A model wearing Ponte brand laces her shoes while sitting in a grass field.

Ponte: The Label Reimagining Deadstock and Discarded Clothes

Words and photographs by Daphne Chouliaraki Milner

visual consulting by jahnavi sharma

Designer Harry Pontefract creates one-of-a-kind textile sculptures that blend artisan silhouettes with inexpensive materials, upending industry hierarchies by reevaluating archaic definitions of beauty and who they serve.

There is no denying it: the trend cycle is picking up. It wasn’t long ago that trends would trickle down from seasonal fashion weeks every four months, but now fast fashion brands—with the help of social media—are shortening the lifespan of a garment to only a couple of wears per item. The worst offender is SHEIN, which adds 6,000 new styles a day to its online platforms.


In a world that’s speeding up, slowing down is nothing short of radical. And that’s precisely what designer Harry Pontefract is doing with his unconventional, newly-launched label Ponte. Using deadstock fabrics and discarded objects, Ponte creates one-off textile sculptures—which he describes as “collectibles”—that provoke strong emotional reactions and challenge traditional notions of beauty. The aim is to create pieces that resonate with individuals on a deeper level; to create clothes that reimagine couture by mixing artisan silhouettes with inexpensive materials. 


Among the designs in Ponte’s first collection is a dress made from two discarded football tops. Pontefract scratched the labels off and repurposed them as a top and skirt, lending a feminine touch to a loaded garment that has historically carried associations of toxic masculinity and even hooliganism. The collection also features a skirt made from distressed sequins, polka dot dress made from a handful of maternity dresses, and a large black ball gown made from the last scraps of a deadstock fabric. “It was the end of the roll, so I’ll never be able to recreate it,” said Pontefract. “The fabric itself was actually really expensive, but then it also looks weirdly cheap in pictures—I love that.”


Below, Pontefract speaks with Atmos about the underlying high-low philosophy that drives the aesthetic evolution of Ponte, finding beauty in discarded objects and textiles, and the reasons why sustainability is a prerequisite for starting a fashion label today.  

A model wearing Ponte brand clothes is standing in a field looking in the distance.
A model wearing a large black garment stands in front of a large lake.
Accessories: Tabitha Charlton Shoes: personal

Daphne Chouliaraki Milner

When did you first get interested in fashion design?

Harry Pontefract

I wouldn’t call it fashion—I grew up in Sheffield and fashion isn’t really considered a real job [there]. I’ve always been obsessed with what people wear and what I wear. It doesn’t need to be outrageous, but there’s so much nuance hidden in the clothes we choose to put on and what that means. I was always interested in that without knowing it was fashion. I think quite a few people get put off by the word fashion because it represents trends, it can ostracize a lot of people. But I think that’s because we often confuse commerce with fashion.


I wanted to be an architect when I was younger—but when it came to specializing in something, I chose fashion. It sounded more dangerous. At 21 I did my Bachelor’s degree [in design] at Central Saint Martins and that’s where I met Jonathan [Anderson]. Eventually I went straight to Paris to work at Loewe where I was meant to stay for one year, but ended up working for six. It was last year when I finally bit the bullet and came back to London to start Ponte. It’s always been part installation, part exhibition, because when you work for a fashion house all you do is design clothes—it can get a bit frustrating.


Have you always been a writer?


My journey was similar to yours. I knew I wanted to be involved with culture in some way, and writing felt like the most obvious entry point. But tell me: you were at Loewe for six years before you decided to found your brand—do you feel comfortable with the word brand?


It’s such a loaded word. I wouldn’t ever call it art—they’re more textile sculptures because I’m very interested in challenging the way people purchase garments as well as their relationship to clothing. And so much of that is relative. The concept behind Ponte is that the pieces can be collected, worn, and exhibited. It encompasses all three aspects, depending on the observer. I think this is only realized when the pieces are fully completed. A dress might hold a different significance for you compared to me, I assume. So, it ultimately depends on who wears it, looks at it, or collects it.

A model wearing a blue garment from Ponte brands stands with her arms behind her back in front of a large grass field.
A model wearing Ponte brand poses in front of a bush of pink flowers.
Accessories: Tabitha Charlton Shoes: PLEIADES


And when did you know you were ready to leave Loewe to pursue your ambitions for Ponte?


I didn’t feel prepared. I don’t think anyone ever feels fully prepared. But I believe it’s a “now or never” situation. I had already been working on a lineup of pieces, even without a set departure date or a specific plan. I’ve always created sculptures outside of Loewe, so it’s not like I quit and started making things from day one. It has always been a continuous process. Additionally, I’ve been with the company for more than six years, maybe even longer. It was either time to advance or move on to another company, but I didn’t feel a strong connection to any other place where I could contribute and feel fulfilled.


I also realized I wanted to do everything: photography, sculpture, styling, art direction—everything. It’s frustrating to only design clothes because even if you create something as simple as a pair of tailored trousers and a shirt, the casting, styling, how you shoot it, and the overall presentation all play a crucial role in what it means to people. Designing just a plain shirt, for instance, can be quite dull. However, when you consider all the other elements, it becomes truly exciting. You can take it out of its original context and pair it with something else, giving it an entirely different meaning. It can even become something dark or sinister, if that makes sense.

Two models wearing Ponte brand clothing are sitting next to each other in a field of grass.
Debbie (left) Accessories: MAISON LUMIERE Shoes: Malone Souliers
Leila (right) Accessories: Tabitha Charlton Shoes: Malone Souliers


Building on what you’re describing of how the context of an item can change its meaning—why did you decide to work with discarded objects?


Yes, one of the pieces I found on top of a fence near an overground [train] station. It was in a state of total disarray, with a peculiar Shibori effect and bleach stains. It was disgustingly dirty, covered in grime and spiderwebs. But then once I cleaned it and put it on the body, it turned into something incredibly beautiful.


Normally, as a designer you would have to send [the prototype] to a knit factory so they can recreate multiple versions, but in doing so, it tends to lose some of its essence. But when it’s for your own brand, the garment can be genuinely authentic. It is what it is, and when you remove it from its original context, it takes on a completely different meaning. That’s what intrigues me—that people don’t necessarily know the origin of a piece.

“That’s what I want to highlight through my collection: that when you remove something from its original context and juxtapose it with something highly artisanal or meticulously cut, it can transform your perspective of the garment.”

Harry Pontefract


That feels particularly urgent in a culture of overconsumption: to reimagine certain objects that aren’t considered conventionally valuable as artisan or couture—or even as collectibles.


Yeah, some things that are mega mass-produced are actually really beautiful objects. The affordability factor is often why, as garments, they’re so incredible because replicating them on your own would be nearly impossible. That’s what I want to highlight through my collection: that when you remove something from its original context and juxtapose it with something highly artisanal or meticulously cut, it can transform your perspective of the garment. But the item itself remains the same.

A model wearing Ponte brand looks to the side while posing in front of a large green bush.
A model wearing Ponte brand clothes is posing with their hands on their hips on a dirt path with shrubbery and a lake behind them.


You’ve gone from working at a big commercial fashion house like Loewe to building a label that follows a much slower pace, that’s about repurposing items with intention; an endeavor that’s as much fine art as it is fashion. What kind of opportunities and challenges have come from having total creative freedom?


It can be liberating. But I also think it’s sometimes useful to have a wall to push against and something to rebel against. For example, designing a massive ball gown using repulsive fake fur is not a moment where I see the fabric and think, “Oh, that’s beautiful.” Now—it’s awful. Using that material deliberately challenges you in that way. And then, on the other hand, placing it alongside something like ultra-soft suede or a meticulously cut work jacket—that’s when you create something completely different because it becomes beautiful.


I don’t think it’s about avoiding challenges in the pieces. It’s about embracing the tensions. It could be through materials, unconventional cuts, or combining something typically flattering with something that distorts the body in a different way. I’m not saying that I hate everything in the collection. That would be a bit twisted. It’s about creating contrasts even if I don’t know how I feel about them.


Ponte is made from one-off items, so how do you think about growth and the development of the label?


The thing about establishing a brand on your own, without any backing or support, is that it allows for a more organic development process. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not that I’m disinterested in things being replicable because I think that can be beautiful too. Some things should be unique one-offs, while others can be enjoyed by many. It completely depends on the specific piece.

But because of the nature of my thinking and also the characteristics of the clothes and pieces, Ponte is not going to resonate with everyone—and that’s fine. It’s not meant for everyone, and that’s okay. And if, in the future, we decide to do a project that involves wholesaling and mass production, I think that’s also great. Because, once again, I believe that tension is crucial. Pairing a simple jersey T-shirt or a jockstrap with a one-of-a-kind ball gown that exudes luxury and uniqueness, that’s what makes it intriguing.

A model wearing a large black garment from Ponte poses in front of a lake filled with swans.
Two Ponte models pose while leaning against a brown fence in the middle of a grass field.


For sure, it’s breaking down those hierarchies that fashion is so firmly built on in many ways. Some of your pieces are heavily driven by fabric and textiles. I’m curious, what draws you to a particular found item, for example, and how do you go about sourcing them? And what is it about a textile or a discarded object or a found piece of clothing that excites you and motivates you to incorporate it into your collection?


I believe it’s about looking at everything from a different perspective. For instance, I used deadstock fabric with imperfections or variations for the first look. No one else wanted to use that kind of material. But to me, those imperfections were the most beautiful part. The process required multiple visits because the workers assumed I wouldn’t want those mistakes to be visible. But I was like, No, those imperfections are precisely why I picked out this material.


To be honest, being sustainable or using deadstock and found items is not first and foremost in my head because I want to be sustainable. I think it’s a prerequisite for starting a brand nowadays. It just doesn’t make sense to me to do it any other way. And it’s not all that interesting either. So whether it’s the first look or the second look, which involves repurposing maternity jersey dresses from a market, unstitching them, and draping them or football tops that have had the logos scraped off only to be reassembled as a dress, I’m exploring all these possibilities with what I have available to me.

Two models wearing Ponte brand clothing look down while sitting next to each other in a grass field.
A model wearing a large garment from Ponte brand stands tall in front of a lake surrounded by trees.

Makeup Laila Zakaria Styling assistant Laura-Ashley Modunkwu Talent Margaret Mckenzie; Debbie Dickson and Lotte O’Rourke at Anti-Agency;

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length purposes.

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