Deadly Ponies saddles up for a collaboration with a childhood icon
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.