August 12, 2006

From Russia With Edge: Boys & Toys Indie Plush Toys

As soon as we walked into the Bubble New York show this week, the kid made a beeline for the Boys & Toys booth, which was an unconventional standout, even among the non-mainstream exhibitors.

The black-lined booth had a nylon comforter on the floor, and a woman and child were sitting in the middle of a pile of the company's surreal plush and shiny vinyl, like an odd little slumber party. There was a laptop on the floor in the corner, seemingly the sole concession to the wholesale business at hand.


Maybe it's a Russian Grups thing, or maybe I've just been soaking in the willful innocence of the American indie plush movement too long, but I was caught off guard by the frank, open-eyed edginess of Boys & Toys' toys. Where US and Japanese toymakers sketch their imaginary worlds with relentless, seemingly calculated cuteness, Boys & Toys' designers connect their fantasy/dream-inspired toys to the all-to-real world, with its booze and sex and familial conflict, even as they hold onto an idealized sense of children--or childlikeness, anyway: "Boys & Toys is an attempt to bring back our childhood, however grown-up we might be."

I'm just going to quote from the company's offbeat brochure and site, where designers talk very openly about their own childhood dreams, and favorite toys. Then tell me if you've ever heard anyone pitch their children's products quite like this before:

Igor, designer: ...When about thirteen, I read Perrucahud's book on Modigliani and wanted to be Modigliani. I liked the fact that he always drank and women always loved him. Like [Russian author Isaac] Babel without the knifing. So I decided to enter an art school to become Modigliani. But I failed, being a Jew...

Anya, designer: I never speculated about what I wanted to be... Oh wait. First, I wanted to be a janitor, and then, a Queen. Why a janitor? I thought bringing drunks to their flats was heroic. It's here that janitors do not bring drunks to their flats. In Warsaw where I lived when a kid, they do.

Dimo, designer:...And then I thought I'd be a geologist. Mum talked me out of it. She said that meant no love life, spending half your time in taiga. I shivered and refused the dream...Then again, I never made a scientist. I didn't fancy myself living all my life in an old jacket, in a flat with roommates, and being known by no-one until I'm 70...Then I wanted to be an artist--but without being beaten. In our school, they would beat violently anyone visiting drawing and singing classes. Why am I a designer? That's an easy job with no responsibilities: sitting in front of your computer all day long, doing nothing and getting paid for it.


And from their toys, too, which include, in addition to children's sketch-inspired creatures, some rather sexy designer "recollections of their fair ladies":

Irochka: a stranger woman of your dreams. A sitting girl, gushing and amazed. Quite pliable.

Svetochka: The quintessence of all the beautiful and long-legged wearers of business suits. Secretary.

Verochka's Boyfriend: A man in his prime. Hands, legs, and hot eyes.

See the complete collection of toys and get retailer info at Boys & Toys []


too bad igor doesn't know that modigliani was jewish.

I think what Igor means is that being a Jew he couldn't get into an art school. Unfortunately anti-Semitism is strong in Russia and it is not uncommon not be accepted by a school just because one is Jewish.

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