The Armani section on the second floor of Neiman Marcus had been cleared of its usual selection of sleek apparel from the Italian label and replaced with the stations for hair and makeup. Counter tops were loaded with baubles and brightly hued acces- sories. Along the walls, models’ names were taped above clothing racks des- ignating each girl (and boy) with their sets of outfits for the night. The room was filled with more than 50 ensembles hand-picked by NM fashion director Ken Downing, who had been working non-stop since he came into town, pull- ing looks from the department store he’s been running for decades.
He’s been here once before. Downing—who hails from Seattle but now hops between his base camp in Dallas and pied-à-terre in New York—came to Hawai‘i two decades ago when the store first opened, having planned the grand gala with his team back in Dallas when he was the VP of public relations. Now celebrating 20 years here in the islands, Downing returned to kick to off the store’s anniversary with his Runway Report—a CliffsNotes version of Fashion Weeks from around the world from the fashion director’s perspective. Having worked with the likes of Anna Wintour of Vogue, Glenda Bailey of Harper’s Bazaar as well as Stefano Tonchi and Karla Martinez of W Magazine, Downing has been a fixture of the fashion industry for years. For more than a decade, Downing has held the role of Senior Vice President and Fashion Director for the luxury department store and travels the globe in pursuit of the next big thing; filtering his finds for NM customers.
“There’s only so much you can do with a garment, it’s how we style,” Down- ing says. “It’s distilling the best ideas I see on the runway and giving it to the custom- er and to let them know it’s okay to dress like that …”
During his Honolulu cameo, Down- ing gave the local audience more than 50 ensembles to make any fashionista swoon, all of which he handpicked him- self—something he always does during the 24-30 shows he presents each year throughout the country. And in an age when fashion shows are easily accessible via Internet and social media, this is the best time to infuse a fashion director’s view to do just that—direct.
“It’s such an interesting time we live in—the digital era where customers are following fashion in real time. They’re watching fashion shows live as they’re on social media, and they’re seeing the clothes when I’m seeing the clothes,” Downing shares.
“We realize there’s a bit of fatigue from the time the clothes are shown [on the runway] to the time they actually arrive in-store. So I come back into the market, after being in-market to talk about the clothes, and really kind of restyle them … I put it together in a way that I think works [for the customer].”
Downing’s zeal for fashion is unyielding. “I love bringing the news of the fashion capitals of the world to our Neiman Marcus customers in a way that’s super-glamorous, informational and tinged with my personal brand of humor that makes it fun and entertaining.”
Downing handpicked each look straight oﬀ the shelves of the Ala Moana Center location and dressed local models from head to toe. Aﬅerwards, guests got a sneak peak backstage to mingle with the models and peruse the various ensembles.