Ken Downing on Bringing Fashion and Glamour to the American Dream Mall

It’s open! The first phase of American Dream, a “mall for all” that’s 55% entertainment and 45% retail, just opened under the creative direction of Ken Downing. He’s the fashion genius who built the Neiman Marcus catalog and served as the retailer’s Fashion Director for 28 years before joining American Dream developer Triple Five Group as Chief Creative Officer.

Downing recently sat down with host Matt Rubel to talk about his creative vision for American Dream, where he’s reinventing the mall experience by focusing on the following:

  • Storytelling: It’s a crucial part of retail success, and at American Dream, one way Downing will help drive storytelling is by inviting craftspeople on-site, so visitors can see firsthand how crafts are made and meet the artisans making them.
  • Taking the “m” out of “mall” and making it for all: In the 50s and 60s, malls were community gathering places that showcased art, architecture and fashion. American Dream will make the mall a glamourous community hub again by offering fashion shows, concerts, talk series, pop-ups and designer drops.
  • Looking at fashion and the shopping experience from the customer’s point of view: Downing’s creative decisions are always informed by what he would want as a customer himself rather than what a retail operator might think is wise. “I’ve always looked at fashion like a customer,” he says. “I’ve always planned events as if I was attending it myself. I always looked at the food as if I would want to eat it…if it pleased me, I knew it would ultimately please the customer.”
  • Creating small “neighborhood” concepts: Downing is giving the 3-million-square-foot mall a human scale with beautiful, themed atriums and communication hubs that serve as indoor neighborhoods. Visitors can read, work, watch a fashion show or just enjoy the company of other people in each of these uniquely designed areas.
  • Bringing the outdoors indoors: Downing has long found creative inspiration in nature and American Dream will be filled with natural light and elements like an indoor bunny garden, an aviary and a farmers’ market.

To hear more about how Downing is reinventing the mall experience, listen to the full episode.