My Style: Ken Downing

Ken Downing of Neiman Marcus

Photo: Courtesy of Ken Downing

What are the rules in the way you dress?

I embrace my lean frame and accentuate it. Narrow-tailored suits, narrow pants, skinny ties, skinny jeans, Chelsea boots. I like streamlined dressing that can take me through the many facets of my day and into the night. I live on the road and don't believe in over packing, I like a wardrobe that works for me and not against me. I take that approach when I work with our many customers at Neiman Marcus. Clothes should be an asset in your wardrobe, not a detriment. If you feel great in what you are wearing you ultimately look great. Fit has a tremendous amount to do with that attitude. It’s not about the most expensive clothes, it’s about clothes that fit and flatter your body and your personality.

Please describe your style in three words.

Rocker, school boy!

What is the biggest mistake one can make when getting dressed?

Trying too hard. Style is intuitive and should never be forced.

Do you believe in role models?

I do, and I have had the pleasure of being inspired by many great individuals in my career. I have great respect for Rose Marie Bravo, who was the CEO when I worked at I. Magnin early in my career. She believed that everything could be more spectacular and it could! Karen Katz, the CEO of Neiman Marcus, who has always believed in my talents and taught me the fine balance of being creative as well as being a brilliant businessperson, and the importance of humility in an industry of many peacocks. Anna Wintour who inspires me daily, she is a tireless force in our industry and is passionate about the success of talent that ultimately makes our industry as strong as it is today and for the future. I am very fortunate to consider her a friend and colleague. As for style role models? Very few.

What are your favourite fabrics?

Anything that can hang in a steamy shower for ten minutes and look perfect!

Are there any style combinations that you object to?

I object to people who travel looking horrible. If not for yourself, make an effort for the rest of us. When did pyjamas, or worse, become appropriate flying attire?

Which city has the best-dressed men?

There are many cities with well-dressed men. Italian men instinctively get it right. But don't get me wrong, I see dashing men in Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Sydney; it's not about a city or region, it's about a man’s interest in style and his desire to present himself well.

Would you say that you are conservative or bold?

I would say I am boldly conservative. I know many who dress far more flamboyantly than myself. My appreciation for narrow, fitted silhouettes gives me a bold approach to my wardrobe. I'm 6'3 and 160 pounds on a good day. My height alone gives me plenty of drama.

Celebrities and style...

Are most worthy of attention when they dress themselves!

Name one garment/accessory that you can never have enough of?

One accessory a woman can never have enough of is shoes! A great pair of shoes can make ANYTHING look brilliant no matter the season of its origin. Every man needs a great leather motorcycle jacket; it gives immediate coolness to everything he wears. For myself, Chelsea boots. I don't own a pair of shoes, Chelsea Boots and flip flops are all that's in my closet.

A man should always look like...

A man! Period, end of story.

Who taught you what you know about style?

My mother and grandmother were very influential on my ideas about style from the very beginning. My earliest memories are of how people dressed and how they decorated (or didn't) their homes. Toys and such seemed rather trivial to me.

How do you select your clothing every morning?

Depending on what is expected of me in my day, what's in my bag or what's back from the cleaners.

What is your biggest regret?

Regrets? This is fashion, I have none!

The three essential things a man should know about style are...

The hairstyle you wore in high school needs to be left in your yearbook. An untucked shirt isn't fooling anyone in making you look thinner. A tailor, an alterations expert, is worth their weight in gold. Clothes that fit truly make the man.

Do you have any shopping rituals?

My shopping ritual is easy: get in and get out! I am very decisive when shopping for myself. I spend my life at runway collections and in showrooms shopping for the world 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; I find little joy in shopping for myself, unless it is purchasing art and then I am completely engaged!

We will never see you wearing...

Shorts! My white legs would blind you.

The most stylish person you have ever seen...

I have met many stylish people, naming one feels unfair… but since you are forcing me, Tom Ford. We Virgos have to stick together.

What is the first thing you notice on a man?

His shoes. It says so much.

The one image that defined your approach to style...

David Bowie has had many memorable fashion moments, he has certainly inspired me throughout my life.

Which new designers do you follow and why?

I am a fan of so many talents, I will forget someone and their feelings will be hurt. I am a huge fan of the Brits, Christopher Kane, Erdem, Mary Katrantzou, Peter Pilotto, and I am of course obsessed with what Hedi Slimane is doing at Saint Laurent. Joseph Altuzarra, Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo at Céline, Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy, Victoria Beckham, Alexander Wang, and of course the king, Karl Lagerfeld, and the list goes on and on! It's an amazing time for fashion at the moment. I love designers who are individual and have their ideas grounded in the here and now. Relevance is modern, costume is yesterday.

The only article of clothing that a man needs to pay close attention to is...

His jacket, it's the foundation of every wardrobe. It needs to be a modern cut with a modern fit that relates to the fashion moment, and in a fabric that says today, not yesterday.

What are the most treasured items in your wardrobe?

Currently, it's my Saint Laurent biker boot with the 1 ½ inch heel; I get a crazy charge out of being 6'4 1/2. Also, a navy cashmere scarf by Greg Chait of The Elder Statesman, it is the ultimate luxury.

Is comfort an enemy of style?

Comfort and style should go hand in hand. If you are not comfortable in your clothes, then you are wearing the wrong thing!

Which designer never fails to impress you?

I am always impressed and obsessed with what Tom Ford, Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy and Hedi Slimane put forth for their men's collections.

Who would you like to recommend for My Style€?

Karl Lagerfeld would be great fun to participate.

The best words of advice you have ever heard?

Trust your gut!

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