An Interview with Katherine McMillan of Northern Grade & Pierrepont Hicks

September 18, 2013 BY OBI ANYANWU


Although American menswear is beginning to take on an international flavor, the quintessential Americana style will always reign supreme in the US. Long before American men took a liking to long layers and looking like a modern day ninja, they preferred down vests, plaid and tartan bow ties, and OCBDs and a vast majority of men still do. Men and women that hold American heritage garments in such a high regard are huge fans of Pierrepont Hicks and Northern Grade.

Pierrepont Hicks is Americana through and through, fitted for the man that goes camping and plays football in the Autumn and enjoys sailing trips in the Spring and Summer. The brand was launched in 2009 with a collection of ties by Mac and Katherine McMillan who soon took the brand further expanding into a full ready-to-wear collection. The couple also launched Northern Grade, a traveling pop-up shop that houses brands that best represent American style. This weekend in Richmond, VA, Need Supply will host Northern Grade which will include Billy Reid, Billykirk, Woolrich, The Hillside, Pierrepont Hicks and more.

We spent time with Katherine McMillan of Pierrepont Hicks and Northern Grade to find out what's in store for Pierrepont Hicks for this season and SS14 and what's to come for Northern Grade.


We Are The Market: First we have to ask, why fashion? What interested you most about it and made you want to start a career in this industry?

Katherine McMillan: I worked for most of my 20s in New York City in fashion and magazine publishing. I actually started at ELLE after college in advertising under the impression I could move over to editorial after getting my foot in the door in ad sales. This is not the case. I loved ELLE and learned so much there. After that I ended up at a B2B website called 7thonline which was created to bridge the gap in the process between retailers ordering from vendors. This process is a bit archaic still to this day and everyone has different practices. This was in the 90s so it was a pretty innovative idea.

After that I ended up at Gourmet at Conde Nast and it was an amazing time for me. I learned so much there. After Gourmet I ended up at Ralph Lauren where I worked as a production coordinator for their Collection and Black Label lines. I was essentially a runner between the design teams and the production teams. I learned about creating a sample in New York and then shipping it off to Singapore to manufacture.

Once I landed in Minneapolis, I had a creative urge to do something for myself as I was becoming a mother and wanted to do something from home while my kids were young. It ended up being ties. Random I know... but it was something I felt inspired to do after a trip to Scotland. Mac ended up joining in with me more seriously after a few months. He was always the one saying yes or no to tie ideas and when we designed it was always collaborative. I think menswear has always been oddly in the back of my mind. I just enjoy its simplicity and the beauty of a good suit.

What sparked the idea to start Pierrepont Hicks?

A trip to Scotland and an urge to create tie patterns that were not very visible at that time. I think more than just the urge to create ties it was about creating a vehicle to encapsulate a lifestyle. We liked the trend happening that formal accessories could be relevant again. I grew up around men who wore a coat and tie every Saturday night for cocktails and dinner; It was natural for them. I wish it were more like that today. It feels so much more festive doesn't it? Dressing up...

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Did the tartan patterns in Scotland inspire to do ties?

Well actually the first tie I noticed there in a tiny shop in Oban was a very soft leaf green wool tie... it was more the Earth tone wools I fell in love with.


Any pieces from the collection that you pat yourself on the back for?

The very loud suede camp mocs with orange top and blue bottom were a labor of love so I guess you could say I was excited to see them make it online.


What's the inspiration for the line FW13 and SS14 collections?

We launched a line of outerwear for Fall with the hope that we could make some things that people like to wear but also actually will keep them warm. It's hard to look good and be warm simultaneously - especially in Minnesota. Spring 2014 is still being worked on. It's always about adding something interesting to the garment, whether it is a funny club pattern or a hint of color. Spring is a time to play with linen and cotton. I am really into creams, beiges and light grey for Spring.


What sparked the idea for Northern Grade?

In 2009 everyone was talking about heritage and the now annoying "urban woodsman" look was all over the place. Being in Minnesota, we just found it made sense to create an event to promote and celebrate all of the very old heritage brands in that region.


How do you decide on which brands can participate?

Although heritage is forever a category we love and enjoy, we like to choose brands who have a variety of products to offer and basically just bring good design into the mix. It's not about a specific style for NG brands. We look for folks doing something innovative and who are paying attention to their manufacturing process. We love the surf movement happening now and I think that loud 80s surfwear is making a big comeback. I hope it happens. I am obsessed with Almond Surf, Napper Tandy and Farm Tactics right now. We invite people who are not really hung up on egos either. Everyone helps and everyone promotes online. We like to work with the folks who get that piece. Communication is a big deal for us.


What has this year been like so far for Northern Grade?

Exhausting. Exciting.

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What goes into making Northern Grade such a great event in each city?

We like to include the local culture as much as we can. For example, for Richmond, we knew we wanted to talk with Gabe from Need Supply Co. since he lives there and is tapped into the great food, music and culture there. That is always a great piece of NG planning - but more so we think the brands who come are the real stars. There is always some excitement seeing them plan and execute their booth merchandise and the creative goodness that comes out at NG. It's all about the brands.


What should we look for in the upcoming and remaining events of this year?

We have a couple bigger names involved which is always nice. We love to be a platform to showcase young brands, but we also find it so helpful when bigger brands wants to take part. Woolrich is coming to Richmond. As is Billy Reid. New York's Northern Grade will be pretty big. We're also hoping to include some brands like Baldwin Denim for both their men's and women's collections. Women want made in USA too.


What is it like handling both business? Any advice for those "wearing multiple hats"?

Pierrepont Hicks work ebbs and flows to be honest - we just prioritize. We find Northern Grade is the thing that needs us more on an hourly basis now - and we have to feed it to keep it going of course. So you pick and choose your priorities. We love PH and it will keep rolling for sure with the ties, shoes and outerwear. But we don't do trade shows anymore because we have no time. We are more focused on our online stock and just rolling that out the best we can. NG is also really fun for us. We are always meeting new people in each town and tapping into each city's culture. It is a bit of a rush each time we do a pop-up.

Advice... hmmm... honestly - use the tools out there for organization like Nimble, Basecamp, Lumiary and Dropbox.


Any future plans for Northern Grade?

We've got big dreams... We are beginning our first fund raise and talking with some folks who want to help us grow. We'll see. I would like NG to become the place where people across the globe go to see what new American design is happening. Not only to buy things. But to learn about our country now and the amazing creatives here. We have so much popping. It's exciting to be involved in this little group. We don't always define our success on attendance. It is also about sale figures. We had a brand recently who sold $14,000 in one day and the attendance was just around 2000 people.

Also, we have been discussing bringing the Northern Grade market to cities abroad, although tariffs and other logistics can get expensive. We are working on a Tokyo event now with some folks we know over there. It will be interesting for sure.



Northern Grade 10 will be at The Power Plant on 1001 Haxall Point in Richmond, VA on September 21st and 22nd. For more information, head over to Northern Grade.