Back in the day (and in the before-times), a Houghton show or presentation in a chic townhouse was the highlight of Bridal Week. Designer Katharine Polk's cool, spirited styles not only stood out, but also pushed the envelope in terms of creativity and innovation for wedding attire. (Remember the bridal overalls?!) Her concepts proved forward-thinking, as well: The brand was exploring body positivity and alternative presentation formats when it released a short film for Fall 2017, and was early on the see-now, buy (or pre-order) now train — revolutionary for the traditional and resistant-to-change bridal world. Plus, Polk's dog Jonesy was always the most popular VIP at Houghton's events.
She shuttered the line in 2018, but, always with her finger on the pulse, maintained her imprint on the industry. She would consult for brands like BHLDN and retail disruptors like Dress Hunt, and continued custom-designing for bridal clients. Ultimately, she plotted her official return with a self-named line.
"I've been saying it's two years in the works because I feel like I've just been building towards it," Polk tells me over Zoom, from her Los Angeles home office. "In the back of my head, I've known that I wanted to launch my namesake line."
With the tagline "Bridal for everyBODY," Katharine Polk wedding dresses are shoppable directly online and available in sizes 00 to 30. "Of course, if there's something a bride needs, we're here to cater to that," the designer says. "We can make it in any size they want."
Price points run from $500 for the Karmen (a puff-sleeve and midi-length wrap dress in a lustrous moire) to $4,650 for the Lexi (a spaghetti-strap gown with streaming godets and a removable cowl wrap); the delicate, crystal-trimmed Gwen (with an open back and puff sleeves) costs $3,150, while the drop-waist and ballerina tulle-skirted Jones rings in at $3,100. ("She's more traditional than my typical gown," says Polk, who named the latter after her trusty canine sidekick.) Clients have the option to pay in installments via Shop Pay.
Polk spent the last two years sourcing factories and high-quality materials that pull double-duty of offering luxury and versatility, like wrinkle-free fabrics and double-bonded crepe for stretch and comfort. The dresses are all designed and manufactured in L.A. and can ship within one to six weeks, with rush charges transparently calculated in a drop-down menu on the site.
The brand also offers levels of personalized service and customization, priced between $4,500 and $9,000, depending on complexity, time and work. One "made-to-order" option allows adjustments to existing styles — think swapping out fabrics and embellishments, like sequins and crystal, and changing sleeve and hem-lengths and back details. Polk continues her custom design "white glove service," starting at $9,000.
"We do it from the [original] sketch, alterations, fittings, sourcing fabric, you name it," she says, adding that she also offers full styling services, which her custom brides often request. "I personally will shop for their shoes and style their jewelry. I will give them mood boards and connect with hair and makeup team, you name it. I had one custom bride and was flown out to her wedding and made custom adjustments to her bouquets."
Coming back after a two-year hiatus feels right for Polk, especially since she was always a few steps ahead of the game. A look through the debut collection — with the sculptural volume, sexy open backs, playful detail and layer-able silhouettes — also offers a nostalgic reminder of the Houghton spirit and cool-girl essence. (Jonesy even makes an appearance in one of the campaign pics.) With this collection, she says, she's distilling her aesthetic in a way that's "more salable, putting ego aside," as opposed to the constant hamster wheel of angling for a "wow factor."
The line also reflects her journey and learnings, both from Houghton and from working on custom designs for clients: "I'm going in with a very specific vision and what I learned from all of that: be focused, be intentional."
Similar to Houghton, Polk is launching the self-named line direct-to-consumer, with an eye on selling through select retailers, starting with L.A.-based Loho Bride. With full control over her collection — and not bound to the traditional bridal season cycle — the designer will introduce new styles "organically," while also speaking with boutiques about offering exclusive dresses.
While Polk remains mum on her next big announcement (which would require investors for her currently self-funded line), she plans to roll out a multi-brand concept category. "So it'll be a one stop shop," says Polk. "Bridal-related or not even — anything from home décor to cocktail to lingerie to swim, you name it. It'll all be curated by me. So yeah, anyone who's interested in collaborating on that, they can reach out to myself!"
Through the brand's e-commerce, Polk sells customized bridal denim jackets, which hark back to Houghton and its groundbreaking offerings in the mid-2010s, which helped usher in the now standard bridal separates.
"What I learned from Houghton [and am applying to] this brand is take a bit of that, sprinkle it in and I know what sells now. I know what the brides want," she says. "So I know I can create the next trend."
Click through the Katharine Polk debut bridal collection in the gallery below.