at every opportunity. It is not my style to take credit for anyone's success. My dear friend Victoria Beckham often credits me with her early success when she launched her collection. Victoria is a wildly chic and talented women, her success was inevitable.

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