Mary Benson returns to the Great Yorkshire Show catwalk this year, joined by students from her alma mater, Leeds Arts University. Stephanie Smith reports. Pictures by Charlotte Graham.
Mary Benson’s story is one of hard graft, perseverance, immense talent and more than a dash of innate star quality, Yorkshire-style.
She made her Great Yorkshire Show catwalk debut 10 years ago and is back this year to showcase her new collections and inspire students from Leeds Arts University (which was known as Leeds Art College back when she studied there).
Mary, from Seacroft in Leeds, began making bags and bows while at Corpus Christi High School, selling them to friends and local fashion shops. She first appeared on our pages aged 16 in 2007, when she opened a pop-up shop at Canary Wharf.
In 2008, she featured on the BBC’s Mary Queen of Shops and later that year launched a collaborative design venture, Pieces of Eight, with seven friends at Leeds College of Art, including York-based designer Matty Bovan.
And then, in 2009, Mary made her catwalk debut at the Great Yorkshire Show before moving to London for her Fashion Design BA at the University of Westminster, interning with Alexander McQueen.
She has shown at London and Paris and has collaborated with footwear designer Terry de Havilland, milliner Stephen Jones, Asos and more. Her designs have been worn by Little Mix, Rita Ora, Ellie Goulding and Paloma Faith among many other artists.
Last year she launched her fashion label, Mary Benson World, her lifestyle brand Mary, which includes soft furnishings and homewares, and has now just launched MARY Pre-loved, upcycling clothes she finds and giving them that Mary magic.
“My constant question to myself is, how can I help contribute to changing fashion for the better and what can I do to inspire people in the same light through my work?” she says.
“When I was young, my Mum and I used to buy our clothing from charity shops and car-boot sales because we couldn’t afford the high street prices. We would always find such treasures when searching through those everlasting rails. It’s really ingrained in me to always appreciate second-hand clothing and its exclusivity.
“With MARY Pre-loved, I am showing that existing garments can be fashionably renewed, and made special and unique. I am making once-loved garments magical again, and they are sustainable and affordable, matching fast fashion high street prices.”
Garments are up-cycled with a variety of fresh seasonal prints with buttons to match. This season sees abstract pretty florals for day, glamorous moons and stars for night.
Mary continues to live in London with her partner, Tadgh, and baby Zephan but returns regularly to Yorkshire to visit her parents in Knaresborough. Now preparing to take to the GYS catwalk once again, she said: “I was flattered to be asked back. I still fondly remember my first fashion show at the Great Yorkshire Show. It’s incredible how much has happened since then and how my life has changed. There’s no denying taking part in London Fashion Week is amazing but there’s something special about returning to the Great Yorkshire Show.”
GYS fashion show director Bernadette Gledhill said: “Mary made such an impact 10 years ago. It’s been lovely to follow her success.”
Under Berndette’s direction, the Great Yorkshire Show has been giving a platform to new designers for more than 20 years. This year’s Kuoni Catwalk will showcase designs from students at Leeds Arts University, where Mary began her training. They have been working with fabric from Alfred Brown in Leeds to create a collection of cutting-edge menswear.
Sam Hudson-Miles, course leader, said: “It’s a fantastic opportunity for our students to see their work on the catwalk. For some it will be for the first time. And I know they are excited to meet Mary and hear about her experiences as they start their careers in fashion.”
LAU Fashion Design student Kaytii Matthews will show her collection of aesthetic-led solutions for people with disabilities, especially women with colostomy or ostomy bags. It features a beautiful print she has created using microscopic images of the intestine.
Kaytii said: “Intestinal villi and adenoma were used as inspiration, which evolved into luxurious, feminine designs, creating pieces that are aesthetically desirable to both the disabled and non-disabled customer.”
The pieces help to ease discomfort and provide functional solutions including adjustable waists to allow bloating and abdominal distension, and pouches to place colostomy bags.
Most garments are lined in case of leakages. Kaytii said: “The desire to make a collection specifically for women with bowel disease and colostomy bags came from seeing strong women in my family affected by bowel disease and having their clothing options reduced as a result.”
Meanwhile, Mary is looking forward to meeting all the students at the Great Yorkshire Show.
“I hope chatting backstage I will be able to give them a little bit of guidance. My first 10 years in fashion have certainly been a roller coaster ride and I’ve learnt so many lessons along the way.”
Also on the Kuoni Catwalk will be John Lewis & Partners with a collection of early autumn/winter staples, a range from Sheffield-based department store Sandersons, fine tweed capes from Yorkshire sheep farmer Sarina Dean and her brand Galijah, and evening gowns from Harrogate bespoke couturier Jillian Welch.
The Great Yorkshire Show’s Fashion section gets a makeover this year with new presenter Christine Talbot and a new home and entrance at the heart of the Showground, next door to its former home, with more seating so that 7,000 visitors will now get the chance to watch the show.
As for those rising stars of fashion, remember where you saw them first.
* Mary Benson’’s designs can be bought at www.marybenson.london. Instagram @marybensonlondon
* The 161st Great Yorkshire Show will be held from Tuesday, July 9 to Thursday, July 11 at the Great Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate. Tickets for the show are on sale at https://greatyorkshireshow.co.uk/ticket-information
* The Kuoni Catwalk will take place on each day of the show at 11am, 12.30pm, 2.30pm and 4pm, with a one-off celebrity special on the Tuesday at 2.30pm.
* The show will be produced by Bernadette Gledhill with hair and make-up by students from the White Rose Beauty Colleges from across Yorkshire.
* All the action from the Kuoni Catwalk will be on Twitter @greatyorkshow #KuoniCatwalk #GYSfashion