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As a nearly 20 year Fashion Industry Vet, I've made TheFE my place to cover and discuss everything fashionable from books, to designer ready-to-wear to couture. All aspects of a fashionable lifestyle are included. BIG NEWS: I'VE MOVED TheFE TO WORDPRESS to take advantage of their superior publishing platform. See you there!!


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Neiman Marcus' Ken Downing: Fashion V. Clothes, post #4

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TEXT, VIVIAN KELLY, w/ Contributions by Mark Behnke of

We caught up with Ken Downing, Neiman Marcus’ SVP and Director for Stores, to get a retailer’s perspective on Fashion V. Clothes outside the Catherine Malandrino presentation. I say “outside” which made it all the more frustrating, even for heavy-hitters such as Ken. The crowd of onlookers was so thick, that even Ken had problems getting into the cordoned-off viewing area. Once I secured a spot, it seemed that the media-genic Malandrino, who’s been tapped to design Lacoste, over-indulged her inner hippie. Much of what she designed appeared to be mostly crochet garments that looked…odd, even on the sub-size zero models posing in the Lincoln Center courtyard.

Ken made the droll comment, “Women do not want to look like they just dipped into a vintage trunk to get dressed.”

He went on to say that his customers text and email him constantly, asking him what he thinks is new and great, and most importantly, is there something for them he’s seen? They’re very conscious of what designers are showing, but they rely on him - heavily - to make sure they look trendy, but not like foolish fashion victims.
Ken’s experience at Neiman’s is similar to the one Ballietes’ co-owner, Bob Benham,
has but on a somewhat smaller scale.
Bob told us he also gets texts and calls on his phone about special pieces his best clients want after they’ve viewed the latest styles on sites such as He hedges his bets by collaborating with similar high-end specialty stores. Lela Rose is one of the biggest sellers in his Oklahoma City based boutique.

Fortuitously, right after our chat with Ken, I was able to get a good look at one section of the Malandrino presentation. What I saw was dismaying - crochet sweaters that were a way too literal take on the “flower power”
years, and frayed leggings

that looked like something a Bon Jovi groupie might have worn back in the eighties. It is extremely hard to believe that sophisticated women in New York, Boston, D.C., Chicago or Dallas would want to blast back so literally to the past. A reference is just that, a reference, not a straight-out reinterpretation of the past.
While it’s commendable to try something different, the risk is that a designer [as we witnessed at Sinister] can fall flat on their face doing so. This brings to mind joke about the "cutting-edge" sweater with three arms. Why?? Who is actually wearing that?

Vintage can be done right. Fashion has been preoccupied with vintage and many fashionable women have worn vintage pieces with pride and looked great. I'll be discussing that some more in a post later this week, which features Joanna Mastroianni and Elene Cassis. The Look On Line’s Marilyn Kirschner
always looks amazing and I can’t remember a day I haven’t seen her wearing something vintage. She is one of The New York Times Bill Cunningham’s favorite subjects to snap because of her highly individual style. The word “something” is key. Marilyn’s look works because she incorporates vintage into her look and does not wear it literally, or look like she fell into the vintage bin. In the end, if the women reject it [the collection], it’s clothes. If they accept it, it’s fashion.

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