Houghton’s Katharine Polk is Leading the Unconventional Bridal Brigade
Think: biker jackets, sequin pantsuits, and loads of color.
When it comes to bridal design and wedding dresses, there seem to be two distinct camps. One prefers glamour in the traditional sense: classic white dresses, cathedral-length veils, and a subtle touch, somewhere, of something blue.
The other seems to be throwing that idea of bridal tradition out the window, or at least turning it on its head. And leading the charge is designer Katharine Polk, who via her four-year-old line, Houghton, is offering something for the bride who wants to wear a flared-leg jumpsuit, say, or a leather jacket that says “Not Your Baby,” across the back. For Polk, who got her start at Badgley Mischka before starting her own line, wedding dresses don’t need to be precious, nor do they need to be something that you can only wear on your wedding day. “I wanted to create a brand that's ready-to-wear that you can also get married in, and you could wear it again,” says Polk. “So it's really everyday to wedding day and then back to everyday.” If your every day and your wedding day includes a vision of a baby blue sequined bomber jacket or candy-colored Mongolian lamb coats (um, hi, yes), than welcome to bridal heaven.
The inspiration behind her line:
“I'm inspired by women and their personalities and their lifestyle. That's really what inspired the brand to start with, and that's what inspires me to design every season. The initial idea for the brand was that there wasn't a place to go for women—whether they were 21 or 65—if they didn't want to get married in a sweetheart neckline ball gown.
“I wanted to create a brand that's ready-to-wear that you can also get married in, and you could wear it again, so it's really everyday to wedding day and then back to everyday. The silhouettes are really ready-to-wear based and that's really what attracts our customer.”
What brides are asking for now:
“I did the crop top skirt thing years ago now which seemed so edgy then, and it's just so common now. It's not considered edgy at all anymore, which I think is funny. Rompers have always been great for us, and to me I would think that’s forward thinking and modern. Now girls are definitely wanting to go a bit more romantic. But the bodysuit has been amazing for us; other than the bodysuits I think the pants and the separates—we do great great with skirts.
“Over the years we've learned to not get discouraged [if it doesn’t take off at first]—if we really believe in a gown or a style or a silhouette, we keep it in the collection. We have the luxury that we have our own retail business, so we can keep it, we don't have to cancel something and not show it again, and we know that it will get picked up the next year. People were scared of the florals when we showed them, but press comes out the next year and the print florals have been huge for us. It takes people a minute to catch up to some of the things we've done.”
What she loves about bridal:
“People have such strong reaction to it and it's such an emotional day for the girls when they come in. The dress really means something to them: it's an emotional purchase that they remember: they remember us, they remember the team, and it really they love what they buy. The girls that come here are not your traditional brides, they're not bridezillas. Ninety-eight percent of them come in on their lunch break—they come in by themselves, they buy it, they get it done and they're such cool girls. We stay friends with a lot of them.”
Her new collection, and using her platform for good:
“I decided not to show in February of 2016 for the first time during New York Fashion Week. I showed in April during bridal week and we had an amazing show. For spring, I knew I wanted to do something different, but we didn't know what. We were talking about maybe doing a film for October.
“I wrote a piece for Harper's Bazaar about a personal struggle with an eating disorder that I'd gone through for a long time, and about being in a different place now with my life—and the reaction was amazing and overwhelming. The piece was never a press moment—they reached out to me when they saw something that I posted on my personal Instagram. But when it came out it was like, okay, this is an opportunity to merge two worlds and help some people. It felt really empty just doing runway shows."
“We came up with the idea right then and there to make a film, and reach out to some really close friends and see if they'd be up for joining. They jumped on board within literally ten minutes of sending the email. The film is basically a documentary of the girls wearing the collection as each girl talks about a struggle that they've gone through in their life, and how social media played into it and created this facade [of perfection]. All these women run their own businesses, they all have families, or they have their own thing going on, and they're all successful but they all also have an internal struggle that they deal with every single day. It's really amazing and they were so brave and open and honest. They talk about loving yourself first and that you can't get through any of these issues without doing that—whether it's depression or eating disorders or not loving your body after having kids.”