An Interview with Katharine Polk, Founder, HOUGHTON
Originally published in the Summer of 2018
Note: Polk has now started KRP Creative
Katharine Polk made her mark on the fashion industry by supplying the modern bride with ready-to-wear avante garde fashions to don on her special day. Her brand Houghton is inspired by the women who give life to Polk’s designs. The line consists of pieces for the modern woman who is unafraid to rock leather or sequins (or both!) on the day she says “I do.” As she broadens her horizons to dominate new fields of design, Katherine is sure to see continued success she gained through catering to untapped bridal markets.
Katie, what is your story?
I’m from Los Angeles and moved to New York in 2007 when I was offered a job working for Badgley Mischka Couture as the Assistant Designer. I packed my bags lived in NYC within 2 weeks. The last 11 years have flown by. I worked at at Badgley for 2 years before I was a the NY Fashion Editor for a London based men’s magazine and a free lance Stylist. After a couple years of styling and writing I missed the creative process of designing and I wanted to do something I had complete control over creatively. I wanted to own the concept. I started Houghton in my apartment and sketched “Cheyne” which became our best selling gown up until Jan ’18. Houghton was born! Fast-forward to 2018, its time for a change and the next chapter. I’m not the type of person that is ok with just being comfortable. We either need to be groundbreaking or something has to change. I couldn’t be prouder of what we have accomplished at Houghton and I’m ready to take that experience and run with it. I’m excited to work with other brands and apply the Houghton mentality to whatever I do. The Houghton girl is a state of mind and I think the Bridal Industry is ready for some more Houghton girls!
How and why did you start The Houghton?
I saw a void in the industry for something that wasn’t traditional. My friends were getting engaged and had nowhere to shop or anything to wear. The only option was to try and find something on the designer floor of a department store or designer boutiques. I wanted to create a brand that was representative of a new generation, millennial’s and working women who are not “daddy’s little girl”. In 2011 I started sketching the collection in my apartment. I slowly made some samples around midtown and shot a look book. A friend’s showed the images to Stephanie Winston Wolkoff and she invited me to show at Lincoln Center. The rest is history.
How did you provide a boutique experience there?
My goal with Houghton was to create an experience unlike what brides to be were experiencing elsewhere. There seemed to be one way of bridal shopping and I wanted to change that. The West Chelsea Boutique was by appointment only, and had an exclusive selection of Houghton styles. Unlike other brands, Houghton offered a standard 12-16 week order window. Custom looks were available as well as rush orders as quickly delivery within a week.
Our Stylist would greet the bride and guests (which we would limit to 2) with a cocktail an we would invite them to make them selves comfortable, browse the racks of gowns dresses and separates and make a selection of anything they might like. The appointments were an hour. The bride was free to try on anything she might like and from there we would “build” her dream look. All Houghton styles were made to order in NYC so we had the flexibility of customization for a small or no fee. We wanted the whole process to be as carefree and effortless as possible. The order would be placed with a 50% deposit and the bride would be notified upon arrival of the gown. They would come in for a fitting and leave with their gown unless additional alterations were needed. We kept a small sewing room in house for minor alterations! Houghton was also unique as we offered stock in the Boutique. For our rush brides that didn’t have time or didn’t want to deal with the order process, we carried a small range of stock sizes and styles for a bride to walk out with same day!
All of this said, I strongly believe that the industry has changed dramatically. I do believe tech has played a big part in that and that the boutique experience needs to be better integrated with a tech interface. A Houghton boutique 2.0 would be much more seamless and definitely have more technology to make bridal shopping easier.
Why are collaborations so important to growing brands?
Collaborating offers a broader range to your brand and gives you the opportunity to reach another customer. By collaborating and merging creative minds you can potentially create a product that speaks to a much larger audience. It’s instrumental in growing a brand and expanding your footprint.
How do you define a lifestyle brand?
An experience, a way of being, an attitude, and a brand you grow with.
As a traveler, why do you think boutique hotels have become the greatest trend in hotel history?
We like personal interactions and great service. I think that tech has brought us unbelievable things but there is a lack of personal touch. Boutique hotels still offer that one on one interaction. They also offer a deisn aesthetic that some times escapes the larger chains. As a creative I seek out smaller boutiques for their appreciation of design and quality.
What advice would you give to women entering the entrepreneurial world?
Go with your gut.
Don’t wait for someone else to give you the green light. If you have a great idea make it happen. Great companies come out of a void or need for something and there is a reason no one did it before you… no one thought of it…Don’t waste your time explaining to everyone why you need to do something or getting approval, Just do it!
What’s next on your journey?
My goal is to continue creating a lifestyle for the modern bride. I want to collaborate, design and partner with brands. Whether that is Apparel, Home, Beauty, Accessories, I would love to design capsule collections and continue as a Creative Director for other brands. I would also like to consult for young Bridal designers venturing in to the Bridal Industry. I want to develop and expand on everything Modern Wedding and paint that picture for brides and grooms getting married who don’t want the traditional wedding and everything that comes with it from the Honeymoon to bachelorette party and beyond!
What’s your favorite coffee shop?
Le Grainne in West Chelsea is my favorite little French café. I go by myself every weekend and read the paper for hours!
What is one item you must travel with?Kiehl’s cleanser and moisturizer, sleeping pills, aquaphor
What is your favorite borough in NYC?
It has always been West Chelsea, I love the light and the Westside but now that I’ve closed the office I’m ready to explore!
What is your favorite magazine?
I love home décor and travel mags like Elle Décor and Conde Nast Traveler. For Fashion I like French or Spanish versions of Vogue and Elle in print. Online, I love I’m obsessed with Apartment Therapy