Exploring the Houghton NYC Atelier

— Bridal Fashion

Houghton NYC Atelier
Houghton NYC Atelier

If there’s anything we’ve learned from the years we’ve covered New York Bridal Week, it’s that when it comes to Houghton, you can leave all expectations at the door. You can shove to the side any preconceived ideas about the show you’re yet to witness - even if you’ve been privy to little hints in the lead up. You can forget whatever unexpected design you’ve come to expect from the brand that refuses to play by the rules.

Forever moving beyond the realm of bridal, Houghton’s elusive style is impossible to define. They’re a brand that marches to the beat of their own drum. When the industry goes left, Houghton goes right. When the bridal world clings to it’s comfort zone of voluminous silhouettes and sweetheart necklines, Houghton does 90’s chic. When designers produce interpretation after interpretation of ethereal, Givenchy-esque designs, Houghton does dramatic, billowing lace skirts with delicate midriff tops - long before the myriad of imitations that follow. When Spring bridal week challenges us to find a talking point in botanical embellishment, Houghton shocks us with an evocatively sheer gown dripping in iridescent sequins. (Yes - that Moss gown we might never stop posting, because it completely moved us. It still does. To us it was one of the loudest statements made in bridal that forced the world to sit up and take notice)

Fast forward a few years, and even when Houghton surpasses what the non traditionalist in us might admittedly wear as bridal, we can’t help but love them for it. There’s something to be said for going against the grain and doing whatever the hell feels right, because it means something to you. And while this season we were drawn to the more romantic silhouettes that spoke to who we are at The LANE, we were wildly intrigued by the boldly eclectic and beautifully diverse pieces that made up the latest collection.

In a world of fast fashion where brands are vying for our attention on social media, we’re the first to admit we’ve become a little desensitised. We flick past self indulgent bloggers telling us to tap for outfit details as if we’re desperate to know, we scroll right over brands selling us their latest product or carefully chosen image that fits a perfectly curated feed. What stops us now are the things that make us feel. We find perfection in imperfection. We see strength in vulnerability. We’re all searching for a little more meaning in the overly voyeuristic, and perfectly curated glimpses of life we knowingly present. And this year Houghton gave us that.

Instead of a runway show, Houghton presented a collection of gowns worn by a group of influential women. Diversely different women. Women in different shapes and sizes who didn’t fit the mould, who weren’t supposed to. And most importantly, didn’t care to. It was a wildly unexpected collection woven together by a message that ran far deeper than aesthetics alone. But the presentation was only a prelude to a film that truly impacted us. A documentary where each women revealed their story and internal struggles in the most raw, honest way. Parts of ourselves identified with every one of them, but it wasn’t their stories and situations or the way they fought through adversity that shook us most, it was the strength they showed in being honest, being real, breaking down, and exposing their true selves. A powerful reminder that real beauty lies in letting go. In a 15 minute film (view in gallery), Houghton gave us reason to look at the why behind chasing crazy dreams, pushing faster and harder to achieve things beyond ourselves. They created a space where it was ok to just be. Exactly how we were, exactly where we were. And what we realised is that, while Houghton’s style is elusive, their ethos is not. The permission to just be, and the message to let go seeps into every crevice of their brand - their runway shows, their collections, the team behind the brand, and their Atelier.

Every year that we’ve stepped foot into Houghton’s New York space brings the same feeling. They’ve so beautifully and authentically designed a space that lets you be you. Just like their Bridal Week shows, you’re forced to drop all expectations and stigmas attached to wedding gown shopping. In this light-filled West Chelsea loft, there’s no bridal appropriate playlist, it’s usually 90’s R&B and champagne or Peroni, there’s no pretentious fussiness, there’s down to earth staff who actually care about finding something you love, a beloved English Bulldog who greets you at the door, racks and racks of the most diversely different gowns that sit somewhere between ready to wear and bridal as well as access to their archives, a library of laces and exquisite imported fabrics available to choose for custom orders, patternmakers, tailors and seamstresses right there on site for fittings, and at the heart of the brand is Katharine Polk - a designer who disregards the rules and quite simply and powerfully, just creates what she loves. Refusing to produce anything that doesn’t hold special meaning for her. We spent a day exploring the NYC atelier, photographing the collection, digging up & trying on some of our favorites from the archives (hello gold sequinned romper of our dreams), and chatting to Katharine about all things Houghton… (interview under gallery)


The Houghton bride is… 
Brave, real, free-spirited, free-thinking, stylish and definitely not a wallflower

A welcomed change in the bridal industry that I’ve seen since designing Houghton is… Acceptance of the “non- traditional” bridal brands. Styles like separates and rompers, which were considered “alternative” only a few years ago, are now not a far leap for brides.

What’s inspiring me at the moment…
Real women! 

My latest collection is all about…
Real life, real women and real issues. I designed a collection that was inspired by a group of amazing women and presented it through a fashion film starring this select group of powerful women. These 10 women, including myself, have different body types and individual personal styles. I felt compelled to convey a message behind the collection, which inspired the designs. This message was about expressing and understanding self-identity and finding solace in knowing that all women experience similar issues in their lives; whether it is body image, depression, anxiety, eating disorders or self-doubt. These issues shouldn’t inhibit or stop you from being happy or successful, and these issues only make us stronger, as expressed by the women in the film. It’s about finding ways to conquer your demons so you can survive and succeed, no matter what industry you are in.
The collection was a collaboration with all the amazing women in this film. We designed looks that lent themselves to each woman’s body type, style and aesthetic. I think this made for the most wearable collection yet. The samples were all made to fit these gorgeous ladies who ranged from a size 0-10 and I believe they are the epitome of who HOUGHTON is. 

Walk us though the experience of visiting the Houghton Atelier…
Jonesy, my attention loving English Bulldog and Houghton Mascot, always greets you at the door! We have brides who cannot wait to finally meet her when they come for their appointments. You’ll walk into The Houghton World- a light filled loft overlooking the Hudson River, where we have fun 90’s R&B playing and get handed a Peroni Beer or champagne in a can to sip on while you get in the mood to play dress-up. Our Sales Manager will lead you into the atelier, where your favorite looks are already pulled aside for you to try and then lets you browse the extensive archives to add to your selection.

Our atelier is the only location in the world where our brides have access to racks and closets full of Houghton archival pieces that go all the way back to Fall/Winter 2012. With an understanding of your budget and aesthetic, we will find the perfect look for you and can even customize a look for you. Once our girl finds her dream look, measurements are taken as well as a deposit and you’ll receive your Houghton look in 12-16 weeks… unless like most of our brides you came in last minute and are getting married in 3 weeks! For those last minute girls, we facilitate rush orders and can turn around gowns pretty quickly with an additional rush fee applied.
Once your look is ready, you’ll be notified to come back for a fitting and that’s it, you’re off to get married! Some of our brides even come back to alter their look to wear post wedding and of course to say hi to Jonesy!

Before you start looking for a wedding gown you should…
Know where you’re getting married, your look should be conducive to your location!

Advice for any bride-to-be…
Dress for you! Don’t bring too many opinions to shop, go with your gut. Be comfortable but take risks! 

3 ceremony songs that you might hear on a Houghton girl’s playlist…
White Sea- Stay Young Get Stoned, Ray La Montagne- Trouble, TLC- Creep

The best part of my job…
Being creative and working with people I love. The fact that I can envision something and then bring it to fruition in a matter of days, weeks or months is an amazing way to work. I love seeing our happy brides and being part of such an important day in their life, you feel so connected to them! 

A challenging moment in my career…
There are a lot of growing pains in a start up company. Hopefully you learn from your mistakes and don’t make the same mistake twice.
When I founded Houghton, stores couldn’t understand if it was a “RTW” or “Bridal” collection. The RTW stores didn’t understand why they needed to carry us because we had a collection that didn’t fit into the traditional departments. I was adamant that our girls were RTW customers and wouldn’t shop in traditional bridal salons. It was an uphill battle for a couple years, but now our category has been accepted and embraced in the last 2 years with stores like Nordstrom’s and FWRD by Elyse Walker supporting and carrying Houghton. 
Personally, as I addressed in the Fall/Winter ‘17 “The Houghton Girl” Film, I’ve struggled with eating disorders for more than half my life. Moving to NYC and working in the fashion industry fueled my issues and I got incredibly ill and frail- down to 96 lbs in 2012. Trying to find that healthy balance has been a huge challenge that dominates my life in every aspect. 

A quote that inspires me…
“If you obey the rules, you miss all the fun” - Katharine Hepburn

Where to now for Houghton…
We are making changes in terms of how we present and show new collections. After creating such a powerful film with inspiring women I don’t want to just send models down a runway anymore. I only want to make collections that have meaning. It’s exciting to think of ways to blend fashion with a message. I’m having fun creating content to show and share these messages. 

We are currently taking appointments in our NYC Atelier. Or email [email protected] for a retailer in your state or country. 

See the full collection on the Houghton NYC website.

Makeup: Regan Rabanel for M.A.C Cosmetics

Hair: Melissa Parizot for Cutler/Redken

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