Katharine Hepburn, Wooly Mammoths and English Bulldogs at Houghton

Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo at Celine have a cult following for good reason – they are women who design for women. Part of their genius is understanding the relationship of the clothes to the body. Their unrestrained approach doesn’t demand the wearer to subscribe to some pre-assigned code or projected ego. Cue Katharine Polk from emerging label Houghton (showing this coming fashion week at MADE) who has the same approach.

Polk believes that a woman flourishes when floating inside a big silhouette. Which is why Katharine Hepburn is her muse. Period. (Her mother named her after her, and Houghton was Hepburn’s middle name). Season in, season out, she revisits Hepburn’s style and asks herself – “How would she wear this, what would she think of this garment, how do I see her wearing it?” Polk admires how she always stayed true to her style and sported oversize silhouettes – “I feel like she was always feminine, even in her jogging pants.” There is a rather beautiful paradox with Houghton – the rigidity of Polk’s approach (her absolute acid test being whether Hepburn would give it the thumbs up) is in direct contrast to the liberating nature of the clothes themselves.

Naturally it isn’t all a Hepburn pastiche though. The Houghton woman is 21st century through and through. Her girl wears the same thing in the day as the evening and throws on a pair of flats. “I want my girl to mix it with vintage, bring her attitude, wear it with dirty Chucks, or throw on a pair of motorcycle boots. It’s not meant to be contrived.” Which explains why Birkenstock have chosen to work exclusively with her on custom pieces – this season they come with crystal sides or fuzzy sheepskin. As we continue conversing, further animal references emerge. Some of the sleeve shapes this season are based on elephant ears, and the mohairs nod to prehistoric mammoths shaggy coats.

But the head of the Houghton zoo is Jonesy, Polk’s English bulldog sidekick that patrols the studio daily. “The atmosphere is not the same when she isn’t around – she levels out the chaos”. But so does Polk. You would never think she worked in fashion if you ran into her. Her dream front row is equally unpretentious. “It would be the people I have grown up with and who aren’t in fashion. And Jonesy of course!” A bulldog watching sartorial versions of mammoths and elephants on a runway? It could only happen in fashion.

Photography by Amanda Hakan

Photographic Director: Erick Ruales

IG: @maryeleanorfellowes
Twitter: @maryfellowes


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