Styleite: You started out working for Badgley Mischka after college. How did you decide to venture out on your own?
Katharine Polk: I was lucky enough to get that job straight out of college working as Assistant Designer directly for Mark and James. I was going to FIDM and I had majored in fashion design. They offered me a position so I worked for them for a few years and took on a bunch of different jobs within the company — I was designing, overseeing licencees and took on in house styling. I loved designing but I was really enjoying the styling aspect too and wanted to explore that more, which they were very supportive of. I was working on their shows back when they were at Bryant Park. That led to me spearheading all the other shows throughout the year. From trunk shows at Neiman Marcus to charity events at Cipriani, they had me put all of those together. I went out on my own and pursued styling for celebrities and editorials and became New York fashion editor for a magazine based in London called Fiasco.
So did that experience prepare you for staging your first show last season? I know that’s a big challenge for a lot of designers when they’re first starting out.
Yeah it did. I got submerged in that world and soaked up every experience in terms of what went into the production, what went in to every single aspect of it. That plus my family is in television, so I was literally born on a set. I’ve been watching production since I was a newborn and I used to love hanging out with wardrobe ladies, so when I look back I now put two and two together. I just have the production gene — my parents produce shows that would go live in front of a million people, so this is no biggie.
What’s your design process like? Do you like to work in the office or are you the type that’s always sketching on the go?
It’s been kind of an ongoing conversation in the last couple of weeks. I don’t know how other designers work, but some of the models will be like ‘they have their interns do this and that,’ but I like things done a certain way and there’s actually a lot of busywork that I like doing. I personally get so excited by seeing the fabric, so I’ll go to the fabric store and spend two hours flipping through every single swatch. If I have downtime in between seasons that’s what I’ll do. It runs the gamut, though – I do a bit of everything. I’ll sketch out the whole collection and then have people turn it into flats and CADs and stuff. I get the ball rolling and then pass on the baton.
How big is the Houghton operation right now?
It’s growing really quickly. We’ve moved offices three times in the past year. We don’t want to grow too fast but I do want it to grow organically. We have an in-house sales rep and then my assistant, who has been with me since she was an intern. My mom is my CEO and I would be lost without her. She has an unbelievable business sense; she’s run her own businesses for 35 years. And since the first collection was all white, the majority of requests came from girls who were getting married, so in response to that we’re launching a bridal collection in October for the alternative bride, which means I’m now trying to roll out a new collection as well.
What are some things we can expect from the spring collection?
The first word that comes to mind is ”fun.” I think it’s a much better representation of Houghton as a brand overall. It has a lot of color, which I think people are a little surprised by when they first look at the board. But even though it’s so colorful the main thing I stay true to is the ease, the easy silhouette. The fit will always remain the same. That’s my go-to. It’s really important to me that everything is just really easy and comfortable and loose. I’m never going to have a sewn-up corset or anything really tight or restrictive. I like things sexy but still really loose and easy and comfortable. But this season is a lot more textured, it’s a lot more evolved, it’s a lot more merchandised, I have a lot more separates. It feels much more complete as a collection. I was able to really source fabrics from my French mills, as opposed to with the first collection where it just kind of snowballed. When I design I lay everything out and see it all cohesively. But last season I designed a gown and was like ‘well that would fit with this cocktail dress, which would go with this suit.’ So that’s how I designed the first collection. But this time I’ve had more of an opportunity to merchandise and see it as a whole. I’m really, really proud of this collection and so excited to show it. It’s really just a fun collection.
How would you describe your personal style? Are you wearing your own designs all the time or do you like to mix it up?
Well, you know, I can’t really wear gowns to work. I do wear the menswear shirts from the first collection on a daily basis with a pair of jeans and then from the new collection I’ll definitely wear a lot of pieces. There’s one outfit in particular that I’m obsessed with — it’s a pajama top with a slouchy pant and I can definitely see myself wearing that all the time. I wear a lot of maxi skirts and dresses and I like to mix vintage with comfortable pieces like Lanvin flats, platform booties, and a lot of Stella McCartney. I’m not a big designer label person but somehow I always go to her in my closet.
Who are some of the designers that you admire?
Well Stella is really my idol in terms of her business, her brand, her aesthetic. The way she runs a business, especially through the recession. Her look is just so simple but beautiful, so I look to her in a lot of ways. She’s owned by Gucci Group but yet she’s maintained her DNA. Tom Ford is amazing as well, but I do really adore Stella.
So do you share Stella’s environmental, vegan interests?
Well, I’m not really trying to emulate her in that way. I love my leather. But I think she does an amazing job with that and I appreciate what she stands for. Especially since I’m a complete animal die-hard. I grew up on a farm, I have horses, I get depressed if I have to leave my dog for some reason. She’s here with me right now and she’s in the office every day. We won’t hire someone unless they’re an animal lover.
We’ve partnered with HOUGHTON to bring you two tickets to their SS ’13 fashion show this NYFW on September 7th, 2012 at the Standard Hotel, plus the opportunity to go backstage and sit down for a glass of bubbly with the designer herself. Here’s how to enter:
2. Follow this link to submit your vision for the line by Monday, September 3rd.