An Interview with Ken Downing, Fashion Director of Neiman Marcus

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Photo Credit: The LeMarco Group
Seattle might seem a bit off the map for fashion compared to say LA or NYC, but truth be told some of fashion's biggest insiders hail from this West Coast City including Ken Downing, Fashion Director of Neiman Marcus, who grew up in the south end of Seattle. Mr. Downing was recently back in Seattle for a trend report and fashion presentation at Neiman Marcus Bellevue and I was oh so lucky to be invited to join him for an intimate conversation while he prepped for the presentation.

We sat down for a brief interview (my palms sweating, oops yes I did forget to turn on that recorder . . .) and I tried not to barrage him with every question I could think of during this once in a lifetime interview. He was oh so sweet to take the time to answer every question with thoughtfulness and intention, and we even had a laugh or two.

The fashion presentation and trend report the next day was so on point (photos of some of my favorites following the interview!) and now all I want to do is mix (not match!), add a guitar strap to every bag I own (or maybe just buy that Valentino!) and wear floaty off the shoulder dress from Chloe all summer long please!

Story of My Dress: Please tell us a little about yourself.

Ken Downing:  I’m from Seattle and was raised in the south end. Seattle doesn’t get a lot of credit for fashion, but since the age of 6 I’ve been obsessed with clothes. I don’t remember the toys, but I remember the clothes. I always knew I would end up in fashion and went to a design program at Seattle Central College. I’ve been with Neiman Marcus for 25 years.

SOMD: Can you tell me/us a little bit about what it was like to grow up in Seattle?

KD: Growing up in a City the furthest you could get from New York gave (me) the drive to get there.  I would look up at the moon in Burien and think that people in New York were looking up at the same moon. I desired so much to get out of here. I now have a great appreciation for things beyond the runway and beauty at every level.  Seattle made me very grounded and a love for handcraft and natural beauty. (The) enormity of diversity (in Seattle) afforded me the eyes and lens to see the world.

SOMD: Did you always know you wanted to be in fashion?

KD: Yes. It was not a very common cry of a young boy. Fashion was very much a velvet rope, there is a lot more access today. I always wanted to be (in fashion) but wasn’t sure if I could make it. Fashion is much more in the conversation today. At a young age (I) wasn’t sure if (I) could make it, now you can be who and what you want to be.

SOMD: What is your day-to-day like as Fashion Director of Neiman Marcus?

KD: I live on an airplane and spend a lot of time at Market (fashion shows, show rooms). The role is varied and I am on the go constantly. Whether I am in a New York showroom or in Chicago at a fashion show I am setting the tone the company (Neiman Marcus) follows and each season I ensure consistency of the Neiman Marcus brand. I am also part of the CFDA and spend a lot of time looking for new and emerging designers. I also travel internationally whether to China to meet clients or Australia (which has a large Neiman Marcus client base).

SOMD: Do you have any items you are currently coveting from Neiman Marcus?

KD: Chloe everything right now.  Designers who are showing off-kilter cool, (such as) focusing on mixing more important than matching.

SOMD: What role do you think fashion plays in society?

KD: If engaged in fashion, it plays a huge role in life. If not interested it has no impact. It has nothing to do with being wealthy or not, if not interested just not interested. Things that happen affect what we wear. We will see lots of references to Prince in future collections. We’re also having a big 70’s moment right now with protesting and recycling the swagger of the 70s.

SOMD: At what point do you decide if a trend on the runway will work for consumers?

KD: Eyes never lie and (I) feel it in the heart and gut. You see something and know it’s right.  I travel the country and do instore appearances, I’m always thinking about the customer.

SOMD (via Blogger @ObsessedbyPortia ): What is your #1 favorite trend this season?

KD: Off-kilter cool.  Nonconventional beauty suchs as Gucci and Balenciaga.

SOMD: What were your favorites from the recent a/w 2016 runways and what do you forecast as the biggest trends for next season?

KD: Gucci’s melding of 30’s/40’s and 80’s/90’s. Balenciaga in Paris. Proenza Schouler in New York. Karl Lagerfield always puts on a great show.

SOMD: What do you see as the biggest changes coming to the fashion world in the future?

KD: Not so much about the designers and how you dress, more about the digital era. People are following fashion shows in real time. Seasons don’t matter anymore. Customers don’t know if they’re looking at fall or spring. It’s time for the industry to re-calibrate itself and find a way to make the digital era an asset and not a liability. And keep the customer engaged and satisfied. Also a continuation of a love of diversity. The diversity of models on the runway has been super impressive and opening the door. It’s not about looking like an anonymous model but about celebrating people around the world.

SOMD: How do you think Bloggers have impacted fashion? What role do you see them playing the future?

KD: Bloggers have had a positive impact and opened the conversation. Bloggers have brought a lot of reality and a different lens than an editor, fashion writer, critic, etc. People follower bloggers they relate to and bloggers have brought a reality to fashion.

SOMD: What advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in fashion?

KD: Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t, but you also have to work hard. Take the opportunity to do anything (intern, assist) and gain knowledge. Try to learn something new every day. Keep eyes and ears wide open.

- - -

Thanks so much to Neiman Marcus and Ken Downing for the interview!

Photography: annie b/STILLS (*unless otherwise noted)

Style Tip: "Do not fear the mix. I don't want to you to think about matching, I want you to think about mixing!" - Ken Downing

Style Tip: Add a Guitar Strap to your favorite bag. or just buy this Valentino.

Must Have: This Chloe Dress is perfection. Lace, Off the Shoulder, Perfect for Summer!

Must Have: Star Struck in Chanel.

*affiliate links


  1. I really enjoyed this interview with Mr. Downing. Quite the inside story!