After breaking down the sneaker queueing game I thought I address the next essential puzzle piece in a street geeks identity: Collecting expensive toys.
Now when I am talking “expensive toys” I do not talk Porsches or Rolex watches here, I mean actual TOYS made out of plastic or vinyl! Now how did that become part of the Hypebeast DNA you wonder, well, let me enlighten you…
Ok so why do grown dudes collect toys in the first place?
There was this small underground movie getting released in 1977, you might have heard of it… Star Wars? Not only did the movie blew every kids mind back in the day but it kicked off one of the biggest toy franchises on this planet.
As the product design of Star Wars was so damn iconic and awesome it translated like a treat to the toy lines. Basically every person ( guy? nerd? ) that was born around that time got caught up in the Star Wars toy blizzard and has fond memories of the pieces owned.
Then came puberty and most of us sold their Star Wars collections on for peanuts. This should later be revealed to be a massive, traumatising event that lead to many men later in life mumbling: “I used to have that one” through salty geek tears.
So yes, I blame the urge to collect on the trauma of selling on the childhood Star Wars toys!
Ok, so how did certain toys become cool and hip then?
Fast forward and the boy from back in 1975 is the Twentysomething of 1993 who witnesses the birth of street wear and other cool shit: Records, Sneakers and Graffiti. Brands like FreshJive, Fuct, Holmes and Stüssy and nerdy Breakbeat labels like Ninja Tunes and MoWax appear and go big. The traumatised boy from back in the day suddenly has the consumer power to buy all the geeky shit he wants without getting told off by his parents. Yay!
Meanwhile in Tokyo man-boys started to connect their love for street culture with their love for toys. Japanese fashion label Bounty Hunter ( yep, Star Wars reference, told ya! ) created together with BAPE designer Sk8thing 1999 the first “Urban Vinyl” toy: Kid Hunter.
An evil riff on American cereal mascots, this lump of plastic is still on many collectors “must find” lists and signalled the dawn of what we would call Urban Vinyl. Personally Urban Vinyl for me means any toy that has been created to appeal to adults instead of being aimed at kids.
Next thing you know Japanese Toy companies, Western Graffiti artists, Music Label owners and Streetwear hustlers all embrace in one sweaty geek group hug and birth a new category of nerdy collectable that references all the stuff that makes street culture cool and taps directly into the Star Wars shaped hole left from selling all those childhood toys: Urban Vinyl aka Designer Toys!
From top left clockwise: Martin toy for UK street wear label Silas, first Companion toy by US artist KAWS, P.A.P ( PEACE AND PROSPERITY ) toy by US fashion brand Stüssy.
Damn son! I didn’t know that. So who produces all this crap?
When we talk toy companies actually producing these things look no further than Medicom Toy in Japan. It became THE toy company of choice for artists to release through and their iconic Kubrick and Bearbrick shapes kickstarted the blind pack and artist toy edition culture Kid Robot made extremely popular in the West years later with their own spin on the Bearbrick concept, the Dunny.
With more and more known artists creating editions for Medicom toys and global tastemakers pushing the medium, Urban Vinyl became less of a toy and more of an art sculpture that was affordable for the regular collector.
Medicom upped the collecting game as well by introducing the “Blind Box” concept where collectors didn’t even know which artwork they would get, with extra rare “chase pieces” thrown in for good measure. So in order to get the whole series one had to buy a lot of doubles in order to get lucky with the rarer pieces.
Fashion Label A Bathing Ape launched their own toy company Bape Play and the British record label MoWax regularly created promotional collectables for their record releases. Very unsurprisingly both NIGO of BAPE and James Lavelle who ran MoWax were massive Star Wars nerds.
Futura x MoWax toys produced by Medicom based on the cover art for British band UNKLE
From top left clockwise: Futura x UNKLE x BAPE, Policeman by James Jarvis based on his comic “World of Pain”, Kubrick toy by Graffiti artist Stash, Dissected Companion toy by Artist KAWS.
Ok awesome! What happened next?
After the first wave of Urban Vinyl from Japan, US based Kid Robot made Designer toys a household name in the West pushing artists like KOZIK, Ron English and Gary Baseman and they own spin on Medicoms customizable Kubrick and Bearbrick toys called Munnies and Dunnies…
From top left clockwise: Toby toy by Gary Baseman, A Clockwork Carrot Bunny by KOZIK, “Grin” Evil Charlie Brown by Ron English and various Dunnies by Kid Robot.
This unholy marriage between art, fashion, music and collectable toys can be highly addictive. With the easy access to merchandise via eBay and online stores and the never ending flood of cool stuff getting released it’s hard to stay sane. You just can’t Collect Em All anymore. Well, apart from when you a super collector Selim Varol. Apart from having the luxury to run his own toy and art store he has amassed one of the most amazing collection of art and toys on the planet…
And then… when you least expect it… suddenly the whole thing flips and goes full circle and you end up collecting Star Wars again… DAMN! But this time the Vader costs £1,250 on eBay because KAWS designed it and that little monkey with the Boba Fett helmet £100 because it’s a collaboration with fashion label A Bathing Ape. Raising the stakes here!
So Solaris, still on that vinyl?
My big epiphany regarding collecting actually came to me in the home land of characters and limited edition: Japan! After spending three days in a row in the Nakano Broadway Toy Mall I was just a shivering, sweaty mess…
The sheer amount of amazing stuff that was available just blew my mind and didn’t correspond with my financial situation or display space availability. At that point I realised I can’t have it all and that I need to get off the crack.
And when even Mega Star Wars Fanboy NIGO get’s rid of his collection you know it’s time to size down!
Times have changed and I am not really collecting toys anymore. There is just too much stuff out there and the golden age of collecting in early 2000 is definitely over for me.
STILL… there are companies and artists out there that excite me… so here we go!
My Top 5 toy things that still rock in 2016
1) Hot Toys
Slowly but surely Hot Toys from Hong Kong seized the toy crown from Sideshow Toys in America and Medicom in Japan by producing the craziest detailed licensed toys out there! The head sculpts look so freakishly real you might think they decapitated Robert Downey Junior and shrank down his skull using some toy voodoo magic. Is it cool to have Hot Toys? I doubt it get’s you laid but respect from your chubby mates is guaranteed! These are definitely BRO toys… and still awesome…
2) 3AA Toys
Like a fucked up dark version of Hot Toys, 3A are creating crazy detailed figures but with an added art edge. Founded 2008 by Kim Fung Wong and painter and illustrator Ashley Wood 3A’s appeal lies in the withered and distressed look, the post apocalyptic feel and unique design of their characters.
I still need to own one of their pieces someday…
3) Homemade Bootlegs
Toy Hustlers and one man bands like The Sucklord, 8 Bit Zombie or Streets of Beige might be stuck deep in nostalgia but bring enough freshness and mutation to their hand made pieces for them to be awesome. Being it splattering each toy with paint, creating the best Masters of the Universe toy that never existed or creating a gay empire: Bootleg toys are unique, awesome and damn funny!
4) Cute shit that can’t be ignored
5) Super 7
In 2001, Super7 started as a magazine about vintage Japanese toys. In 2004 they opened their first store in the Japantown district of San Francisco to carry not just toys, but everything else that they wanted: t-shirts, posters, books and more. Told ya it’s all connected!
Somehow they are really OG to me and I love all the weird toys they are stocking…
So there you have it!
My super quick rundown of the toy game. I know I left out many toys, artists and companies and I apologise. Plus I like to acknowledge that women collect toys too! It’s just from my own experience that mostly men sweat over the latest toy releases…. #dontjudgeme #itsacompliment
For more things related to being a toy looser check out: