Photography by Chris Dinerman

Ken Downing

Fashion Director and Senior VP, Neiman Marcus

| Midtown East

In the words of Billy Joel, “If you’re not doing what you love, you’re wasting time,” and Neiman Marcus’ Ken Downing is case in point. Mesmerized by fashion from an early age (he used to lay out full looks for his mother— shoes and handbag included— at the tender age of six), he took a job as a window dresser for Neiman Marcus in 1990 and has been with the department store ever since. Now, after over two decades in the business, Downing packs more into a day than most of us do in a week: as Fashion Director and Senior VP, he curates a list of the strongest trends for women and men, continually searches the market for new talent, oversees the store’s stellar team of buyers and attends 300-400 designer shows each season (Vogue’s Anna Wintour once pegged Downing as having the highest show attendance in the industry by far), not to mention countless personal appearances. All in all, on those days we’re feeling hyper-accomplished, you might just say we’re “Downing it.” Here, Downing sits down with CITIPHILE to reveal his little black book on NYC.

NEIGHBORHOOD STANDBY: My go-to spot is Blue Ribbon Sushi on Sullivan Street (MAP IT, x). It’s open late, there is always an interesting crowd and they have an amazing wait staff! I am a big fan of their fresh oysters— they always have a selection from the East and West Coasts, and being from Seattle I appreciate a good Northwest offering. I always do a half and half platter.

COFFEE OR TEA: Coffee, of course. A grande latte has been my drink of choice for over 25 years. Since I’m a Seattle boy, I’m loyal to Starbucks (MAP IT). My life may be very inconsistent, but my latte is the constant I can count on. I do love Stumptown Coffee Roasters (MAP IT, x) too— love the name, love the coffee!

ALL-TIME FAVORITE RESTAURANT: Il Gattopardo on 54th Street (MAP IT, BOOK IT, x). Their branzino is light and delicious!

WHERE TO BRING OUT-OF-TOWNERS: The Lower East Side. I am crazy about the galleries, the emerging art scene, The New Museum (MAP IT, x) and all the restaurants and eateries that are scattered throughout the neighborhood.

COCKTAIL DE LA NUIT: Tito’s on the rocks, dirty, with olives at Má Pêche (MAP IT, BOOK IT, x) at The Chambers Hotel (x). Gramercy Park Hotel (MAP IT) makes a tasty, dirty Tito’s as well.

HEALTHY STAPLE: I eat pretty healthy; I’ve never had bad eating habits (although I do enjoy an occasional cookie or two from the Momofuku Milk Bar on 56th Street (MAP IT, x). Sushi is my high protein and healthy meal; I could eat it every day. Nobu (MAP IT, BOOK IT, x) is always a tasty spot to fill my need for fish!

GUILTY PLEASURE: Chipotle (MAP IT), and happily, it’s healthy. I could live on their chicken burritos. Chipotle is an unspoken favorite of everyone in fashion. When you mention it, the first question is, “bowl or burrito?”

NY’S BEST-KEPT SECRET: There are few secrets in New York City, but my attention is on everything happening in the Hudson Yards neighborhood where Neiman Marcus will be opening its first NY store in 2018. A real gem of a restaurant is the The Red Cat on 10th Avenue (MAP IT, BOOK IT, x). It’s a favorite— great food, intimate setting. I love the place!

FIRST THING I MISS WHEN I’M AWAY: The chaos! I like hustle and bustle; I like people who have a “get it done” spirit. I was taught early in my life by my mother, “It is better to be busy than bored.” I’m never bored in NY!

DATE NIGHT STANDBY: I love Boom Boom Room (MAP IT, x). They have great drinks and the most gorgeous view of Manhattan in a super sexy room! The King Cole Bar at The St. Regis (MAP IT, x) is also a favorite; I love the old world ambiance and the Maxfield Parrish mural.

DELIVERY GO-TO: Delivery? Are you kidding me? I do not like people knocking on my door delivering food and I do not like room service… I’m sure it’s some kind of phobia!

FAVORITE CUISINE: I have to admit, I love Mexican food. Añejo in Hell’s Kitchen (MAP IT, x) is my favorite spot.

BEST PEOPLE WATCHING: EVERYWHERE! But, I do like The MoMA (MAP IT, x) on a Saturday afternoon: the multicultural mix of foreigners from around the world, travelers from around the country and locals—that’s what New York is all about. It’s a crossroads of people.

CLOSET CHECK: My personal style could be described as school boy meets bad boy— a mix of rock n’ roll and a little surfer to reference my West Coast roots. I shop at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman (MAP IT, x). I love Saint Laurent motorcycle boots and skinny ties, every minute of every day!

ACCESSORIES PICK: Chelsea boots! I am always in Chelsea boots. If you saw me at the beach, I would be in Chelsea boots! Saint Laurent and Prada are my go-to favorites for footwear!

BEST HOST/HOSTESS GIFTS: Neiman Marcus! My “Ken Downing” candle I created with Nest Fragrances is my favorite hostess gift. I am obsessed with the tiger print box, the tortoise vessel and the sexy, amber infused scent— it’s my favorite collaboration to date.

GIFTS FOR FRIENDS: I love shopping at our sister store, Bergdorf Goodman, when I’m in New York—the 7th floor never disappoints me! I am a huge fan of Kelly Wearstler, and I love giving books as gifts. I always inscribe a message inside to make the gift personal.

GROOMING BLACK BOOK: I live between photo shoots and video tapings, I eat translucent powder for breakfast and mascara for lunch. My beauty secrets are relying on the kindness of a stylist for a cut— Artur Kirsh at Alessandro Mangerini (MAP IT) is the best cut for an unruly “do.” I get tons of compliments on my blonde mop after Artur has had his way with it and he’s not bad on the eyes either… Just saying!

FIT PICK: Fitness? You’re kidding, right? I run from appointment to appointment, airplane to airplane… that is my work-out!

I was leaving the Proenza Schouler showroom (when Jack and Laz were located in Chinatown), when a couple blocks behind me, I heard two girls scream, “BOWIE!” I often get that I am very David Bowie, though I don’t see it, but I turned around to find these two girls running towards me at warp speed! I realized that they truly believed I was the singer! After running away for two blocks, I finally came upon an empty cab and jumped in. David disaster diverted! Only in NYC. CP

Ken’s New York

From L to R: First Row: The New Museum; Tito’s at Gramercy Park Hotel’s Rose Bar; The MoMA; Inside The Red Cat. Second Row: Salad from Mà Pêche; Stumptown Coffee; Kelly Wearstler objet; Milkbar’s cookies.


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