Neiman Marcus fashion director Ken Downing's good news for spring means jewels,flats and no more granny wraps
When someone as fabulous as Ken Downing compliments you in the first five seconds of an interview, it’s a lovely surprise in the middle of your day. When you get to go behind the runway and see how Downing puts together a spring trend fashion show, well, your week is pretty much made. As the Fashion Director for Neiman Marcus, Downing is warm and engaging, calls the models “My love” as they are walking down the runway and rolls the names of French designer’s off his tongue as though he were saying “cat” and “dog.”
Downing sent Chanel, Zac Posen, Lanvin, Stella McCartney, Prada, Oscar de la Renta,Chloe, YSL and Valentino down the coral runway at the Galleria store, much to the delight of around 60 women who dressed up for the occasion and a smattering of men. Dressed in an on-trend Glen plaid skinny suit , he worked the runway like a pro, taking the audience along on a fashion adventure with him.
For spring, Downing is crazy for boho, floral, white, stripes and coral. Here are his thoughts on his five spring faves, along with tips on how to wear them well:
When I hear boho, I think the Olsen twins. I know they have quite the fashion rep, especially since they have their lines, Elizabeth & James and The Row, but boho always seems to be too much for the rest of us.
Downing’s solution to balancing all that volume is to add something streamlined. His pick? A structured white Le Smoking jacket over a layered skirt or dress. But don’t think you have to wear it traditionally. Downing had his models just rest the jacket over the shoulders.
“This makes boho more understandable for women,” Downing says. “I don’t believe in getting dressed and then taking two things off. I think you should add two things more. More is more, less is a bore.”
And to prove his point, the models donned head scarves, belts, long pendant necklaces, bracelets and bags. Long fluid pants also made their first appearance during the boho section of the show and there wasn’t a heel in sight. Flat sandals are the only way to wear the pants and if you stray from that style tip, be prepared for a firm reprimand from Downing.
Remember that compliment earlier? Downing said I looked great and he was so glad I was wearing the color of the season-coral. I chalk it up to a case of the fashion gods guiding my clothing choice that morning, since most days I wear black, black and just to mix it up a little, navy blue. (By the way, I love wearing black and navy together and Downing does too. Said it was very French and chic. I say merci!)
Downing encourages women to wear the bright hue and play with magenta, pink and red in accessories, shoes and other pieces of clothing. He paired a coral top with a magenta skirt and a red patent leather bag and a drop dead orange organza dress got a hit of rocker cool with a Givenchy animal print jacket. It’s bold for sure, but it’s also screams spring.
To this day, I hear floral, I think Laura Ashley. The '80s were a heady time for dropwaist floral numbers and I’m pretty sure I kept the company in business. Thankfully, floral prints have matured and, although still sweet, Downing made sure there was a little naughty with all that nice. Ladylike skirts and prim dresses were punched up with sexy, strappy heels and bold jewelry. Floral bags and shoes are another way to work flowers into a spring wardrobe.
“It’s nice to have a touch of the garden, but pair an aggressive shoe with florals,” Downing says.
Interestingly, Downing didn’t say one fashion no-no about stripes, which honestly, was refreshing. Instead, he brought out new ways to wear them. A long striped maxi sweater with cigarette pants and flat sandals was a hit, as was a navy and white striped Naeem Khan dress. You can also break up the stripes with long necklaces; Downing showed pewter strands of pearls.
White on White
Calling white part of the new neutrals, Downing was at his most conservative with a white tuxedo shirt and structured white trousers. He carried the tuxedo theme with a black-and-white shoe, but the whole feel was very light. The flat sandal retuned too, as did that structured white smoking jacket, over a formal gown. His love for the structured jacket goes beyond just trends, though. Downing has no tolerance for the ridiculousness that is a wrap of any kind. Instead, reached for embellished cardigans, slung over the shoulders for night time and heavily endorsed the flat sandal.
“I don’t believe in shawls. Between a cocktail and handbag, what’s a woman to do? They are always slipping off,” Downing said. “I like the flat sandal because a woman can dance the night away without her feet hurting.”
Clearly, Downing is a man who likes a good cocktail and an evening of merriment. He also eschews carrying a clutch under your arm or holding a hard-handled purse by the actual handle.
“It’s hot in Paris to carry your bag in your hand and if you have a larger bag, hold it under your arm like you would a small dog,” Downing said.
That just feels a little too Paris Hilton to me even though I know which Paris he was referring to. Apparently Parisian women also wear two watches simultaneously so they can plan when to open champagne. Now, that’s a French trend I can get behind. I’m pretty much open to anything involving bubbly.
From Paris to London, Downing credits Kate Middleton for bringing back gemstones like sapphires, rubies and diamonds. I, for one, never knew they went out of style, but I like his suggestion of mixing fine jewelry with costume pieces.
I like the way Downing says Chanel, emphasizing the “Cha” part, making it feel even more French, and how he speaks of Yves Saint Laurent with awe-inspiring reverence. But mostly, I liked his compliments. I’m thinking I need more coral in my closet.