Art in the city

How Collectible Toys Like The BE@RBRICK Became Pop Culture Icons

Having given rise to hotly anticipated collaborations with artists and fashion houses, the designer collectible toy market is ripe for the picking.

How Collectible Toys Like The BE@RBRICK Became Pop Culture Icons
The world's tallest BE@RBRICK stands sentinel over Raffles City.

Not many collector’s playthings have seized the popular imagination quite like the anthropomorphic vinyl bear painted in the guise of iconic characters from Mickey Mouse to Breaking Bad’s Walter White.

Straddling the realms of fashion, art and design, BE@RBRICKS are eagerly pawed on by fans including Seth Rogan, Pharrell Williams and celebrity jeweller Ben Yang. Luxury brands such as Chanel, Hermès and Comme Des Garçons have fashioned the pot-bellied figurine in their likeness, alongside streetwear labels including Bathing Ape and Stussy.

Who Created BE@RBRICKS?


But this cult favourite did not exactly crawl out of the ether – or a bush, for that matter. BE@RBRICKS’ provenance can be traced back to 1996, when Japanese Tatsuhiko Akashi left his job at a computer manufacturing company to start toy company Medicom Toy, which would later launch the popular Lego-like figure named Kubrick – a nod to seminal film director Stanley Kubrick.

Asked to crank out the toys for attendees of the 2001 World Character Convention in Tokyo, Akashi gave the figurine a mammalian tweak, and the BE@RBRICK was born. The character has spawned numerous special edition releases, feverishly anticipated by rapt fans.

Collectible Designer Toys In Asia

The Coco Chanel

Such hype isn’t new to the collectible toy market, which is booming across Asia. Here, the “blind box” trend that sees collectors sweeping up cleverly released boxes concealing mystery figurines has generated buzz, thanks to its element of surprise.

The burgeoning market’s mainstream appeal is writ large on the growing war chests of toy companies. Beijing-based creative toymaker POP MART filed for a Hong Kong IPO, while Singapore-based Mighty Jaxx has been hitting record revenues even during the pandemic.

Creative Cachet

Beyond the glossy veneer of commerce, such ephemera have become recognised as canvasses for artistic expression – designed by Chinese contemporary artist Yue Minjun, the 2008 ‘Qiu Tu’ 1000% BE@RBRICK went under the hammer for a record-breaking $6 million. The million-dollar mark isn’t inconceivable for other artists such as KAWS, whose toys fetch equally prodigious amounts.

Interestingly, the artist has also left his mark on a special edition ‘Chomper’ BE@RBRICK, which bears the signature ‘X’ mark eyes. More recently, the artist released the eagerly awaited KAWS TENSION 1000% BE@RBRICK on its website, which was originally only available through a lottery system with pickup in Tokyo.

Other hot ticket items include the KAWS BE@RBRICK Dissected line of figurines, an amalgamation of the Medicom toy and the KAWS Companion figure. The popularity of such collections bear testament to the enduring influence of both BE@RBRICK and KAWS, the latter of which is running an exhibition at The Float @ Marina Bay.

This Christmas, BE@RBRICKS is staging a takeover of Raffles City Singapore, which has a longstanding tradition of playing host to art and culture. The mall is running its Love, BE@RBRICK Christmas campaign till 26 December. Here’s what to look out for.

A BE@RBRICKS Christmas At Raffles City Shopping Centre

01 | The world’s tallest BE@RBRICK

Raffles City ups its festive decoration game this year with a towering 5.6m BE@RBRICK 8000%, along with the all-new Raffles City BE@RBRICK CANDY CANE 2000%, designed exclusively by ActionCity in partnership with Medicom Toy. The cheery-looking giants greet shoppers at the entrance facing the cross junction at Stamford Road, so have your phones and smizes at the ready for that perfect Instagram shot.

02 | Singapore’s largest BE@RBRICK 1000% gallery

Pore over a fascinating compendium of up to 100 pieces of BE@RBRICK 1000% collectibles, at local toy retailer ActionCity’s pop-up gallery at level one. Key objects d’art on display include the BE@RBRICK Hajime Sorayama X Marvel Iron Man 1000%, the BE@RBRICK Tokyo 2020 Olympics Emblem 1000% and the BE@RBRICK Fragment Design x Mickey Mouse 1000%.

03 | Steven Harrington exhibition

See the Los Angeles-based artist’s psychedelic pop prints splashed on a special commemorative ActionCity 21st Anniversary BE@RBRICK at this showcase, which is a trove of other artwork and merchandise. The exhibition is located at the Garden Court at level one.

04 | Redeem the exclusive BE@RBRICK CANDY CANE 100%

Here’s one to add to your collection: The BE@RBRICK CANDY CANE 100%, an exclusive toy collectible designed for Raffles City by ActionCity, is redeemable from 30 November onwards with a single spend of S$300 at Raffles City. In addition, shoppers who spend S$100 in a single receipt can redeem a set of BE@RBRICK gift wrappers from 12 November 2021.

This article is part of a 12-part series on style, art and culture, published in collaboration with Raffles City.

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