Why does Street Culture seem obsessed with Teddy Bears?
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The Teddy Bear has become deeply rooted in Street culture, surviving trends and fashions for at least three decades, becoming a pop culture symbol that always (re)comes back.

The Bear symbol is ingrained in Steetwear culture, do you know why?

From Lo Life Culture’s Teddy Bear to Bearbricks  and Kanye West’s iconic cover albums, to more recent collaborations with Grateful Dead; references to bears, in Street Culture, are everywhere. There is a platform in the metaverse where you can create and customize your own bear: @streetwearbearsclub.

The “Bear” is not the only stylized or illustrated animal that has become famous in Streetwear culture, just think of A Bathing Ape’s “Monkey,” also taken up by adidas for avatars in the Metaverse; but the Teddy has become deeply rooted in Street culture, surviving trends and fashions for at least three decades, becoming a pop culture symbol that always (re)comes back.

The Teddy was named after the 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt: in 1902, the former president participated in a bear hunt in Mississippi and refused to kill a bear caught by some hunters in his group, declaring that the action was “unsportsmanlike.”

The incident attracted national attention and was the subject of political cartoons starring “Teddy”-the name by which Roosevelt was commonly called-and “the bear.”

Inspired by the cartoon, a New York shopkeeper named Morris Michtom and his wife Rose made a stuffed cloth bear and displayed it in the window with a sign, “Teddy’s Bear.”

Photo: Fragment x Steiff Bear

After receiving permission from President Roosevelt to name their creation after him, the Mictoms started a teddy bear company, making their fortune.

The English version, Paddington, is a children’s literary character who first appeared in 1958, dressed in tailored suits or raincoat and hat; symbols of elegance and kindness, typical of the English attitude.

The iconic Teddy bear-and its elegant English version Paddington – was first taken up by Ralph Lauren, considered by many to be the “godfather of American fashion.” Lauren’s intent was to express through a stylish and reassuring character, the high social status of his garments, originally aimed at Polo players or fans.

The Polo Ralph Lauren line not only built a financial empire around the Teddy character, it especially contributed to the birth of one of the most impactful American trends in the history of costume: the Lo Life aesthetic.

The Teddy, from being a child’s toy and a symbol of romance, was transformed into a symbol of luxury and opulence: what the black community in NY had been waiting for, to prove with such a powerful status symbol that they had made money and succeeded in redeeming themselves from poverty.

The Lo Life style is adopted religiously by the black and Hip Hop community in NY, and the teddy bear becomes an inescapable sign of this Style.

Soon, in the wake of Polo Ralph Lauren’s fame, others will repurpose the Teddy here and there on tees and sweaters, or by creating branded versions of the plush: throughout the 1990s we more or less witness various representations of Teddy, some successful, some less so.

The 2000s arrive and a Japanese collectible toy brand – Medicom Toy (curiously reminiscent of Mictom, the brand inventor of the Teddy Bear) – synthesizes the image of the bear by making it ultra-minimal, creating an adult toy that will become iconic: the Be@rbrick.

The uniqueness of the Bea@brick lies in its collaborations with designers, artists and stylists from all over the world, who try their hand at transforming or rather create their own “bear”; the company, for its part, produces a limited series for each collaboration, increasing the “fever” of conquest by collectors and-obviously-increasing the Hype.

Just like The Teddy for Lo Life culture, the Bearbricks become a Status Symbol and an integral part of Steet Culture: another bear that has conquered the Streetwear world, irreversibly.

On this trend, now furrowed in Street Culture and Rap, references to the bear abound: he is modified by Murakami to look more like Kanye West and becomes the star of the album “Graduation,” the Bear is outfitted in Varsity Jacket and Jeans for the 2004 album “College Dropout”, and he wears a blazer jacket in 2005’s “Late Registration”.

Kanye West gives the “coup de grace” to “Bear Culture,” making it – if possible – even cooler.

John Undercover makes his sinister and undreassuring interpretation of Lauren’s Rich Terry Bear. The collection becomes iconic, satisfying even the “darker” soul of those who felt uncomfortable walking around with a smiling Teddy on the T-Shirt.

In 2018, Supreme creates “Supreme Steiff” in collaboration with Steiff, a world-renowned plush toy manufacturer.

The teddy bear comes with a very important accessory: the iconic gray Supreme logo sweatshirt. Gold fever from collectors and resellers ensues: once again the Teddy is imprinted in pop culture as a social symbol of wealth and exclusivity.

We come to one of the most sought-after collaborations of recent times: Nike SB X Grateful Dead, formed with the iconic San Francisco jam band. The sneakers feature a unique design inspired by the back cover of ‘History of the Grateful Dead, Volume One Bear’s Choice, originally released in 1973.

The Teddy Bears here becoming a friendly company of dancing bears in a circle, with psychedelic colors hinting at LSD.

Grateful Dead collaborates with streetwear giants such as Levi’s, Chinatown Market, Crocks, Stance, and Nike, and his ironic colored teddy bears appear everywhere, reinforcing the stainless relationship between streetwear and Bears.

Tracing the path that led the Teddy Bear to imprint itself in Pop and Streetwear culture, we can conventionally trace as an initiatory moment the 1990s, with the birth of Polo Ralph Lauren’s Lo Life style; a symbol that has been reworked – decade after decade-and reinforced its image in mass culture.

In Pictures: adidas JS Bear Jeremy Scott, Gucci Knit Teddy Bear Sweater, Travis Scott Astroworld Teddy Bear T-Shirt, Supreme x Louis Vuitton Bear, Palm Angel Varsity Jacket, Undercover x Medicom Toy Bear

The Teddy Bear survives trends and fashions as it is inextricably linked to a certain type of affluence and ostentation anchored in the “Bling-Bling” aesthetic of the Hip Hop scene. Teddy is a universally recognizable character and- most importantly -naturally associated with the Steet Culture Community: wearing him is a Statement, a tacit declaration of “I can afford it, so I made it.”

What will be the evolution in the future of our old friend?

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