Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus, is leaving the luxury department store retailer on March 29, Neiman Marcus confirmed to Retail Dive in an email.
Downing spent the last 28 years at Neiman Marcus, including the last roughly 13 as the senior vice president and fashion director for the company. Downing shaped the brand's fashion flair thanks to connections with designers and upscale brands and became a critical figure in the fashion industry, according to Women's Wear Daily, which first reported the news.
"The invaluable relationships I’ve forged with colleagues, brand partners and certainly my customers will always be something I cherish personally and professionally," Downing said in a statement emailed to Retail Dive. "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 new experiences." A successor has not yet been announced.
Downing is the second long-time influential merchant at Neiman Marcus to depart so far this year. Late January, Jim Gold, former president and chief merchandising officer at Neiman Marcus and Neiman Marcus Group, announced his March departure, which also came after spending 28 years at the department store. A replacement for him also hasn't been announced.
Some executives who have left in recent months won't get a replacement at all. Earlier this year, Neiman Marcus iLab founder Scott Emmons announced his departure because the retailer was "not innovating in the right way." Emmons has since been a supporter of the technology showcased in the new NYC flagship at Hudson Yards, which was recently unveiled. But the iLab has been dissolved by the company, as CEO Geoffroy Van Raemdonck pursues innovation at the top rather than in a lab.
Neiman Marcus has struggled in recent years with more immediate problems — like its roughly $4.5 billion debt load. Over the last several months, executives have been negotiating with creditors to extend its debt maturities by another three years as it rolls out a turnaround plan to drive total sales to $700 million in adjusted EBITDA within five years. In early March, the parties reached an agreement on a proposed plan.
A big selling point described in the company's "ignite to win" plan highlights a slew of new executives who have joined the company over the last year since Van Raemdonck took the reins. But, that also means Neiman Marcus is losing a lot of top talent with decades of institutional knowledge about the business and reputation in the industry.
"Ken has been an unparalleled brand ambassador for Neiman Marcus through the years – he has had a unique connection with our customers and a creative approach to fashion and styling" Van Raemdonck said in a statement emailed to Retail Dive. "Our retail experience and fashion teams look forward to carrying on our innovation in customer events and presentation, as Ken takes on new experiences."