By  on March 14, 2006

NEW YORK — Ending months of speculation, Neiman Marcus Stores on Monday named Ken Downing senior vice president and fashion director.

Downing, 43, currently vice president of public relations, was considered a front-runner for the job, which had been held by Joan Kaner for more than 16 years until she retired in October, but as the search dragged on, retail observers began to wonder whether he would be chosen.

"We actually held a limited search because we really wanted to take a little time and explore all different avenues," said Ann Stordahl, executive vice president of women's apparel at the Dallas retailer. "We came back to feeling it was great to hire internally. Our unique culture and his understanding of our culture was an advantage."

"Ken's deep understanding of our customer, knowledge of our buying organization and relationships within the fashion community make him an excellent choice for this key position," said Karen Katz, president and chief executive officer of Neiman Marcus Stores. "His energy and commitment to our business are inspiring to us all."

Downing will manage the New York City fashion office of Neiman Marcus, supervising three fashion editors. Unlike his predecessor, however, he will be based in Dallas rather than New York. He will report to Stordahl.

When Kaner was fashion director, she wanted to be in the thick of the fashion industry here and believed her proximity to Seventh Avenue helped cement her relationships with key designers.

"There's advantages and disadvantages to either," said Stordahl. "New York is only three hours away from Dallas. I'm sure Ken will be racking up lots of airline miles. He can be in New York whenever he needs to be. The advantage to being in Dallas is that you have a more active part in networking with merchants and our stores, and the advertising and marketing departments."

Downing, whose path has taken him through the p.r. and visual merchandising offices, may represent a new breed of fashion director. In addition to spotting trends and covering designer shows, the responsibilities of a fashion director at some stores include choosing products for catalogues, advertising and windows, and involvement in p.r.

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