In the midst of its transformation, another top executive has left Neiman Marcus.
Ken Downing, the retailer’s senior vice president and fashion director, is leaving the luxury retailer on March 29, WWD has learned. Downing is the latest senior executive to depart, coming close on the heels of the exit of Jim Gold, the retailer’s president and chief merchandising officer.
On Friday, Downing could not be reached for further comment on his plans.
No successor was announced by Neiman’s. The company is seeking a new chief merchant in the aftermath of the departure last week of Gold. It’s to be determined whether a new merchant also fills the role of fashion director.
Chief executive officer Geoffroy van Raemdonck has been remaking the Neiman Marcus Group executive team in recent months, as part of his mission to transform the company to “a customer-centric luxury platform.” Neiman’s has also been working to cut costs and restructure its onerous level of debt. Two weeks ago, Neiman’s opened its first New York City store, which anchors The Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards. A smiling and cheerful Downing was present for the opening night party, as was Gold.
“If we really want to evolve, we need to bring in new talent and people to foster a different level of innovation. Our team now is quite different,” van Raemdonck told WWD in a recent interview. Van Raemdonck’s intent has been to reshape the team to become “collaborative, more customer-centric, seamless across channels and experiential.”
In other recent changes, David Goubert was named executive vice president of stores and retail experience; Carrie Tharp was promoted to executive vice president, chief digital officer; Ginger Mollo was named senior vice president, West Coast retail experience; Adam Orvos became NMG’s chief financial officer. At the Bergdorf Goodman division, Darcy Penick, became president and Matt Marcotte became chief operating officer, among other executive changes.
Van Raemdonck said Downing has been “an unparalleled brand ambassador for Neiman Marcus for so many years, adding that Downing “had a unique connection with our customers and a creative approach to fashion and styling.”
Downing, one of the most colorful and visible figures in the fashion industry, has been an institution at Neiman’s. A front-row presence at designer shows in Paris, Milan, London and New York, Downing has been integral in bringing the trends and designers to Neiman’s and shaping the retailer’s fashion profile, in both women’s and men’s wear.
He established close ties to designers and upscale brands and was most often the face of the business, bringing a bold and entertaining flair to the store through fashion shows that he staged, his own public appearances in Neiman’s stores across the country and frequent media interviews. He could be outspoken on industry issues, among them the movement for buy-now-wear-now and how the designer shows should be timed to the season the clothes are meant to be worn.
Downing has been senior vice president and fashion director for Neiman Marcus since 2006. He joined the Dallas-based company in 1990 and held positions in public relations, visual planning and presentation as well as in the fashion office. He mentored designers, brand partners and associates and connected with customers, bringing them into the stores for events. Neiman’s executives noted that Downing had an ability to style “high low,” creatively mixing ready-to-wear and accessory pieces from designers so women could feel they were outfitting themselves in more individual and modern ways. He’s also recognized for putting together strong visual presentations that told fashion stories.
“It has been a monumental experience being part of Neiman Marcus for so many years,” Downing said in a statement provided to WWD. “The invaluable relationships I’ve forged with colleagues, brand partners and certainly my customers will always be something I cherish personally and professionally. As I take on the next chapter in an industry I have been proud to be a part of, I look forward to new challenges and experiences.”
Isaac Mizrahi said, “I love him. I just think he’s great. I hope he’s leaving to do something absolutely wonderful.”
While hip, influential and certainly conspicuous on the fashion scene, Downing confessed in 2015 at a fund-raiser for the High School of Fashion Industries that growing up in Seattle, he wasn’t very popular. “I was the kid at Highline High who wanted to work in fashion. It was not considered a favorable career choice. People were negative, but the more negative they were, the more it made me want to work in fashion. If I knew about the High School of Fashion Industries when I was a kid, I would have run away from home.” The high school gave Downing its Fashion Visionary award.
“When we were in the early days of the neiman.marcus.com web site, we saw how many people we could reach, so we immediately engaged Ken to be voice of the web site,” recalled Brendan Hoffman, ceo of Vince and a former Neiman’s executive who launched the luxury store’s dot-com business. “We had Ken doing blogs and e-mails and he even went on the road to towns where Neiman’s didn’t have stores to do fashion shows. One of the shows was in Seattle, where at the time Neiman’s didn’t operate a store. It was really nice because Ken was able to visit his home. He’s been a great friend and partner. He helped me navigate fashion landscapes.”
“Ken has been a leader in fashion, style and trend,” said Burt Tansky, a former NMG ceo. “He set the tone for the store with contemporary merchandise but his contributions were really broad and all around, and for a very long time.”