DALLAS -- Ken Downing says the forecast calls for pantsuits, capes, fur, lace and, oh, yes, feathers.
If women are skeptical that they'll be wearing a frothy shirt of lace beneath a tailored pantsuit or shoes trimmed with feathers this fall, they shouldn't be. Downing, luxury retailer Neiman Marcus' fashion director, has been digesting designer offerings from New York to London to Paris to Milan to come up with a list of trends sure to get people running to the mall.
"I really create the attitude and the message and the mood of the season that the company will be following," Downing said.
His fashion forecast is then integrated into everything from the Dallas-based company's marketing message to what buyers look for and how mannequins are dressed.
To create that trend list, Downing watches for recurring themes at fashion shows around the globe. Then he checks out whether designers are producing enough of those trendy items he's honed in on to fill store racks.
"We start to talk about do we have the critical mass to make these bold predictions?" he said.
For instance, he said, "If we believe in green, we need to have green everywhere." (This fall, by the way, green will be everywhere, he says, especially in the military-influenced olive.)
Boots of all heights are also in the fall forecast, he said. And a structured handbag is a must, not to mention pearls, "ropes and ropes" of them. Also, he says, keep an eye out for capes, ponchos and vests.
Besides hitting all the fashion shows, Downing travels to Neiman Marcus stores across the country to talk to customers about the upcoming fashion forecast and get feedback on what they like to wear. While he might appreciate an outfit with shoulders so extreme they wouldn't fit through a door, he knows women wouldn't put up with that. He adds though that sometimes trends people are skeptical of really catch on, like leggings.
With the advent of fashion shows being broadcast on Style.com, he says he sometimes gets instant input from customers, who e-mail to tell him what catches their eye.
Downing said that what he's on the lookout for are items a woman doesn't already have in her wardrobe, especially since women have been more selective in their purchases during the recent economic downturn. "A customer's not interested in buying something she already owns," he said. "She wants something that has absolute newness that she just desires and can't live without."
This fall, he said, that absolutely new item will be the pantsuit, which should be juxtaposed with something super-feminine, such as lace.
"The pantsuit is probably the most important item," Downing said.
Its return will be a change after the proliferation of dresses in past seasons. "I had not said pantsuit in so long," said Downing, who said this fall's pantsuits take inspiration from a chic 1970s look -- think Lauren Hutton.
His tip for what's on the fashion horizon? Think tuxedo. He expects tuxedo elements to make their way into closets for daytime outfits, like pants with a tuxedo strip running down the leg.