Katie Loftus and Abby Kessler first met in the bathroom of their high school: leaning into a mirror, applying black eyeliner. “We bonded over fashion and became best friends,” says Kessler. “It was 1995, and mom jeans definitely ruled the school. We used to go shopping together constantly but had a really hard time finding what we liked.”
Their friendship—and their refusal to settle for mainstream ’90s fashion—guided their educational and career paths through adolescence and into adulthood. In 2005, Loftus and Kessler set up shop in Old City, with Smak Parlour, a boutique the pair calls a “glittery dollhouse” featuring “girly yet rock ‘n’ roll” jewelry, gifts and apparel—many of which are designed by the owners themselves. “It was a lot of work, and we did it all ourselves. We had to use all the skills we learned at [Drexel] to make sure we could do everything,” Kessler says. “We had to be relentless.”
That tenacity dates back to their high school grunge days.
“We would go to flea markets and thrift shops, fabric stores,” says Loftus. “We definitely did the combat boots and dresses. I put inserts in jeans and safety pinned them the whole way down. We started making them for everybody in high school, and then in college.”
Loftus and Kessler attended Shippensburg University for a year before transferring to Drexel, where Kessler says Smak Parlour was born. “We came up with the name of our store in one of our classes at Drexel,” Kessler says. “It was a performance arts class, and we had to come up with a word that had a lot of meaning, and we picked ‘smack.’”
The word, which the pair associated with smacking lipstick and popping bubblegum, stuck. After a brief stint living in New York, Kessler and Loftus moved back to Philly, where they started Smak, a wholesale line that sold the duo’s designs to boutiques all over the country.
After plenty of re-orders and a flood of fan mail, Kessler and Loftus began to hunt for the perfect boutique location, and after two years, they found just that at Second and Market streets. They painted the storefront’s molding in their signature pink, and continue to design about half of the apparel offered at the parlour. They said they design what they love to wear, and have no plans to stop selling at their Old City shop or online at their website, smakparlour.com.
“Smak Parlour is all about fun. I think when you have something good to sell, then people will buy it.”