What better fashion guru to spend the day with than the pioneer of everyday bridal wear herself; Katharine Polk. As the Co-Founder and Head Designer of Houghton, Polk has been pushing wedding-wear boundaries since the company’s debut at the Lincoln Center in 2012. In just five years, Houghton has grown to open over 50 doors in 13 countries around the world. Polk’s creations have walked down the Oscars, Emmy and Grammy red carpets and been worn by celeb names such as Lily Collins, Selena Gomez and Kate Hudson.
It is no surprise Houghton has been so highly acclaimed given Polk’s innovative approach to wedding wear. Blurring the line between the everyday and wedding day, Polk’s ready-to-wear designs are meant to appeal to the strong, independent woman. Classic, timeless and feminine silhouettes are inspired by Katharine “Houghton” Hepburn, while menswear influences are drawn from Patti Smith and Bianca Jagger. What results is a collection of sexy suits, coats, dresses, gowns and separates that are distinctly chic and unique.
What makes Houghton so distinctive is Polk herself as she is the true embodiment of everything her brand stands for; fearless, modern and sophisticated. We began our day with Polk at the Houghton showroom, greeted by the company name spelled out in hot pink neon upon arrival. A bright, white gallery of immaculate gowns is complemented by a luxurious black couch, fur rugs and a row of skateboards on the wall making the space truly classy-meets-edgy. Similarly, Polk’s everyday look flawlessly blends classic cuts and sophisticated black with feminine touches such as a delicate plunging neckline or a pink floral lace. We followed Polk from the office to her home, all the while with her beloved Jonesy by her side. Her light-filled apartment provided only further proof that there are no limits for this innovator; she has converted one of her rooms into a walk-in closet.
From her style to her living space, the office to the Houghton collection itself; it is clear that Polk has successfully cultivated a lifestyle and fashion line that is quintessentially her. We spent the day with Polk to get an inside look at this trailblazer’s daily routine and learn more about what motivates and inspires her.
Tell us how Houghton came to be.
It’s really pretty simple! My friends needed wedding dresses that didn’t look like cupcakes, didn’t have sweet heart necklines and mermaid silhouettes. They wanted an experience of buying their dress that wasn’t painful, archaic and stuffy. There was nowhere to shop and nowhere that sold something ivory, simple, modern, sexy and timeless that offered an experience that was fun and sophisticated and appealed to an independent entrepreneurial woman. So I created it. I figured if my friends needed a dress so did a lot of other women.
How would you describe your everyday style?
It depends on my mood. One hundred percent of the time I’m a tomboy. Five percent of the time I’ll try and be a bit feminine and four percent of the time I wont pull it off! Fifty percent of the time I’m a tomboy who looks like she’s trying to dress like a girl and that about sums it up. I would always rather be in leggings, a sweatshirt and Nike’s but I have to force myself to wear something a bit more presentable and work appropriate. My other look is usually a slip dress; I like to keep it very clean and simple. For a special event I’m super into suits and tuxedos or a tuxedo jacket as a dress. I love the feminine take on a masculine look. My look is also very inspired by Katharine Houghton Hepburn, my namesake and also the Houghton muse. I also don’t like to over-accessorize. My color palette is always black, white and grey with a splash of pink, which is also the palette for Houghton. I believe less is more. I don’t wear much make up either. My go to is a little concealer, highlighter, mascara and some Aquaphor on my lips (see below for my favorite products). My hair takes the longest because I have so much of it!
Who is inspiring you most lately?
I’ve spent 2017 really getting back to Houghton’s DNA. I’ve been looking at all our brides and clients and what they need. I’ve also been doing a lot of personal research by trying everything on and deciding whether I think is comfortable, wearable and valid. I came back from our trip to Mexico this summer super inspired and was ready to design a huge collection. I’ve been focusing on the “Wedding Weekend” and anything the bride might need; like her rehearsal look, ceremony look, after-party, brunch, honeymoon and beyond. I want Houghton to be your one-stop shop for everything wedding attire whether that’s a beach, country or city wedding. I’ve been getting really inspired by all of this and have a ton to chew on. That said, Katharine Hepburn, now more than ever has been inspiring me with her individuality and strength. Her affinity for men’s wear and her “no fucks given” attitude.
You seem to draw strength from the women around you, what has working with primarily female clients taught you about yourself and womanhood?
It’s a great time to be a woman. It’s a great time to own a woman-run business, work in a female dominant industry and have a female clientele. The energy is contagious and I think women are feeding off of each other right now. I have a lot of women around me right now who are inspiring and we share our experiences, struggles and flaws. There’s a feeling of camaraderie between my friends and fellow business owners. We want to help each other and succeed together. I’ve learned that I need to be tougher and more confident. Not only am I good at what I do, I need to always go with my gut and I can’t second-guess myself. I’ve reached a place in my life where I want to simplify and not take anyone’s shit. I’ve also learned that being my true self is good enough.
You design for a variety of body types and have previously made a point of showing the collection on “real” women. Why is embracing all body sizes important to you?
I’ve been very vocal over the last year about my personal struggle with eating disorders and body dysmorphia. The reality is that woman are made in all shapes and sizes. The fashion industry has neglected to cater to those women for years and has always shown collections on runway models rather than real women when “real women” are the customer. I put real women in quotes because, models are of course real women, but showing all clothes on one body type, which is the one percent, is not realistic or catering to your customer. Houghton is made by women, for women, and I don’t want anyone to be discouraged because they don’t see themselves in a picture. I personally know what it’s like to be overweight and to not want to shop or try on clothes. It’s overwhelming, discouraging and humiliating and I want to create an environment that is comfortable for women to shop and feel good about themselves no matter your size or shape. This is especially important when they are shopping for a dress that is supposed to be worn on the happiest day of their life.
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs in the fashion industry?
Trust your gut and find your space. Create something that doesn’t exist and run with it. People appreciate an authentic point of view.
What does your day look like as a business owner?
My days vary day-to-day. The common misconception about being a business owner of a fashion company is that I come to work each day and sketch and drape. The truth is that less than five percent of my time actually goes to designing. Most days I get to the office around 10 a.m. On Mondays we kick off the week with a staff meeting, followed by a production meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page and to set the tone for the week. We set goals and create strategies and this usually runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The afternoon is usually me getting back to emails, fittings, and calls or tending to whatever is happening that week or season. Things change so quickly whether we’re getting ready for a show, a collection, an event, or a trunk-show etc. The fun thing is that most days are different!
Any go-to rituals or essentials that get you through the day?
I walk to work every day with Jonesy, my English bulldog, and we have to stop at Bottino for our almond milk cappuccino and Jonesy’s morning turkey! It’s a short walk to work but the fresh air and music is a nice moment that I have to myself each day. Rinse and repeat on the way home. I have sensitive skin and skin care is super important to me so my daily routine is crucial. In the morning I use Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Purifying Foaming Cleanser and I mix it with their Epidermal Re-Texturizing Micro-Dermabrasion Scrub to wash my face in the shower. I then moisturize with Kiehl’s Rosa Artica Lightweight Cream which I slather on especially now that it’s getting cold. I outline my eyes with their Facial Fuel Eye De-Puffer; it’s a must and has a cooling effect. I use Aquaphor on my lips and that’s usually it for my skin in the AM. I apply a little make-up depending on how my skin is looking. I’ve had skin problems since I was young so I try and wear the least make-up possible to keep my skin breathing and fresh. I’m also loving Urban Decay’s Naked Concealer right now. I dot some under my eyes, around my nose and chin. I love using the new MAC Strobe Cream as a highlighter and I have been rubbing it on my cheeks under any make-up to give that little extra glow. To finish off, it’s a little Anastasia Brow Pencil, a smudge of light brown shadow and my favorite product of all, Blinc Mascara! It doesn’t smudge and it comes off with warm water in beads so you never need make up remover! As soon as I get home I wash my face with Kiehl’s Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash. I go for a heavier moisturizer at night, the Super Multi-Corrective Cream combined with the Midnight Recovery Eye Cream and I finish off with their Hydro Plumping Re-texturizing Serum on my lines. Depending on my skin, I spot treat or I might use some extra moisturizers.
With such a busy life, what are your secrets to staying balanced?
Sleep and water are the two biggies for me. I need to have minimum of eight hours of sleep and a two to five liters of water, preferably Evian, per day. Working out at least three to four times a week when I’m home gives me a mental escape and lets me check out for that time I’m in the gym. It “re-sets” my body mentally and physically and I sleep better and feel more balanced. Food is also a key factor. When I’m in NYC I try to cook at home and stick to a pretty strict diet when I can. My current diet is for health reasons and not for weight loss so when I can actually stick to it I feel 100 percent better overall. It’s a “low FODMAP” diet, which is really tough to stick to when you eat out because I can’t have onions or garlic. I don’t drink at home and try not to drink during the week and personally feel like it helps keep me be clear-minded. If I stick to this regime I feel better and physically and mentally balanced. I keep weekends pretty open to have a cheat day, see friends and get personal stuff done like mani/pedis and grocery shopping, but most of all veg’ing out with my man spending Sundays in bed doing nothing!
What is your favorite travel destination and why?
I love warm tropical destinations. I love un-plugging and just enjoying crystal clear water, palm trees and warm soft sand. There are a ton of places I’m dying to explore like Bali and Marrakech but of the places I’ve been, Mexico and the Abaco Islands are a couple of my favorites.
What are the first things you do when you wake up and the last things you do before going to bed?
My alarm goes off at 8 a.m. — I say good morning to my man and give him a kiss, then I dive into all my emails, social media and news from home before I get to the office and get inundated by questions, fittings and meetings. I’m a night owl so the nightly routine gets late… I usually leave work around 6-6:30 p.m. and then hit the gym. After the gym and dinner it’s usually 9:30 p.m. by the time I’m showered and finally relaxing. My boyfriend and I usually get in bed to watch The Daily Show and the last thing is a kiss good night around 1 or 2 a.m.. This is a quiet night without a work dinner or event, which is usually two to three times a week. No matter what, each night ends the same!
Photography by Anna Haines
Hair: Grace Kim / Cutler Salon
Makeup: Heather Vullo
Office Look: Houghton “Lyra” Bodysuit, GRLFRND “Helena” Jeans, Barney’s NY Ankle Boots. The Houghton “Lyra” Bodysuit is available at FWRD.
Street Style Look: Houghton Guipure Lace “Noah” Blazer, Houghton Guipure Lace “Leona” Trouser, Fiorucci Logo Tee, Adidas Stan Smith’s. The Houghton “Noah” Blazer + “Leona” trouser is currently available at the Houghton Boutique and will be available exclusively at NetAPorter.com in April.
Home Look: Houghton Silk “Dahlia” Slip Dress, Houghton Mongolian Lamb “Saffron” Bolero. All are currently available at the Houghton Boutique and the “Saffron” Bolero is available at select Nordstrom Bridal Shops.