We all have this experience—sometimes you look forward to a special occasion and, having built it up so much in your mind, end up disappointed. That never happens with Ken Downing!
KING OF FASHION IN KING OF PRUSSIA: One of my favorite photos of Ken Downing and me, snapped by my dear friend Ellen, after one of his fabulous fashions shows
It is no secret, I have been in love with this man for years—and hundreds of women across the country are in love with him too! Senior vice president and fashion director for Neiman Marcus, Downing is one of the most influential people in the business, setting and defining trends internationally. His name is synonymous with “fashion.” If you have a NM charge, you know it from his chatty emails. I was privileged to meet with him after his wonderful “Art of Fashion” show at Neiman’s King of Prussia, benefitting the Abramson Cancer at the University of Pennsylvania, a world renown facility in the forefront of cancer research and treatment.
SEPARATED AT BIRTH: Ken Downing or David Bowie? Ken charms us on the runway, looking a lot like the great rock star, while channeling Bowie’s iconic rock star/glam to perfection!
Charming. Witty. Debonair. Long and lanky, he could be the “separated-at-birth” twin of the late rock icon David Bowie, by coincidence also a key image for the glam/rock look of summer. Downing’s got an amazing eye and razor-sharp repartee to match. I am always enchanted. This is the man who ignites fashion desire, even when we need nothing. This is one man who knows what women want.
TREND REPORT: Ivory satin shirt, coral satin slit skirt & tweed boucle jacket; multi-color floral brocade shirt, skirt & jacket, all at Neiman Marcus. All runway photos by Andre Flewellen.
Ken’s job is not only to see first-hand what waltzes down the runways of Paris, Milan, New York, and shows around the globe, but to interpret the latest trends for his customers. “My job is to find clothes that make women look good. That seems so simplistic, but it’s completely true.”
THAT 70’S SHOW: Black leather studded motorcycle jacket, studded black full-length fringed top & black leather pants; embroidered studded denim vest, peasant top & embroidered jeans, all at neimanmarcus.com, photos by Andre Flewellen
As the show begins, we see this is indeed true. Though Ken layers and layers, he is teaching us trends; the show comprises beautiful, wearable clothes. One look more stunning than the next. The 70’s still reign, but summer feels more punk rock than Studio 54. Following the tumultuous political arena, as well as passions of women across the country, these clothes have “attitude.” They have edge. A little Madonna, a little Mamas & Papas, a little Debbie Harry. Kind of rebellious. Motorcycle jackets, bigger shoulders, grommets and studs, all worn with ruffles and flounces, patchwork, and peasant blouses.
WHAT WOMEN WANT: Multi-colored embroidered black jumpsuit & matching jacket; b/w striped top & collar, b/w striped pants, and ivory boucle long cardigan, all at neimanmarcus.com, photos by Andre Flewellen
Ken’s mantra is “effortless chic.” Bold color looks clean and fresh, flattering to all, especially with a touch of a tan. Wear it with white, cream, and of course sand. Try olive, the newest neutral. Metallics continue to be huge, again worn with white. Pinks into shades of red look gorgeous, like a valentine. Picture the sun rising over the beach. That’s your palette.
GET YOUR STRIPES: Bold striped satin ballskirt & jacket with matching navy corset top; powder blue striped ruffled top, ivory pants & powder blue jacket, all at Neiman Marcus, photos by Andre Flewellen
You must have stripes. Following the empowerment trend, the flipside of punk rock is military/nautical. Look for bold stripes and big buttons on jackets, blouses, pants, and flowy dresses. Rather than a tunic, go for a striped shirt. An easy update for your summer wardrobe.
DETAILS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE, “DON’T WORRY ABOUT BANGLES CLANGING:” An array of bangles from lagos.com; No. 21 emerald velvet mules from bergdorfgoodman.com
Details make your look special. You’ll find lots of beading and embroidery, lots of pearls and studs. The perfect shot of sparkle. Not shiny, but shimmering. Armfuls of bracelets, layers of pendants and chains. My favorite quote of the evening: “Don’t worry about your bangles clanging. Better bangles clanging than no bangles at all!” Don’t you love that?
THE WAY TO WEAR PANTS: Catherine Zeta-Jones in a Tom Ford white tuxedo in NYC; white silk jumpsuit from tomford.com
Pants are huge; jumpsuits are huge. There was not a sheath dress on the runway—I came home and put all of mine in the back of my closet. Instead, go for a chic pant with a block heel or flat sandal. The newest are high-waisted, wear them with floaty, ruffly blouses and ropes of beads and chains. Add chunky sandals, lots of big jewelry and you are dressed.
TO SIR WITH LOVE: Ken Downing lecturing to students at Drexel University; previewing the James Galanos Collection at the Robert & Penny Fox Costume Institute at Drexel, the exhibit will be on display in the fall
The next morning, Neiman’s was kind enough to invite me to watch Downing lecture to students at the Antoinette Westphal School of Design, in addition to previewing the upcoming designer James Galanos exhibit, at the Robert & Penny Fox Costume Institute, both at Drexel University. Always my favorite morning! Imagine being a fashion design or merchandising student, and having the king of fashion teach your class. Warm and engaging with the students, he talked of “envisioning trends, creating desire, and connecting with clients, while knowing your business and staying true to who you are.” Totally different crowd; totally enchanting once more.
“FASHION IS INCLUSIVE, EMPOWERING & EMOTIONAL!” Super model Iman, now 60+ and gorgeous as ever, in a Brandon Maxwell jumpsuit in NYC; one of an array of Gucci handbags that I have “fallen in love with,” and yearn for, at gucci.com
I was able to steal a few minutes for chitchat and gossip. So what’s new in Ken’s world? “Clothes and shopping have become very emotional and empowering,” Ken remarked. “The fashion world is now extremely inclusive—every runway comprises models of every race, every size. Be yourself. Shop with your heart and soul. Buy what speaks to you. Fall in love with what you buy.” I always do!
“FASHION IS ART & UNITES US LIKE NOTHING ELSE!” Pat Cleveland, also 60+ years old, as well as one of the first black supermodels, still exquisite & dramatic in a Brandon Maxwell evening gown, on the runway with Ken—look at their smiles! Photos by Andre Flewellen.
Lastly, Ken adds, “Fashion is art, culture, an escape, a lift. Obviously we’re not solving the problems of the world, but fashion unites women around the globe in a way nothing else really does.” Agree, agree.
As I walked to my car, smiling and humming Madonna’s “Vogue,” my mind replayed my two days with Ken Downing again and again. As the days have passed, I hear both his advice and quick wit in my head every time I get dressed. Summer fashion. Floaty. Feminine. Edge-y. And extremely chic. I love getting dressed everyday. Enjoy every empowered, enchanted moment~ Ellyn Golder Saft