JO DAVISON: Pony’s express route to fashion success

Fashion scenes as fashion backdrops: The Cheese Grater
Fashion scenes as fashion backdrops: The Cheese Grater
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When fashion designers seek out moody and atmospheric locations for fashion shoots, nowhere is off-limits.

They happily place their delicate creations in the most unexpected of settings. Derelict buildings, urban wasteland, barren landscapes... it’s all about creating a striking contrast.

Fashion scenes as fashion backdrops: The Digital Campus

Fashion scenes as fashion backdrops: The Digital Campus

But when the latest South Yorkshire fashion brand wanted to shoot its spring campaign, there was only one destination in the frame... Sheffield city centre.

Its most iconic buildings were the perfect backdrop for online boutique Fashion Pony’s avant-garde outfits hand-made by Yorkshire designers, decided Victoria Reddington and Dawn Hunter.

They took their team to Park Hill flats, the Fifties blocks considered monstrous blots on the cityscape by many - but deemed so iconic in 1998 they were worthy of Grade II* listed status.

Despite being branded one of the ugliest buildings in Europe, Park Hill, currently undergoing massive renovation by developers Urban Splash, was just the right image for their newest designs.

Fashion Pony founders: Victoria Reddington and Dawn Hunter

Fashion Pony founders: Victoria Reddington and Dawn Hunter

From there it was on to another the building that has split public opinion neatly in two - the Cheese-Grater, the futuristic feat of architecture that is the Q-Park multi-storey car-park on Arundel Gate.

The whole of the UK will be able to view the images of Sheffield as a fashion backdrop on Fashion Pony’s website and via social media, which the girls use to market their business.

And later this month, when the business goes international, fashionistas from around the world will be glimpsing a bit of Sheffield style as they search for a striking new outfit.

“Sheffield has some of the most iconic architecture in the region; I knew it would be a perfect location for us,” says former Sheffield University student Victoria.

Park Hill inspired bag range by Michelle Mason

Park Hill inspired bag range by Michelle Mason

“I used to live with a group of architectural students who opened my eyes to how special some of the city centre structures are.

“I would get dragged along, camera in tow, whenever they needed help on a project.

“Park Hill flats have been much maligned by some. We saw them as the perfect, chequered backdrop for our checked jackets and coats.

“And the geometric shapes of the Cheese Grater were used as contrast with our soft and fluid evening dresses.”

Fashion scenes as fashion backdrops: Parkhill Flats

Fashion scenes as fashion backdrops: Parkhill Flats

The two women, who both hail from Darfield and have been friends since school, came up with the Fashion Pony concept two years ago and spent 18 months researching the market.

Instead of selling popular labels and focusing on key trends, their cyber store would stock one-offs and strictly limited editions created in Yorkshire by radical young designers and fashion students.

The site went live last autumn and orders are growing month on month.

“Fashion Pony is our take on the term ‘clothes horse’.

“So many women we know disliked the fact that whatever they bought online or on the High Street was never individual. There was always a chance someone else could be wearing it, yet highly-individual pieces from designers were out of their price bracket,” says Dawn, who has a law degree, plus six years of sales and marketing experience at stores in Meadowhall, Leeds, Sheffield and Barnsley.

“Choosing clothes that you love from small labels guarantees you exclusivity – and allows you to turn your back on the trend predictions.

Flats fame: Zara Collard-Manson's 'Streets in the sky' bag and purses.

Flats fame: Zara Collard-Manson's 'Streets in the sky' bag and purses.

“It’s also a savvy way to dress in a recession,” says Victoria. “It costs a lot less than following each fashion fad.”

The girls are determined not to make customers pay through the nose for individuality.

They are keeping prices at High Street levels.

Dresses can be bought for £45 and pure wool coats for around £150.

Local buildings make their mark on the world

It’s not the Cheese Grater’s first link with the world of fashion...

When it opened in 2009, it was the setting for a stylish party and fashion show featuring local designers with Wayne Hemingway, co-founder of international label Red or Dead, as special guest.

And Park Hill flats have been immortalised on many a fashion item.

Back in 2004, city handbag designers Collard Manson launched with the Streets In The Sky collection, which featured images of the flats.

And Sheffield-raised, London-based designer Michelle Mason has just created a range of bags and purses bearing her representation of the flats’ brutalist architecture.

Her range is available at the Museums Sheffield shop in the Millennium Gallery.

Calling all city designers

Sheffield is striking a pose in the shoot, but clothes-at-a-click site has no outfits from city designers on its virtual rails.

“There must be scores of really talented people creating clothes and accessories in the city but we’ve had difficulty tracking them down.

“We would love to have them on-board,” says Dawn.

Victoria, who works in design and advertising and helped run her mum’s boutique, Pamela’s, in Barnsley for five years, adds: “Graduate designers particularly interest us - and Sheffield has a very strong fashion degree course as well as college fashion foundation courses. The city is buzzing with raw talent.”

She and Dawn have created a stable of Yorkshire designers, mainly by word of mouth and from scouring fashion and trade shows.

Many of them work from small workshops or spare bedrooms and have difficulty in finding outlets.

They include Leeds Independent Designer of the Year Lisa Jayne Dann, a host of niche labels from West Yorkshire and two from their home town of Barnsley - Kelly-Ann Couture by Kelly-Ann Garforth, and the designs of Katie Newsam, who is based in Shafton. Her work will be on the site from mid-February.