Deadly Ponies sad­dles up for a col­lab­o­ra­tion with a child­hood icon

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Walk­ing into Deadly Ponies’ Auck­land

HQ, it’s im­me­di­ately ev­i­dent that founder Liam Bow­den loves to play.

A plush dog the size of a lion greets you at the door­way and ceramic doughnuts line the walls. It’s this sense of fun that led Liam into what could be the big­gest fash­ion col­lab­o­ra­tion New Zealand has ever seen — with the iconic toy brand My Lit­tle

Pony. It seems an in­cred­i­ble feat, a bou­tique New Zealand hand­bag la­bel part­ner­ing with Hasbro — own­ers of My Lit­tle

Pony and one of the world’s largest toy mak­ers — but as

Liam ex­plains, it was Hasbro that of­fered it up.

“We were work­ing on a men’s col­lec­tion and had an idea to in­cor­po­rate an el­e­ment from a kids’ toy, and thought,

‘Wouldn’t it be amaz­ing to have it be an of­fi­cial piece?’” he says of the pro­ject’s be­gin­nings two years ago. “So we went down a long rab­bit hole to find out who to con­tact at Hasbro, then sent a ran­dom email [that] came back with some­one CC’d in, who then CC’d some­one else in, and even­tu­ally we got to some­one from the Aus­tralasian team. They re­sponded, ‘Why not My Lit­tle Pony?’”

Play­things from child­hood al­ways hold fond mem­o­ries, but cer­tain

“We wanted some­thing that felt sub­dued, that would work with

many colour pal­ettes and spoke to who we are

as a brand”

toys de­velop a cult-like fol­low­ing that ex­tends far be­yond our youth. There’s an en­tire com­mu­nity of adult My Lit­tle Pony fans who call them­selves Bronies (a blend of bro and pony). “The brand has been around so long, the ob­ses­sion hasn’t died off,” says Liam, “There are now mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions that are into them.”

Liam and his team saw the part­ner­ship as a chance to re­ally get cre­ative. Div­ing into the re­search for the ‘Dash’ col­lec­tion, he dis­cov­ered the world of Eques­tria, where the char­ac­ters live, and all the weird and won­der­ful facets of it. “We started to look at what was iconic from My Lit­tle Pony. We fo­cused in on three ponies — Ap­ple­jack, Rain­bow Dash and Twi­light Sparkle — as our start­ing point, took el­e­ments from them, and then looked at how to re­fine that into some­thing that some­one who might not be into My Lit­tle Pony would still want. It all came down to the rain­bow [from Rain­bow Dash’s tail].”

An­other vi­tal el­e­ment to in­clude was the all-im­por­tant cutie mark, the unique stamp on the rump of ev­ery pony that iden­ti­fies them and rep­re­sents their per­son­al­i­ties. But work­ing with the cutie mark meant loads of red tape. “We were given a lot of specs… the Pan­tone colours ini­tially had to match,” says Liam.

The sub­ject of colour be­came a pro­ject in it­self, as Liam and his team tack­led how to do My Lit­tle Pony for grown-ups. “My Lit­tle Pony colours are play­ful on a toy, but on a bag they’re a bit too loud,” he

“The most dif­fi­cult parts of it were the in­tri­ca­cies; the Pony Puffs had to ex­actly match the My Lit­tle

Pony soft toys”

says. “We wanted some­thing that felt sub­dued, that would work with many colour pal­ettes for a cus­tomer and that spoke to who we are as a brand.” Af­ter much dis­cus­sion, Hasbro agreed to al­low Deadly Ponies to cre­ate their own ver­sion of the toys’ colour pal­ette, a mel­lower spec­trum that sat com­fort­ably with Deadly Ponies’ style.

When they looked at ways in which to in­cor­po­rate the rain­bow, the bag de­signs sud­denly be­came a lot more com­pli­cated. “Rather than screen-print­ing a rain­bow ev­ery­where, we needed to el­e­vate the rain­bow. It was then that we started to talk about the idea of patch­work.” Ri­fling through the Deadly Ponies ar­chive, Liam pulled to­gether a va­ri­ety of coloured leathers from past col­lec­tions and tasked his head de­signer with fig­ur­ing out how they could fit to­gether. “He spent hours pat­tern­ing the com­pli­cated stuff and fig­ur­ing out how to con­struct ev­ery­thing,” says Liam.

Hav­ing added cutie marks to coin purses and rain­bow bags, they needed a loud and lit­eral icon to tie the col­lec­tion to­gether. “We were look­ing for some­thing that would be in­stantly recog­nis­able,” says Liam. “We be­gan to de­con­struct the soft toys to see how they were made, ini­tially look­ing to make leather ver­sions of them or maybe even recre­ate them as a bag shape. Then we toyed with the idea of hav­ing some­thing fluffy and furry, but it still had to be very pre­mium.”

The an­swer was a Pony Puff bag charm. A long process of trial and er­ror be­gan as the de­sign team nav­i­gated the com­pli­ca­tions of horse-head pat­terns. “The most dif­fi­cult parts of it were the in­tri­ca­cies; the Pony Puffs had to be er­gonom­i­cally cor­rect to ex­actly match the My Lit­tle Pony soft toys,” he says. “When you rein­ter­pret it into leather, it doesn’t ac­tu­ally look the same, be­cause you don’t have the same squish as plush fab­ric. We needed to tweak, pleat and seam cer­tain ar­eas.”

Then the feed­back from Hasbro be­gan. “‘The ear is too pointy; it doesn’t sit in the right spot; it’s too much of a snout rather than a horse face…’ They were sub­tle dif­fer­ences, but when you look at them side by side, you can re­ally see the dif­fer­ence,” con­cedes Liam.

With a shear­ling head, goat-hair mane, cow-hide eyes, rab­bit-fur eye­lashes and hours of hand-fin­ish­ing go­ing into each piece, the fi­nal re­sult is akin to Fendi’s fa­mous Kar­l­ito lux­ury bag charm (the price tag of which was $1600). Deadly Ponies’ Pony Puff bag charms re­tail for $255, and like the rest of the brand’s leather, the ma­te­ri­als are eth­i­cally sourced by-prod­ucts of the meat in­dus­try. For Hasbro, be­ing a chil­dren’s com­pany, this was also of para­mount im­por­tance.

Quite at home in the My Lit­tle Pony world by now, Liam and his team broached the idea of cre­at­ing their very own char­ac­ter. “New Zealan­ders just love black, and that’s where the idea of a black pony came from. We were look­ing through the My Lit­tle Pony range and [a pony this colour] didn’t ex­ist. By this stage we’d built a re­ally great re­la­tion­ship with the peo­ple we were deal­ing with and they were very aware that we didn’t want to cre­ate any­thing throw­away or child­ish, and that we wanted to el­e­vate it and make it feel beau­ti­ful. That helped push Shadow across the line.”

The black sheep of the My Lit­tle Pony fam­ily, Deadly Ponies’ char­ac­ter, Shadow, cur­rently ex­ists as a Pony Puff, but it’s likely he’ll emerge in other forms in the fu­ture. “With ev­ery­thing we do, we come up with a grand con­cept,” says Liam. “It wasn’t un­til re­cently that we re­alised what a big back­story we’d cre­ated in our heads through­out this process. It showed us we need to be sto­ry­tellers about ev­ery part of the col­lec­tion.”

Left and above: Liam Bow­den with pieces from the Deadly Ponies x My Lit­tle Pony ‘Dash’ col­lec­tion, and sketch­ing new char­ac­ter Shadow, which has been made into a Pony Puff bag charm (top left), $255.

Top: Each piece took hours to cre­ate, the leather metic­u­lously hand-stitched and em­bel­lished. Mid­dle, from left: Mr Box­ette bag, $510, Mr Fill-N-Zip bag, $1050, and Pom Pom purses (left and below), $89 each.

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