A Beginner’s Guide to all Things BEARBRICK
Now and then, a singular figure manages to unite multiple scenes while simultaneously disrupting their respective status quos. For the art, fashion, and toy industry, this figure came in the distinctive shape of an anthropomorphic bear figurine with a potbelly and articulated limbs.
We could only be talking about the one and only Bearbrick bear figurine. As a blank slate, this cartoon-style ornament has taken on many styles, personas, movements, designs over the years, allowing various people to express their ideas and talents in a fun, light-hearted manner. But before we delve too deep into what makes Bearbrick one-of-a-kind, let’s take a look at who this unsuspecting little bear really is:
What exactly is a Bearbrick?
Bearbricks, at their most fundamental level, are a toy. But, don’t mistake it for only a toy. Upon first glance, true to their name, the figurine’s silhouette is that of a block-style bear. In fact, many refer to Bearbricks as a cross between LEGO and a cartoon-inspired bear, which is by far the most accurate description.
Since their inception, Bearbrick figurines, without any warning, have become an integral pillar of the collectible toy scene. But that’s not all. These unsuspecting figurines are now a major icon on the fashion scene and in the world of art, inspiring multiple new prints, concepts, styles, and ideas year over year. Recently, Bearbrick has broken onto the streetwear scene.
For many, their success is a mystery, considering their relatively standard make-up. But perhaps their origin story could give us some clues …
The history of Bearbrick
The foundations for Bearbrick were laid by the founding of the Japanese company Medicom toy in 1996 by Tatsuhiko Akashi. In the following years, Akashi built momentum for his company with regular toy releases. His first big success was the Lego man-like figure called the Kubrick (named after the psycho-thriller filmmaker), which he designed with an ex LEGO employee. The scene was being set, and it was only a matter of time before ‘the Kubrick’ became the base for the first line of Bearbricks on May 27th, 2001.
The organizers of the World Character Convention approached Akashi with a tempting proposal. They had plans to hand out a free gift to all attendees, and they were working on a short timeframe. So, with little time to spare, Takashi ingeniously blended the popularity of LEGO with the beloved teddy bear, and the first Bearbrick was born.
In a 2017 interview, Akashi stated that he doesn’t conduct market research. Pointing towards a Bearbrick, he exclaimed, “If I did, this wouldn’t have come out. There’s no way we would have put this out.”
And indeed, Bearbrick is certainly an anomaly with its simplicity paired with phenomenal popularity confounding most. Which brings us to …
Why are they so expensive?
BE@RBRICKs are among the world’s most collectible toys, with rare examples commanding as much as $160,000 at auction. But, if you can catch them before they’re sold out, you’ll be met with a much more reasonable figure. In fact, most just-released Bearbrick figurines are priced in the range of $2,000-5,000, with some stretching towards the upper limits of $80,000, such as the Chanel 1000% Bearbrick.
So, the initial price is due mainly to the combination of well-known names, expert craftsmanship, and high-quality materials that go into your standard Bearbrick. The relative scarcity and cultural connotations/frenzy result in the more lofty “after-sale” price tag.
What makes Bearbricks so popular?
While no one can agree upon what made Bearbrick the unprecedented phenomenon we know it as today, there are some theories. One commonly touted theory is that Bearbrick owes its popularity to its exclusivity and uniqueness of design. As a blank slate, anyone from A-list celebrities to budding visual artists can imprint their visions on a Bearbrick figurine.
Another theory is the influence of the “snowball effect” alongside being in the right place at the right time. We just have to look at Bearbrick’s first collaboration to understand this theory. Landing its first partnership with Tokyo-based record shop HMV, just 3 months after its own launch, Bearbrick was already tied to a company set to expand worldwide and experience market domination. From there on, Bearbrick gradually landed more prestigious collaborations with well-known names and culturally significant brands such as Winne the Pooh and Disney. There’s no denying Bearbrick benefited from a perfect cocktail of variables that all aligned, catapulting them to fame never seen before by an art toy
How are Bearbrick collections released?
All Bearbrick figurines releases can be categorized into “SERIES” and “TYPES.” Usually, there are two SERIES releases a year in Summer and Winter, and each SERIES is consecutively numbered and falls under four different TYPES. Aside from their regular SERIES, Bearbrick has been known to “drop” sporadic releases throughout the year, often commemorating a brand, event or specific time of year.
The series includes:
Basic: The basic line contains nine different designs, with each figure bearing a letter that all come together to spell “Bearbrick.”
Standard: Standard Bearbricks are made up of several themes listed below.
Artist: Usually consists of figurine designs created in collaboration with an artist.
Secret: Secret designs are unannounced, rare, and shrouded in mystery that makes them highly sought-after. They may also consist of collaborative designs, often belonging to one of the below themes.
The standard series is a broad category composed of subcategories known as “THEMES.”
The most common themes include the following:
Pattern: a figure featuring one of many creative patterns.
Jellybean: translucent, monochromatic figurines.
Flag: a figure featuring a nation's or region's flag.
SF (Science Fiction): a figure based on a science fiction theme or movie.
Cute: a figure that’s generally considered adorable (usually a cartoon character.) Horror: a figure bearing a resemblance to a character or theme in the horror genre.
Animal: a figure bearing a resemblance to an animal or creature.
Hero: a relatively new THEME introduced in SERIES 21, consisting of superheroes from DC Comics. Bearbrick figurines are rarely re-released, enhancing their luxurious and limited-addition appeal. Moreover, most Bearbrick SERIES are released in blind boxes, making it impossible to discern what’s inside each box. Hence, it is challenging to collect a whole set.
The anatomy of a Bearbrick figurine
Bearbricks are collectible figures comprised of nine parts — a head, torso, hips, arms, hands, and legs with joints that can move freely. While predominately made from vinyl, per artist’s choice, you’ll also find some plastic, wooden, felt, and metal Bearbricks They also come in different sizes: 50% (35 mm), 70% (50 mm), 100% (70 mm), 200% (145 mm), 400% (280 mm) and 1000% (700 mm.) The standard is considered to be the 70mm tall figurine. Bearbricks of 35mm are usually sold as keychains or phone ornaments. At the same time, larger sizes, such as 280 mm and 700 mm, are often confined to collector’s cases. There’s a strong preference among collectors for the 400% and 1000% sizes.
Famous Bearbrick collaboration
All the way from its first joining of hands with HMV to its power coupling with Avengers and Star Wars – Bearbrick has covered a lot of ground.
For example, during special Bearbrick releases, Medicom Toy has partnered with brands such as Chanel, Nike, X-Large, Hermès, Comme Des Garçons, Bape, CLOT, Levis, Stüssy, and Undercover. Jean Michael Basquiat and Keith Haring are some other notable names that have joined creative forces with Medicom Incorporated.
Moving onto designers, you’ll find the likes of Chinese art icon Yue Minjun, Takashi Murakami, KAWS, and Hebru Brantley, alongside music groups such as Daft Punk and Sandaime J Soul Brothers, who’ve also dabbled in Bearbrick design.
The most expensive Bearbrick
The Yue Minjun ‘Qiu Tu’ 1000% Bearbrick (2008) claims the grand title as the most expensive Bearbrick collectible going under the hammer for around $171,000 (£126,000) at an auction a few years ago. Yue Minjun is one of the most famous artists in China, which definitely contributed to the mind-boggling price his Bearbrick fetched.
The most well-known Bearbricks
KAWS ‘Chomper’ Bearbrick (2003) is an iconic Bearbrick designed by KAWS and created with Japanese record label Avex for their annual summer concert, a-nation. The “Chomper” Bearbrick, as its name would suggest, is instantly recognizable due to its wide grin of razor-sharp teeth and x-crossed eyes.
Among the rarest Bearbricks is the figurine designed in Coco Chanels’s image, founder of Chanel, by Karl Lagerfeld in 2007. Only 1,000 pieces were made before being displayed in the luxury fashion label’s boutiques, earning them an aura of prestige and exclusivity. With a monochrome tweed suit pearls, sunglasses and a Camellia flower, the figurine is unmistakably high-fashion and downright Chanel.
The Parisian boutique Colette put their own spin on a Bearbrick for its 10th anniversary in 2007. They created a minimalist white bear with the signatures of 12 street artists, including Michael Lau and KAWS, emblazoned across its body.
Colette was also involved in a limited-edition creation known as My First Bearbrick B@BY. Designed by Japanese actress Chiaki Kuriyama, the Bearbrick’s design was entirely unique. It included a transparent belly filled with colored beads. This was an instant hit among parents who noted their babies were transfixed by the rattling noises.
Are Bearbricks a good investment?
Debate wages on over whether Bearbricks are continuing to rise in value or if they’ve stagnated. Moreover, whether or not they should even be considered an investment in the first place is a point of contention among collectors of the highly-sough-after figurines who claim they’re first and foremost a celebration of art and pop culture, to be cherished and collected.
As expert advice would have it, it’s best not to try and collect them all – that’s nigh-on impossible. Instead, you should go after what you like or have an interest in, such as Marvel or fashion-oriented Bearbricks without focusing on how much money they could possibly make you in the future.
The Newest Additions to the Bearbrick Collection
In 2022, the 43rd Series of the famous Medicom Toy celebrates 25 years of the Japanese company and 20 years of Bearbrick.
At first glance, the new collection is trademark Bearbrick with famous faces such as Alfred Hitchcock lining their ranks. Well-known cartoon characters are also a staple with Batman and Care Bear designs. However, this year, their flagship figurine has a dark base color and iridescent reflections with one letter taken from the word BEARBRICK on its front.
How to start your own Bearbrick collection
Starting your own Bearbrick collection is exciting. You join a long line of Bearbrick devotees, fans, celebrities, artists, and more who’ve welcomed a Bearbrick (or more) into their lives. The most obvious first step is checking out the official Bearbrick website. However, due to high demand, you’re not always guaranteed to secure a Bearbrick figurine, much less the one of your desires, as the majority of Bearbricks are sold out within seconds of release. Plus, you’ll be entered into a draw to secure some Bearbricks, meaning that you’ll have to be picked over numerous other hopefuls.
But don’t be disheartened; there are alternative ways to nab yourself a Bearbrick. Beginning with the likes of Zakka house. On our online boutique, you can find a vast array of available-to-buy authentic Bearbricks at unbeatable prices.