29 Sep Feature: Why are fashion designers obsessed with toys? / i-D
Back in July, JW Anderson launched his second drop of sneakers in collaboration with Converse. Titled the Toy collection, it was the latest in an ongoing series of partnerships — ranging from Japanese retail behemoth Uniqlo to A$AP Rocky’s creative agency AWGE — that mark Anderson’s growing ambition to democratise fashion, offering his signature off-kilter design sensibility at a more accessible price point. While Anderson is known for his rigorously intellectual aesthetic, drawing on an encyclopaedic knowledge of 20th century art and British modernism to create challenging new shapes and silhouettes, here the aesthetic was playful to the point of infantile, crafted from candy-coloured patent leather and translucent rubber.
Despite his reputation as an avant-garde trendsetter, Anderson is hardly the first to delve into the kitschier corners of childhood — tracing the trend back to its origins, you could argue that the Fendi bag bugs were patient zero. First launched in 2013, the furry, googly-eyed charms were seen dangling off the handbags of many a fashionista, lending even the most severe outfit a dose of playful humour. A year later, Fendi’s creative director Karl Lagerfeld riffed on the bugs to create a charm of himself nicknamed the ‘Karlito’ constructed from leather, mink and silver fox fur and available for £950 — given he employs a full-time maid to look after his cat (also available in toy form) Karl’s not exactly known for his thriftiness, after all. Within weeks, WWD reported that there was a 600-person-strong waiting list. Adorable, or eye-wateringly extravagant?
From there, the appearance of cutesy, colourful accessories seems only to have snowballed. In the last year alone, we’ve seen a carousel of childish it-pieces: the dinky proportions of Jacquemus’ Chiquito bags, JW Anderson’s sprinkle donut keyrings and Balenciaga’s lurid pink platform crocs covered in squishy stickers. Perhaps the strongest sign that it’s now a full-blown trend was in the run up to Kim Jones’s debut at Dior Homme in June: not only did he use the cartoonish illustrations of American graffiti artist Kaws on bags, shirts and even the invitations, but to whip up even more feverish anticipation before the show he posted a series of images on Instagram of industry icons holding soft toy ‘plushies’ modelled on Monsieur Dior himself. When Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Kim Kardashian are all rocking stuffed toys for the sake of fashion, there must be something in the water — one entrepreneurial hypebeast even had the audacity to advertise it on resale website StockX for $1 million (although at the time of writing, the highest bid is a mere $800).