How to Travel in Style with Ken Downing

"I often say, I pay my taxes in Texas, but live on American Airlines."-Ken Downing


By: Jessica Michault

Are you about to take a long haul flight to Australia Fashion Week or the Louis Vuitton cruise show in Japan? Ken Downing, the highly regarded Fashion Director for Neiman Marcus and self described global fashion ambassador, tells me all about how he has learned to travel in style. 

Ken is a delightful storyteller, has an incredible talent for spotting fashion trends before anyone else has picked up the scent and is one of the most charming men to sit next to in the front row at a fashion show. In this exclusive interview, which first appeared in the pages of the 12th issue of ODDA Magazine  we thought that he would be the perfect person to give us his hard eared insights on the best way to travel and why he loves to travel to Australia.

Among the Ken Downing’s travel essentials

Among the Ken Downing’s travel essentials

Q: Ken, you are a tall drink of water, how do you deal with the confines of an airplane?

A: At 6’3 (or 1.905 meters) I am indeed a tall drink of water, Premium Class is necessary on overseas flights to accommodate my runway length legs! I’m big on leg stretched and foot rotation in my seat to keep my blood circulating and voiding my legs and feet from falling asleep.

Q: I know some people love to always sit in the same seat, do you have any preferences, and if so what?

A: I am a creature of habit and I love a window seat. It’s a view I’m very comfortable with as I spend more time in the air than on the ground. Although I’m most happy near the window, I am more than capable of adjusting to an aisle seat with pleasure.

Q: What do you always have to have with you when you travel?

A: Always with me when I travel, my two iPhones, my iPad, Saint Laurent Chelsea Boots, a denim jacket, a biker jacket , skinny black ties,  Sisley’s Sisleya antiage cream and Tom Ford Black Orchid.

Q: Do you have any sort of flying ritual?

A: I am a very regimented flyer, a place for everything, everything in its place. My bags are a highly organized wardrobe of essentials, my carry all is my office, time in the air is time to catch up, I find the power source, plug in and get my work out! I love the feeling of getting things accomplished on a plane. I generally do my fashion writings for the Neiman Marcus Blog, and for The Book. The solitude in the air allows me to think clearly without interruption. It’s true bliss. But my ultimate flying ritual, my secret guilty pleasure… I power watch silly romantic comedies. I love, love, and there’s something about the high altitude of an airplane that’s makes the unlikely scenarios all seem possible.

Q: What do you love most about flying?

A: What I love most about flying is knowing there is an adventure waiting for me on the other end. I’d be lying if I said my life wasn’t exciting. I work in one of the most interesting and ever changing industries imaginable. I love the sense of the unexpected waiting the me on the other side!

Q: What can’t you stand about flying?

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A: My least part of flying is security lines; I have TSA Pre-Check down to a science. I can strip out of my metal laden wardrobe in seconds flat and be redressed by the time most people at remembering if they have their keys in their pocket or in their bag. In the air…I can’t stand filthy lavatories. I’m a Virgo, cleanliness isn’t an option, and it is a fact of life. People aren’t terribly tidy in airplanes, my obsessive-compulsive nature finds me being the in flight bathroom attendant. Lol! But it’s true!

Q: Where do you stand on airplane food? Do you partake or do you bring your own?

A: Where do I stand on airplane food? Better to stand on it, than eat it! Short haul flights, I never eat. Long haul overseas flights, I find the food to be much better, so I look at it like a tasting menu. I sample and find sometimes I’m wildly surprised! The in flights soups can be very tasty. Fish in the air, I avoid at every cost. I like a good Bloody Mary, it’s part cocktail, part meal, satisfying at every level. A perfect aperitif, being a brunch beverage is very American, I like a good Bloody before a meal, very European.

Q: Which airline is your favourite to travel with?

A: I often say, I pay my taxes in Texas, but live on American Airlines. Although I keep homes in New York, and Detroit, Texas is my home base as Neiman Marcus corporate offices are there. Ironically I spend more time in Manhattan than Dallas, and spend little time in either of my two traditional offices. With the advent of the digital era, my pocket has long been my office.

Q: What is your stance on shoes on a flight, must they always stay on?

A: I have a very definite opinion about shoes on an airplane… always…ALWAYS, shoes on!!! It’s t
hat Virgo clean thing.

Q: What is the best and worst thing that has every happened to you on a flight?

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A: Best thing that ever happened to me on an airplane; Hugh Jackman was seated in First Class in a seat across the aisle. Need I say more? Worst thing that ever happened to me on an airplane; I’m fortunate as a flyer, the better outward the bad, the worst, if not comical thing that ever happened to me was on a flight to Philadelphia from Dallas. On plane full of women returning from a Home Decorating convention decked out in winners sashes and tiaras, extreme turbulence bounced the plane back and forth, up and down causing the luggage compartments to fly open tossing bird cages, grape vine wreaths and other bric-a-brac to and fro! Cries, shock and sickness took over many of the novice travellers. It was like a scene out of a movie. Happily the plane landed with out harm or issue.

Q: Where is your favourite place to travel to?

A: My favourite travel destination is easily Australia!!! I love the land, the people, and the weather! Australia is everything. I’m also a great fan of Paris for its architectural splendour, I’m so fortunate to visit that great city often because of my role as Fashion Director for Neiman Marcus. And of course, London! The inherent Majesty, history and heritage are spellbinding. I love the Brit sense of humour it mirrors mine. And after all I am a Downing, Ken Downing no less.

Q: What should you never do on a flight?

A: You should NEVER WEAR THE PAJAMAS!!!! You never know who’s looking 😉

Q: When you travel for the shows do you always bring the same things and do you travel light? Or are you someone who brings everything but the kitchen sink with them when they start the fashion marathon?

Latest issues of “The Book” by Neiman Marcus

Latest issues of “The Book” by Neiman Marcus

A: When I travel for fashion collections, I pack as light as possible. I bring two duffles, a black leather from Coach and a grey flannel from Prada, and my Uri Minkoff olive backpack that becomes my overseas office. Skinny Jeans, Skinny Ties, Chelsea Boots, and lots of shredded and distressed denim with bombers, razor sharp tailored blazers and biker jackets. I always pack a shrunken Tuxedo jacket, perfect with jeans and failsafe in the event a black tie rears its head. My motto: if the lights unexpectedly go out, with no choice but to get dressed in the dark, everything should work together having an intrinsic cool. My style has always been part Rocker, part Surfer, with a hearty dose of School Boy gone bad.

Q: I have one last cheeky question…are you a member of the mile high club?

A: A member of the Mile High Club!?!? Have you seen who’s on an airplane lately?