The Instagram-beloved brand is about so much more than its cotton-candy garments.
If you were on Instagram at all this summer, you’ve probably seen a Selkie dress: ultra-girly, puff-sleeved styles in ice cream pastels with space-consuming flared skirts in either mini- or midi-lengths. They proved irresistible bait for people looking to grab attention, online or off. (I myself bought a Selkie dress for my birthday and can attest to their power: I have never been stopped in the street about what I’m wearing so many times in my life.) That’s precisely what founder and designer Kimberley Gordon intended when she started the brand.
“No one can ignore you in these clothes,” she says.
Gordon is no stranger to attention-grabbing fashion, having started mid-aughts It girl brand Wildfox at just 24 years old. That story ended badly, with Gordon claiming she was pushed out by her partner when he decided he wanted to move the brand in a “new direction.”
Selkie was conceived during her period of grief, something which is reflected in the very name of the brand itself: In Irish folklore, a selkie is a woman who lives in a kind of sealskin that she removes when she comes to shore to sunbathe; if a sailor could steal and hide the skin from her, a selkie has to marry him and give him children — though she’ll search for her skin all the while, hoping for the chance to find it and return to the sea. Gordon felt she could relate to selkies and to the fairytale about the little mermaid.
“I was feeling like I had been tricked by this man, and I thought, so many women sell so much of themselves to get a platform and then turn into foam at the end. You end up walking on knives and then you die,” she says. “I knew I wanted to do a brand that spoke to women in this very feminine way, the fairytale way, because I know that this is a common story.”
It took her a few years, but around 2018, Gordon launched Selkie. There are plenty of feminine pieces, from angel-themed sweatshirts to frilly skirts, but far and away, Selkie’s biggest hit is the Puff Dress: Now Gordon’s signature silhouette, the dress comes in dozens of different colors and patterns, varying in length but never in volume. Though she makes clear that everything she designs for Selkie is what she herself wants to wear — “wearable princess,” she’d call it — it was the Puff Dress that put the brand on the map.
Selkie was launched with an inclusive size range (the Puff is available in sizes XXS through 5X), and though it’s already progressive for a brand like hers, Gordon is pushing to make it even more so. Not only does she intend on extending the range further by two sizes, she’s also working with a consultant on reconfiguring the size chart to bring the numbers in alignment with more standard plus sizing by next spring.
“The goal is about women being able to find themselves again, or arm themselves, or be confident; to do that means to open that up to all different types of women, to have a diverse size range — which I think should be mandatory at this stage for all brands, but it’s not,” she says. “There are a few customers that don’t have access right now, and that obviously is incredibly frustrating for them. There’s nothing like someone saying, ‘Oh, you make clothes for all girls,’ and then the girls who can’t buy it being like, ‘Fuck you.'”
Even though there are devoted fans who collect Puffs by the handful, Gordon knows one viral dress isn’t enough to build a business on. She started with a fuller range of day-to-day clothes, but found the market too saturated to break through; meanwhile, the more practical pieces were harder to sell. With the Puff Dress establishing a fan base, she can now turn her attention back to adding in more everyday styles, too: “I want it to be a world that you can stay within.”
“I want people to come and shop and to be able to get their clothes here across the board, because I think it’s really nice when you have a brand that you can shop for everything, you know the sizing, and you just can trust that you’ll love what you get,” Gordon says. “I have brands that I do that with, and I just want people to really trust the brand.”
More than that, creating a hit garment in truly inclusive sizing has given Gordon the power to push for size inclusivity beyond her own label. Just recently, retailer Revolve agreed to stock Selkie above the XL, coming up to a 2X or 3X in certain items.
“Trying to get people to take upper sizing, or trying to make it more normalized to sell upper sizing, is really difficult to do; you have to be incredibly strategic,” she says. “I knew that places like Revolve don’t do it, and in order to get them to sell it, I knew it would take a dress that would trend, that would sell so much for them they’d be willing to experiment. Everything that I’ve designed has been quite strategic in order to create more access for women and give women more power.”
These are lofty goals for a small brand, to be sure, yet Gordon is making it happen. She’s determined to build Selkie into a label that can sit alongside the Jeremy Scotts and the Anna Suis of the world — albeit a slightly more affordable one. (“Mid-tier” is how Gordon would describe her ideal price range: “I really think it’s needed and important to have exciting and fun brands that are accessible.”) This means the inevitable moment has arrived for Selkie to stage a runway show, which is exactly the sort of thing Gordon thinks can help launch Selkie into those big leagues.
Though not on the official New York Fashion Week calendar, Selkie presented its first-ever fashion show in the Elizabeth Street Garden on Tuesday, risks be damned. “It’s very expensive to do fashion week and put money into this kind of marketing. I just think it’s worth it because my brand is very visual; I know it will really translate in photos,” Gordon says. “We need that and it’s worth investing the marketing money into it. It’s scary, but worth it.”
The Selkie Spring 2022 collection is themed around Rapunzel — the idea of a woman coming out on her own after being locked in a tower. Gordon describes the aesthetic as modern Renaissance with a punk edge: “It’s almost off in the way that it stands out. The kind of girl that wears it is either very outgoing or wants to say who she is with what she wears. It’s ultra feminine in almost a rebellious way; it crosses the edge of feminine into punk.”
Of course, as beautiful as the clothes were, the best part of the show was the amount of true body diversity represented, both on the runway and in the front row. Fans of the brand who are used to having to snap things up as quickly as possible — Selkie dresses are known to sell out so quickly that there are Facebook groups dedicated to helping fans get sizes they need (though, Gordon promises they are buying more inventory for future drops) — can rejoice in the fact that this collection will also be available for pre-order starting next week.
There’s a lot on the docket for Selkie, from improving and expanding on sizing to starting the fashion week circuit; Gordon also mentions wanting to work more with sustainable fabrics like cottons and silks, as well as recycled organics. (Currently, many Selkie garments are made of environmentally unfriendly polyester.) But, so far, it certainly seems as though Gordon can achieve anything she’d like, as long as she follows her heart.
“Something like the Puff Dress brings a lot of attention — and of course, when I first made it, I didn’t know if anyone would like it, but I knew it was beautiful. I was really happy with it,” Gordon says. “It did just what I was looking for it to do: create opportunity, which creates access.”
See the complete Selkie Spring 2022 collection in the gallery below:
Update, Thurs. Sept. 16, 11:15 a.m.: This article has been updated to reflect that Revolve only stocks Selkie up to a 3X.