Wednesday 13 September 2023

The Laughing Bears




I was recently reminded of some of my more unusual teddy bear designs by a regular collector, who was thrilled to have located a teddy bear I made over twenty years ago and wrote to tell me about her find... a laughing bear with hugging arms, created from a beautiful animal print fur fabric.

The 'Laughing Bears' were a change of design direction for me at the start of the new millenium. By then I had become well known for creating large traditional mohair teddy bears but never one to rest on my laurels, wanted to expand my teddy bear designs with a range of more contemporary bears. I stumbled across a wonderful faux fur fabric produced by 'Tissavel' in France, a high end synthetic fur fabric used in clothing manufacture. This luxurious fabric was manufactured in a wonderful range of 'state of the art' faux fur, with an all-important stable woven backing... to my mind, perfect for creating showpiece teddy bears!

At the time, I knew there would be collectors loyal to my traditional teddy bears, who would perhaps frown upon this flamboyant change of design direction for 'All Bear', but to my mind, creative itches must be scratched, so I decided to be brave and forge ahead with my idea anyway. Beautiful 'Bisto', the teddy in the photo above, was one of my first Laughing Bear designs and still holds a very special place in my heart. Then one laughing bear led to another ... and another ... and another! Choosing names that reflected their personalities was fun ... Laughalot, Wotalot, VaVaVoom, Crazy for you, Happy-go-lucky, Tiger Feet, Beano, Bisto, Hullabulloo, Rumpus, Serendipity...  and so they went on... 

The Laughing Bears were a more complicated, time consuming design. I wanted them to retain the appeal of traditional teddy bears but also to stand proudly in their own right. I felt it was important to create an open-mouthed design which really brought the bear to life, lending him a truly happy personna, I didn't want a mouth that flopped, or worse still, grimaced!  After quite a bit of trial and error, I came up with a smiling mouth design that made me smile back... and when I added hand painted, twinkly glass eyes, it quickly became clear these new bears were going to be super fun characters! I also designed a new arm shape for my Laughing Bears, giving them arms to hug with and once I was happy with the overall design proportions, hey presto! I had created a blueprint to explore to my heart's content ... I couldn't resist creating Laughing Bears from leopard, cheetah, lynx, rabbit and bear furs ... the possibilities seemed endless. Sometimes I worked mohair, or alpaca muzzles and paws into my design with the faux fur and each design tweak brought a new character to life. 

Despite the teddy bear traditionalists among collectors, my 'Laughing Bears' quickly found their niche and were adopted around the globe, with many heading to the United States . I continued to create my much loved traditional teddy bears too and still do so today.

I made Laughing Bears for a good number of years, some in faux fur, others in mohair, or alpaca and some which incorporated a contrast of fabrics. Most Laughing Bears were around 19"/20" in height but there were also a few 25"/26" Laughing Bears... as you can imagine, those had especially huge personalities! 

Eventually, Tissavel faux fur became much harder to source (I was told the company went out of business) and once again, I began to feel a creative urge to take my designs into a new area, so I quietly retired my friendly Laughing Bears and headed off on my next teddy bear tangent.

Remembering the Laughing Bears this week has been fun, so who knows, perhaps I will think about creating one or two in the future, if I ever locate that glorious Tissavel faux fur again, for old time's sake!

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