You’ve seen these fat little bears running around town, haven’t you? Before you lock the doors, I don’t mean bears, per se, but Bearbricks (officially spelled, be@rbrick). If you haven’t, you better get a quick refresher, why they mean, and what it means for the future of art, collecting, and influencing, since they could be a part of the future of culture.
History of the Bearbrick
Bearbricks were created by Japanese toy company Medicom Corp in 2002. The name comes from a mashup of bear with Kubrick, which is also a collectible designed by Medicom and fittingly inspired by Stanley Kubrick the director of films like Clockwork Orange and 2001. The toy looks like a dad-bod bear complete with a gut and is composed of nine parts allowing eight movements: the head (1), the waist (1), the arms (2), wrists (2), and legs (2). The first Bearbricks were given away for free in May of 2001 at the World Character Convention in Tokyo.
The Bearbricks come in different sizes, ranging from the 3 inch 100% to the 3000% which towers at almost 6 feet tall. The most popular sizes are the 100% which are sold mostly through blind boxes, and the 400% which are about a foot tall which many artists have collaborated on. The 1000% is also popular and stands a little over 2 feet tall. The first few Bearbricks were designed by Street Artist Kaws, including his Gray companion and Chompers. These Kaws’ Bearbricks now sell at auction in the $10,000 range. (This range fluctuates as given the flood of fakes, many collectors now demand box and papers for each, just like watches).
Bearbricks in Fashion and Pop Culture
One of the most expensive Bearbricks is the Coco Chanel limited edition 1000%. Limited to 1000 pieces, this Bearbrick was designed by Karl Lagerfeld and given away to their VIP customers. This version has sold consistently in the $40,000 – $50,000 range. The Chanel Bearbrick opened the door for many other fashion brands that have jumped onto the Bearbrick trend including Alice & Olivia, Armani, Lanvin, and many other luxury brands. These brands created a special charity show featuring 2000% bearbricks at a special show in Hong Kong harbor in 2016.
Since then the brand has been nearly as ubiquitous as Lego, doing licensing deals with Sesame Street Characters to the Jean-Michel Basquiat estate to Kellogg Cereal Characters to Star Wars characters to famous Japanese snack icons like Peko. The limited edition nature of the toy along with its near impossibility to find in the United States contribute to the hype of the toy.
The toy also ended up on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show. Host John Oliver mentions Putin supporter and rapper Timati’s Bearbrick collection, which includes many of the rare and highly coveted ones including the aforementioned Chanel bear. At the end of the program, John breaks out his own customized version to taunt the hole in his collection!
Blank Canvas Bears
Many artists now see them as blank canvases. The prices seem to reflect this as a one off Yue Minjin, a popular Chinese artist, piece sold for over $150,000 at auction. Collectors also don’t mind seeing these as a new medium with entrepreneur and designer Jeff Staple calling them “this generation’s Faberge Egg.” While the figurine started in Japan, the figure has taken off in Mainland China with many collectors having room upon room of the toy; Gao Ke of Beijing is the world’s biggest collector of the toy as verified by the Guinness Book of World Records.
As an influencer, perhaps you want to be seen as someone that is hip and up to date on latest trends? Forget that canvas, put your next painting on a small pudgy overweight bear lego, the Bearbrick. Your product now lies at the intersection of hype, fashion, consumer, design, toys, art, and the rest of the world!
Do you collect Bearbricks? Have you seen them in the wild? Do you have a favorite? Drop us a note and we’ll be sure to feature your collection!