SAN DIEGO–Neiman Marcus fashion director Ken Downing recently stopped by the department store’s Fashion Valley location in San Diego to give a small crowd of loyal customers a tutorial on spring trends. (Hint: coral is the color of the season.)
But between summery looks from Dries Van Noten, Chanel, Gucci and more, he chatted with us about Tom Ford’s “spectacular” womenswear collection, sticking with Dior and why he may chase you down and steal your shoes.
Fashionista: I know you’re here to talk about spring, but the industry’s already onto fall.
Ken Downing: (Laughs) I’m done with fall, I’m moving on to resort!
How’s your fall buy going?
Our fall buy is done and it looks terrific. We’ve just put our pre-fall book together, which is so exciting, since in fashion, we’re always six months ahead. I’m already working on resort and thinking about what I want to see for resort collections, but the fall buys look great. We believe very much in this ladylike chic that’s everywhere. I’m loving color blocking, be it blocked fabric together or the idea of a magenta blouse, a plum pant and a cranberry shoe. I think that idea of considering colors, how they go together and blocking them within a wardrobe is super chic. We saw fur throughout all of the collections. And a lot of leather-–a woman’s going to absolutely have to have leather pieces in her wardrobe. I’m all about the sexy pump, so you’ll find a lot of them at Neiman Marcus and handheld handbags, and the bordeaux lip. It’s all about the bordeaux lip. I’m also loving big, bold, shiny gold jewelry. And many times, decorated with colorful gemstones. Ever since William has given Kate his mother’s ring with that emerald trimmed in diamonds, we’re seeing designers really embracing the idea of colorful gemstones again, so a lot of emeralds, sapphires, rubies. But big, gold and shiny jewelry’s going to be the accents for ready-to-wear this season.
Did you drop Christian Dior for fall?
We have not dropped Dior for fall. The house of Dior will go on. It’s unfortunate about the situation with John Galliano, but I have to respect very much how the house of Dior handled it and the house of Dior has been going forward for a very long time and it will have a continued success.
What were your favorite fall collections?
I was really happy to see a lot of the messages on the spring runways redeveloping and moving forward, so as we got to New York, I have to say, I loved Donna Karan–the idea of this very polished, lady-like spirit, so influential as we went on through the entire fashion cycle. Marc Jacobs, who I just think is a brilliant gentleman, who brings so much—that whole idea of an insane asylum and that we were sitting in that padded room and the fact that he went dotty with so many polka dots. And Proenza Schouler. I think Jack and Laz bring a lot to the New York fashion scene. Those were three of my favorite collections in New York.
And moving on to London, I’m a big fan of Christopher Kane and Christopher Bailey for Burberry and all the amazing outerwear he did. And also Erdem, a Canadian designer who works out of London and does these really beautiful prints that he creates on the computer; he took the idea of digitalized tweed and made it look like flowers, and the color palette was really exquisite.
I also got the chance to see the new Tom Ford collection, and, actually, Neiman Marcus will be carrying Tom Ford as we go into the fall season, so we all had private appointments where we were able to see the collection. It is as spectacular as you would imagine it to be. It’s nice that Tom’s back in the world of women’s ready-to-wear. He’s wildly influential and does amazing menswear, amazing fragrances, amazing beauty collection, but he’s now back into the world of women’s ready-to-wear. He just launched, for his boutiques, his spring collection, but we’ll be buying fall. We’re one of his retail partners, and the clothes were absolutely out of this world!
What were your favorite pieces?
He did this sheer tulle magenta dress and on top of it was a goat chubby, and the chubby went from blonde goat hair, then from pale red to deep red. He actually dyed top of the fur coat the same blonde color as the model’s hair, so her hair actually melted into the hair of the fur. Leave it to Tom Ford to be so specific!
And then when we got to Milan, I’m a huge fan of the design team of Aquilano.Rimondi. Wildly chic, a very late ‘50s, early ‘60s take on haute couture. And, interesting again, fabric details that went from a woven fabric and then a bit of a nubby wool that melted into fur. And also at Prada, where Miuccia Prada gave us this kind of riff on the 1960s as well. It’s interesting that there was this very ‘70s moment happening for spring, and we’re seeing ‘70s move forward into fall, but a lot of designers also looking at the late ‘50s, early ‘60s. And then Paris, I loved Dries Van Noten, and Chanel was a real standout. Karl went to this very dark moment, where everything was either black or black and grey, and playing with shadow, which was very interesting. An amazing presentation, but also the clothes were just spectacular. I’m also a huge fan of Haider Ackermann. I’ve been following Haider for some time, and we sell him at Neiman Marcus, but he’s getting a lot of play right now, since Karl named him one of his favorite designers! To get the approval and the stamp from Karl Lagerfeld means a lot.
It’s been a really good season, so I’m excited about what we’re going to be seeing for fall. The color palette is what I’m really most passionate about. All of this cranberry, bordeaux, wine, even deep purples that mix back to bright magenta, which is a continuation of spring. I’m calling it “wine and roses.” I did see interesting mixes of peacock and jade green, which I have my eye on. I feel like we’re going to see a lot of it as we go into the resort collections: jade jewelry, emerald jewelry, and then jade green in a lot of ready-to-wear.
Also, this idea of the return of the sexy pump: a lot of single-soled pumps on the runway this season. Not that platforms are going away, because women love a platform, but on runways, a lot of pointy-toe pumps, again, addressing this ladylike spirit of the entire season. It’s also a bit of a Mad Men moment. Everyone’s obsessed with that show! We’re seeing that strict pencil skirt, a lot of sculptured jackets, the hair is very coiffed and the makeup has a lovely definition to it. Even the idea of a manicure and a lip matching. We’ve always been told, never match a handbag to a shoe, but now matching looks good again. You can actually have a shoe and a handbag that matches. We’re even seeing the return of a dress and a matching coat. It could be a wool dress with a wool coat, or a dress with a lining of a wool coat matching the dress. Very old school, but very modern.
Do you think this might be a response to spring’s flat sandal?
The flat sandal is so important for the spring season, because of all the maxi dresses, the maxi skirt and that wide pant. I’m telling women, if I see a high heel with a maxi skirt or a wide pant, I’m going to chase you down and steal your shoes! They have to wear a flat. I actually like the idea of a wedge under a maxi skirt, with also with that wide pant, you can do a wedge. You really need a solid foundation under this more voluminous bottom half of the body.
Changing the subject to blogging and Neiman Marcus’s new blog, will you be blogging on NM Daily often?
Whenever I have a moment and they ask me to do it. Blogging is a lot of work! (Laughs) I was one of the first fashion directors to be blogging. I was blogging for three seasons, and I wasn’t sleeping! I was up ‘til three and four in the morning getting my blog material together. So I’m a contributor on the NM Daily and I do all of my own writing. I do email blasts for customers and that sort of thing, so any time you read anything that says it’s from me, it actually is from me. I don’t have copywriters that do my work for me, because my voice is so specific and so many customers know me, they would be able to tell if was not my voice.
A couple more random questions: Would you wear the Prada “flatform” creepers?
A: For myself? I am 6’3”! What am I going to do with them? They would make me [at least] 6’6”. I’ve seen a lot of gentlemen in Paris wearing them. I think it’s a super cool shoe, but I do not need any height.
What was the first designer item you ever bought?
The first designer items I bought were a Perry Ellis sweater and a Calvin Klein suit. I’m a product of the ‘80s, so I worked very hard to buy a lot of designer clothes in high school.