6 Questions With Caleres Emerging Designer Award Winner Katharine Polk of Houghton
History was made during Saint Louis Fashion Week just two weeks ago when the Saint Louis Fashion Fund presented the Caleres Emerging Designer Award—and a $25,000 cash prize—to California-native Katharine Polk and her line, Houghton, on Wednesday, Nov. 4 at Union Station. The ready-to-wear-meets-bridal line captured the attention of the jurors—including respected fashion industry professionals Tomoko Ogura, senior fashion director at Barney’s, and Gary Wassner, one of the emerging design industry’s top financiers. Back in her now-home of New York City, Polk chats with us about her win, her brand and what’s next for the budding designer.
ALIVE: You just won $25K for your brand—how do you feel? What was the first thing you thought when they announced that your line, Houghton, had won?
Katharine Polk: When I heard my name/Houghton announced, I instantly cried and hugged Kate—my sales director/best friend/my right hand. I believe in what I do and know my customer loves what I do but I also know it’s not for everyone. I never think that anything is a sure thing. It could have been anyone’s night, but the judges saw my vision and it all really came together. Houghton is not just a ready-to-wear collection with a straight forward approach … . I have been trying to create a new space of ready-to-wear that you can get married in (#everydaytoweddingday) and it’s much harder to explain something new and different. When people finally understand and appreciate what you are doing, that feeling is so amazing. And the jurors are industry-wide leaders who I have so much respect and admiration for. I can’t describe the emotions.
ALIVE: How do you plan on using the money to build Houghton?
KP: There are so many ways we can use it. We are growing so quickly and 2015 has been our biggest year yet. I wish I had a glamorous answer but honestly the $25K will go straight to help pay bills, which is exactly what we need. With growth comes production and with production comes the costs of orders for fabric, fittings, models, factories etc., so that is really the area where the money will go immediately.
ALIVE: Houghton has gotten a ton of buzz this year and has been featured in major publications including WWD. Do you feel that 2015 will be a year that you will look back on as a turning point for your brand?
KP: I hope not, because if you stop and say “that was a pivotal moment” or “that was our ‘huge’ moment,” I feel like that’s when you stop growing. I think you have to stop and take a breath every now and then and appreciate things, but don’t get comfortable. I definitely am feeling the momentum from this year but I want to take this energy and keep it going into 2016. Hopefully it snowballs!
ALIVE: What can fans of the brand look forward to seeing for your fall 2016 collection?
KP: We have made some big changes at Houghton this year, which are very exciting: We have merged Houghton and Houghton Bride back into one collection. We will be presenting Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter collections each year as well. The main idea of Houghton is a ready-to-wear collection you can get married in. It’s for the woman who does not want a traditional dress or gown but wants to get married in something timeless, sexy and chic. Houghton also caters to the designer-loving customer and has coined the phrase “Everyday to Wedding Day,” which is inspired by winter white and the fact that lace is always in style. The “Houghton Girl” is 18 or 75 and has a strong sense of style and independence.
ALIVE: Any plans as of now to return to STL?
KP: We definitely plan on being back for next year’s awards and I look forward to supporting the Fund for years to come. Susan Sherman and Caleres have created something truly special and the energy and support they have brought to the Fund is so inspiring—I can’t wait to see the revitalization start! I would be honored to be a part of it.
ALIVE: How did you feel about the connections you made while you were here?
KP: Everything about the trip was amazing. From Susan Sherman’s hospitality and contagious energy to being able to present and connect with such a well-respected and established panel of jurors, it was honestly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The production team backstage lead by Shannon Lichti was so professional and made everything seamless, and being invited to the Gala honoring Iris Apfel, Jeigh Singleton and Paul Dillinger was a huge bonus. It was so great to get to talk to the other designers. I don’t often get to talk to them and hear what they are going through. It’s a tough business to break into so we have to support each other.
I can’t thank Diane Sullivan and Caleres enough for making this all possible. Such huge a check really makes a big difference in a young designer’s life and business. The support and hard work of Susan Sherman and Tania Beasley-Jolly means so much as well. This is really a passion project and you feel the love when you’re in St Louis.