Women's Fashion

Show ponies

The most fashionable feet this autumn are joining the pony club. Elisa Anniss reports.

October 04 2011
Elisa Anniss

Pardon the pun, but so many designers are trotting out pony-skin shoes that they look set to be the footwear of the season. Chosen from a range of innovative designs, bright colours and striking animal prints, a pair of autumn “ponies” will add serious wow factor to a monochrome ensemble or jeans.

Animal-print pony skin is particularly popular. See Azzedine Alaïa’s signature ballerina pumps (£720), Christian Louboutin’s striking leopard-print Trotitella platform loafers (£525) and Verdun boots (£825), and Tod’s Winter Gommino boots (£425) and loafers (£390) also in leopard print.

Peter Harris, president of The Pedder Group, which opens The Shoe Library at the end of this month at Lane Crawford’s Canton Road store in Hong Kong, is a big fan of the material. He admired pony shoes on the fashion runways at Mugler and Alexander McQueen (slippers, £415), as well as a pair of “great” pony Chelsea boots at Phillip Lim ($730), and says, “Across all collections, where possible, we have included pony.”

To clear up any vestige of confusion over what “pony skin” really is, it’s cow hide with hair, sometimes referred to as “hair calf” – as at Saks Fifth Avenue’s Manhattan flagship. Here it’s offered in shoe form by an extensive array of designers, from newcomer Alejandro Ingelmo to Prada, Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin. Cody Kondo, senior vice-president and general merchandise manager of accessories, says, “It adds texture, shine and dimension to an outfit. Designers are using more hair calf, mixed materials and colour-blocking to create excitement and add a richness to the season’s styles.”

Pamela Brady, accessories buyer at Browns, says, “I haven’t seen anything so textured as this in a long time. Designers are working with quite conservative shapes and sensible heel heights, but making shoes texturally more exciting.” The offering at Browns includes Devon, a flat, leopard-print moccasin by Rupert Sanderson (from £575), Fezar, a high-heeled leopard-print pump by Laurence Dacade (£460), a shaved-hair-calf wedge bootie by Rick Owens (£795), and a more eccentric, Navajo-inspired beaded boot designed by Nicholas Kirkwood for Rodarte (£1,360).

Printed pony is an important component of Rupert Sanderson’s autumn/winter collection, although the designer, who celebrates his 10th anniversary this November, says it’s a material he’s used consistently. Highlights include Harper, a high-heeled, dalmatian-print court shoe (£545), as well as the aforementioned Devon loafer with metal bullet tassels.

Pony is also used extensively by Paris-based label Aperlai, both on conservative and more eccentric styles, including a pair of platforms with graphic red heels (from £338) and black and cream ankle boots (£2,118). “Pony is one of my all-time favourite materials,” says Aperlai founder and co-director Alessandra Lanvin. “It can be used in a large range of colours while keeping the soft touch and fine grain of the material.” Meanwhile, British brand Bionda Castana features Simona, a leopard-print pony wedge ankle boot (£555), in this season’s collection. Natalia Barbieri, one half of the design duo, explains, “Like leathers and suedes, pony skin comes in different tannery grades, but it also pushes boundaries. It can turn the most basic style into a luxury commodity. It’s also very soft to touch, so we are naturally drawn towards it; we want to stroke it.”

Natalie Kingham, international womenswear buyer at Matches, credits Phoebe Philo as being at the vanguard of the pony-skin revival. Philo showed bright green, nude and red pony pumps at Céline for spring/summer 2011. “It has a rich glossiness and this had typically been associated with winter until Céline used it on summer styles,” she says. This autumn, Osman Yousefzada has also used the material in bright colours – including orange and lime green (boots, £475) – combined with mock croc on his Osman shoes. Pony shoes also popped up on the runway of US denim and lifestyle label Rag & Bone (from £440), inspired, says co-creative director Marcus Wainwright, by “Inuit clothing and how they tanned their own hides and skins”.

Also ahead of the curve was Sergio Rossi, showing vibrant orange pony court shoes for spring 2011. This season, as well as bright tiger-print pumps (£585), the brand’s creative director, Francesco Russo, has moved the trend forward by interpreting the underside of a butterfly wing on pony skin, which appears on classic pumps, wedges and ankle boots (£415-£680). “The effect is mysterious, seductive and elegant,” he says.

Manolo Blahnik has been using pony skin for years, and says, “I really like to use it in colour; it is so much more vibrant than normal leather.” Ever the innovator, he has designed a cornucopia of standout styles, such as Rondinella, a stunning, black over-the-knee boot with bright pony discs in contrasting colours (£1,400); Granta, a scarlet ankle boot with a striking piped edge (£940); and Vaccu (£700), another ankle boot that mixes teal suede with lime-green pony.

A Blahnik protégé, Julia Lundsten won the Manolo Blahnik award two years in a row, 2002 and 2003, when she was at the Royal College of Art. Now the Finnish-born designer is also experimenting with pony. Bored of seeing so many animal prints – which she considers “too obvious” – Ludsten prefers her pony in black or off-white rather than zebra or leopard pattern. This season her Finsk label features striking pony-skin styles daubed with a bronze-coloured metallic finish (pumps from about £360). The very modern effect was achieved by shaving off parts of the hair from the hide before adding the shine.

Laurence Dacade has also used pony in a less obvious way this season, injecting what she calls a “ska” feeling into her collection with styles in a black-and-white hound’s-tooth check (£600 at Browns).

Nicholas Kirkwood is innovative with pony skin too. The material first caught his eye when he was starting out in fashion, working for the milliner Philip Treacy. “Philip used pony to soften and brighten trilbys and pork-pie hats,” says Kirkwood, and pony features heavily in the shoe designer’s own collection this season. There are chunky wedge ankle boots covered in a speckled pony print (£795) and jodhpur boots in acid brights (£795), but most interesting of all are his ankle boots featuring elastic inserts edged with pony piping (£695) – something that is tricky to achieve. “Technically, pony is more challenging than leather,” says Kirkwood, “and it doesn’t work for everything, such as covering a heel.” He prefers it cut as short as possible, since if it’s too long he feels it can look “macabre”.

Finally, British accessories designer Beatrix Ong has produced the pony-skin and leather Vinci (£395), a feminine jewel of a shoe with a small platform, high spike heel – and in a bright red.

See also