Fashion always drawing inspiration from the art world

Count Ken Downing among the believers. Ask the senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus what’s influencing fashion, and he’ll cite the paintings of Mark Rothko, the designs of Yves Saint Laurent (as well as the late YSL’s own art collection and home in Marrakech, Morocco), clothing exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and a stylish British commoner about to marry a prince.

“We’re living in a global world,” says Downing, “and the world of design is so democratic. Art, food, music, clothes — they have a tendency to weave together.”

Downing isn’t afraid to draw parallels between what is happening on the runways and what’s showing in museum galleries.

“Fashion loves a nod to the past,” says Downing, who says that designers ranging from Marc Jacobs to Tom Ford are constantly referencing the work of Saint Laurent, who died in 2008.

Saint Laurent’s use of rich colors like coral, magenta, purple and turquoise, as well as his fondness for pantsuits, tuxedo jackets and exotic prints, made him iconic, according to Downing.

For fall, the French collections were full of “deep saturated color,” so he’s predicting wine shades like Bordeaux and color mixes like coral and red will be popular.

The retail fashion director says influential but lesser-known designers working today like Tommaso Aqualino and Roberto Rimondi are referencing abstract painter Mark Rothko in the colors used in their fall collection. “They used new technology to create fabrics that take on the characteristics of paint, and added Lurex and lamé.”

Designers are still getting ideas from the “Superheroes” collection that was at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2008. Alexander Wang used padding in some of his recent designs, and others are using quilting, an idea seen throughout the exhibit, Downing says.

Many designers are also referencing Cristóbal Balenciaga, a Spanish designer who worked mostly in Paris from the late 1930s through the 1960s, Downing says. A retrospective of Balenciaga’s work last year in New York is guiding designers to create head-to-toe looks with “a lot of polish” and to do things like fitted dresses rather than boxy shifts.

And on Downing’s shortlist of hot items?

— A tuxedo jacket is a must-have, and not only for evening. You can wear it with sportswear, he says.

— Wide-leg pants and flat sandals. “Late summer’s white pants will move effortlessly into fall. And it’s a nice way to transition to winter white: I love all those gorgeous, rich creamy white shades,” he says.

— Pointed-toe pumps. “There’s a more dressed-up shoe for fall. Not that the platform will go away, but the single sole looks good again.”

And as for the fashion influence that’s spreading from England to the United States, Downing says, “We’re having a moment with Kate Middleton.

“She’s a modern, elegant woman. At a time when there are so many negative role models, how refreshing to have a role model like her.”

He’s hoping her wedding dress will be “something slim and modern as opposed to a meringue.”

Among things people are picking up about her style, Downing cites the interest in cobalt blue, Irish knit fisherman sweaters and the return to fine jewelry, particularly Middleton’s sapphire engagement ring, which belonged to William’s mother, the late Princess of Wales.

Apr 21st, 2011 | Posted in Fashion
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