When collecting something becomes a rage, no matter how simple, it becomes a cherished collector’s item in no time. The case of Bearbrick (stylized like Be @ rbrick) is one example.
In case you’ve never encountered a cute, distinctive anthropomorphic bear figurine with a swollen belly, this is what a Bearbrick looks like.
Today, “the bear” is as much a major icon in fashion as in the art world. A clever creation, it effortlessly blends the simplicity of a plastic toy with the aesthetic impressionability of modern art and vibrant luxury fashion.
Bearbrick is a unique vinyl toy, which has been one of the most sought-after collectibles since its release around 21 years ago. Although it is a simple plastic toy, some of the biggest fashion houses and designers in the world have adopted it to showcase their latest designs and projects.
Despite its moderate price, the plastic bear figure is extremely valuable to collectors. In addition, some of them are sold for tens of thousands of dollars at auction. This is why American musician Joe Hahn has popularly dubbed it a “collectible toy for adults.”
Bearbrick is available in specific sizes. Normal is 70mm tall which is also known as 100% on the size scale. The 35mm Bearbricks, or 50%, are typically sold as a keychain. Larger sizes include 280mm, or 400%, and 700mm, or 1000%, the latter being the largest Bearbrick size available. Most collectors prefer the 400% and 1000% sizes.
Vinyl toys are just simple plastic figures and yet have revolutionized the toy industry like nothing else.
Who created Bearbrick?
Bearbrick was created by Tatsuhiko Akashi, who founded the Japanese company Medicom Toy, in 1996. One of Medicom Toy’s earliest creations was Kubrick, a Lego-like humanoid figure named after famous filmmaker Stanley Kubrick.
Akashi created Bearbrick for the 2001 World Character Convention in Tokyo after organizers approached him to make a toy that they could give as a gift to attendees. However, the organizers requested hundreds of toys in a short period of time.
So Akashi, encouraged by the fact that the plush teddy bear – which these children have played with for decades – was celebrating its 100th birthday in 2000, came up with the idea of placing a bear’s head on the body of a Kubrick.
So on May 27, 2001, Medicom Toy launched Bearbrick, which is now less of a toy than a prized artifact.
In a 2017 interview, Akashi said Otaku Mode that it does not do market research. Pointing at a Bearbrick, he said, “If I had, it wouldn’t have come out. There is no way we would have put this.
Indeed, Bearbrick is so simple that its phenomenal popularity is baffling to most.
What big names have Bearbrick associations had?
On its initial launch, Japanese company Medicom Toy partnered with Tokyo record store HMV to create a unique Bearbrick. It was the first collaboration.
Since then, the company has produced special editions of the toy, marking festivals such as Halloween and Christmas, as well as cartoon and comic book characters like Winnie the Pooh, Avengers, and Star Wars.
For special Bearbrick releases, Medicom Toy has teamed up with Chanel, Nike, X-Large, Hermès, Comme Des Garçons, Bape, CLOT, Levis, Stüssy and Undercover, among several notable fashion and streetwear brands.
Creators such as Yue Minjun, Takashi Murakami, KAWS and Hebru Brantley, besides music groups like Daft Punk and Sandaime J Soul Brothers, have also had their own Bearbrick launches.
Why are they so exclusive?
No one can pinpoint exactly what made Bearbrick so popular among design enthusiasts. But two factors that have certainly contributed to its exclusivity are the uniqueness of its design and its limited edition figures.
A Bearbrick toy is like a blank slate that anyone can draw anything on. Imagine a video game where you can dress your favorite character however you like. Bearbrick is something like that.
The big names who have collaborated for Bearbrick toys have launched their respective creations. These are in addition to the usual Bearbrick toys.
Regular Bearbrick collectibles can be a “basic” or “standard” toy. The Bearbricks released in this category are part of a series designed to look like a character from the horror genre or sci-fi universe, hero, animal, general motif, flag, or simply a cute figurine.
On the other hand, the “secret” series consists of extremely rare Bearbrick themes. Especially, Bearbricks which are not intended for sale but for promotion are even rarer to find.
The diversity of design is such that each Bearbrick edition is different from the others. For these reasons, Bearbrick has become a sort of trophy coveted by many but held by a few.
What are the famous Bearbrick designs?
The Yue Minjun ‘Qiu Tu’ 1000% Bearbrick, released in 2008, is so far the most expensive Bearbrick ever sold when it went under the hammer for 126,000 GBP at an auction a few years ago .
One of the most easily identifiable Bearbricks is the KAWS Blue Bear “Chomper” Edition, whose eyes bear the artist’s signature “X” mark.
Parisian boutique Colette created a special Bearbrick for its 10th anniversary in 2007 – a simple polar bear, bearing the signatures of 12 street artists, including Michael Lau and KAWS.
Colette also participated in a limited edition creation known as My First Bearbrick B @ BY. Designed by Japanese actress Chiaki Kuriyama, the unique Bearbrick has a transparent belly filled with colorful beads. When shaken, it makes a clicking noise, to which babies are especially drawn.
In 2009, Colette also sold Bearbricks labeled “White Crystal Christmas” for approximately USD 14,000. These extremely rare collectibles were encrusted with Swarovski crystals.
Among the rarest Bearbricks is the one designed by Karl Lagerfeld in 2007. Only 1000 pieces were made, and these were displayed in the boutiques of the luxury fashion brand.
The Bearbrick was styled in Coco Chanel’s signature dress – a tweed suit with pearls. It was launched to benefit the Hong Kong Blood Cancer Foundation for the event known as “Love is Big, Love is Bearbrick”. One of them fetched around $ 30,000 at a Christie’s auction in November 2019.
Recent versions include the Readymade x Mickey Mouse 1000% Bearbrick, which is, of course, Mickey Mouse as a collectible toy. A unique feature of the plastic figure is that it can be dressed in a Ghillie suit, a military outfit that reflects the recycled military clothing of the Japanese company Readymade.
Recent versions include a special wooden Bearbrick, created by Medicom in collaboration with iconic Japanese furniture maker Karimoku. Although Karimoku has already launched Bearbricks with Medicom, this is the first time they have released a Bearbrick of size 1000%.
How to start your own collection?
First of all, you need to keep an eye on the auctions. This is where the rarest Bearbricks appear. However, a general collection can be started by simply purchasing from the Bearbrick official website.
Bearbricks are launched by SERIES and TYPES. Each SERIES has four TYPES. The current is SERIES 42. The official site allows you to browse Bearbricks by year and size. You can select 2001 from the drop-down menu and take your pick from the many that were released at the time.
The 2021 releases include quite a few special editions such as the textile sculptor on the theme of Anne Valérie Dupond Bearbrick or the translucent Jimmy Choo which is equipped with a light bulb inside.
There is also a Bearbrick dedicated to Lightning McQueen, the hero of the Disney animated feature. Cars.
Once a collection is launched, there is every chance that it will continue, as more and more uniquely designed Bearbricks continue to drop from Medicom Toys and older ones become rarer figures.
(Main and featured images: Alex Moiseev / @ indepty / Unsplash)