How to Swag

Ken Downing Talks Fashion

A Q&A with Neiman Marcus fashion director and style guru.

By Kyle Kuhn May 24, 2016

Ken downing neiman burabu

Image via Neiman Marcus 

Fashion changes, evolves, and gets recycled. It doesn't fit into a specific mold; it's highly subjective and up to personal interpretation. Ken Downing however, knows exactly what fashion is, and when he sees it, he makes sure Neiman Marcus provides it to their customers (he's Fashion Director at the Dallas based, high-scale retail store). Downing likes to think that it's confidence he's helping to put in closets, because he feels it's one of the most important components to being fashionable. Learn about what it takes to be fashionable from a master of style. 

What are your responsibilities as fashion director? Do you select everything that goes into the stores? How involved with that process are you?

My responsibilities as Fashion Director for Neiman Marcus are varied and diverse. I am responsible for setting the tone and discovering the trends that we as a retailer will embrace each season. Guiding our buying teams to the most editorially significant looks and insuring that we fill our stores and online site with desirable and beautiful fashion is a constant quest. Traveling the globe to discover new and emerging talent, while sitting front row at the fashion capitols of the world, I look for the mood and attitude of the season. I am very involved in the buys, selecting advertising looks and pieces to be featured in marketing vehicles, but it would be impossible to select everything that is in our stores and online.

What is style/ fashion to you?

Style and fashion mean many things to me, and is an ever changing evolution. What was once great style can fall from favor, and from nowhere return. True style and real fashion sense come from confidence. Confidence is key, the attitude that you portray when you are wearing something says far more that the actual clothes themselves. I've always believed in putting confidence in a customer’s closest far before being concerned with a particular piece of fashion.

Without confidence, it's just clothes.

Does style constantly get re-used?

Fashion is certainly cyclical; our obsession with the past has been instrumental in defining the future of fashion. Retro rewinds, with the love of Seventies swagger, and currently the influences of David Bowie’s reinvention of himself as Ziggy Stardust during the Glam Rock/Glitter Rock movement are all proof that there is an appreciation for another time. The romantic references of the past mesmerize all of us, and are fertile for fresh ideas in fashion.

How is style evolving?

Game changing moments are always prevalent in fashion; currently we are in the midst of an enormous shift in attitude and mood about how we look at getting dressed. A newfound appreciation for an individual spirit with an eclectic and quite frankly eccentric style is everywhere, introduced first by the newly appointed Alessandro Michele at Gucci and most recently, Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga. The off-kilter cool that they present speaks to the global spirit and great desire to be an individual beyond a designer label. The influence goes beyond the clothes that are presented on the runways of the world; we are seeing a major shift in models that walk the ramp. Never before has fashion embraced such diversity of color, body type and personality of the runways! It's exciting to be in fashion at this pivotal moment.

What has changed in fashion compared to last year?

Fashions followers that are looking forward to what we were seeing proposed for last year will see a new love of gold in an opulent, over-the-top Ziggy Stardust style. Skirts have volume that will create movement and motion. Handbags and shoes create conversations covered in gems, jewels, embroidery and embellishments. Clashing creativity feels fresh and speaks to the off-kilter cool that has held my attention runway to runway.

What are people going to be wearing this summer?

Bold, bright, confident color, led by red is the message. White looks bright and right, and always fresh when the sun arrives for its premier this season. Sneakers are the footwear for everything, for him and her. An athletic attitude is the new cool, under a suit for him, paired with a lace dress for her. This summer opposites attract: think mix, not match.

Style comes from contrast, and summer is a great time to play with unexpressed mixes.

Is there anything that is trending that you find completely unfashionable? What?

It's funny the idea of something that's completely unfashionable today. I see so many people who look great, and as many that make no effort. It's less about "something" having no style as opposed to "someone" who has no interest in style. If you are engaged and an enthusiast of fashion, even the worst of ideas can be made magnificent.

In your opinion, what’s the cardinal sin of fashion?

Mixing with an eclectic, eccentric spirit is paramount; it's important to go all the way. Sometimes fear of making a bold statement makes style look weak and watered down. Always remember the importance of confidence, and that is also combined with my other favorite word comfort. If you feel comfortable in how you're dressed, you'll have confidence. I love the reality of the street and find as much inspiration on people I pass every day as I do on a runway. Own your look! Be yourself! You'll never go wrong.

Show Comments