How Fashion is Finding Comfort in Cuddly Toys

Phoebe Cotterell investigates fashion’s fascination with plushies and what this nostalgic new trend says about Gen-Z dressing.

WORDS Phoebe Cotterell
HEADER IMAGE Courtesy of Laneya Christine

A quick flick through TikTok and you are bound to find a girl in her twenties unboxing her latest Miffy plush or Jellycat Amuseable, she’s probably wearing a ribbon tied in her hair or on the belt loop of her thrifted jeans and is stuck between deciding if her aesthetic is ballet-core or bloke-core this week. One thing she’s sure of though is she isn’t ashamed of her latest soft toy purchase and showing off just how happy it makes her. 

While to many the pandemic feels like it’s in the rearview mirror, society is still grappling with the detrimental consequences. It’s no surprise that when searching for comfort in concerning times people gravitate towards nostalgia, what once made you happen can surely do it again. And what’s more nostalgic than your favourite childhood cuddly toys?

In 2021 research conducted by PoundToy found that around seven million people in the UK still cuddle a teddy at night, and 14 million still own their childhood stuffed toy. It’s not surprising that fashion brands have started incorporating cuddly creations into their work including Mulberry, whose recent collaboration with Dutch character Miffy celebrating the Lunar New Year saw the British heritage brand take advantage of the toy’s popular resurgence on TikTok. Additionally, Thom Browne’s AW22 show in New York featured an audience of 500 teddy bears, streetwear brand Bugsex is selling out of its bright blue and red soft toy ‘bugs’ and soft toy ‘bug’ backpacks, and Moschino continues to implement its trademark teddy bear across its product range. 

“Teddy bears specifically have such a massive history within fashion,” says Jack Mitchell, Manager at Heaven by Marc Jacob’s new store in Soho, London. “I grew up on streetwear more than luxury and definitely within that subculture you can see teddies everywhere if you look hard enough. The reason they are so popular right now is probably just down to the natural cycle of things. Within luxury fashion especially, it can feel quite serious, then every ten years or so you get a new wave of people and designers that just want to have a bit of fun and make some fluffy cute teddies and toys like Marc with his DouDou bear for Louis Vuitton in 2005.”

The reason they are so popular right now is down to the natural cycle of things – within luxury fashion especially it can feel quite serious, then every ten years or so you get a new wave of people and designers that just want to have a bit of fun and make some fluffy cute teddies and toys.

Jack Mitchell

Marc Jacobs’ subline Heaven has become a cultural zeitgeist for Gen-Z and millennials, featuring stars like Doja Cat and Ice Spice whose cult followings have been cultivated online. The brand blends nostalgic references – including generation-defining films such as The Virgin Suicides and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – while collaborating with new-gen favourite brands like Kiko Kostadinov and Mimi Wade. The brand’s signature double-headed teddy bear logo “is based on a real-life teddy that celebrity stylist and Perfect Magazine founder Katie Grand used to have,” Mitchell explains. “It was a two-headed pink fluffy bear that she had been shot with and there is a really cool picture of Bjork holding it too. As for why they chose to go with that as a logo, I think it’s probably because it personifies the Heaven sensibilities perfectly; firstly it’s about being a bit weird, then Katie is a close friend of Marc’s so it’s not only a nod to the importance of personal connections within a brand but also to approaching design from a sub-cultural, referential standpoint.” 

The logo is heavily featured across the Heaven collections in the form of hair accessories, jewellery, backpacks and even a Steiff collaboration in 2021 that brought the double-headed teddy to life. Heaven fans devour the sugar-coated subversive styles and covet the teddy bear logo as, in Mitchell’s opinion, “it is the most direct way of representing” Jacob’s work.

It’s not just big brands who are exploring the inclusion of furry friends within fashion, designer Laneya Christine has been utilising soft toys within her designs since the brand’s inception and has dressed the likes of the City Girls and Savannah Hudson in her creations. Christine’s teddy designs are reminiscent of the D&G by Dolce & Gabanna plush toy mini skirt adorned by Lil Kim on the 2003 cover of Nylon magazine, and feature a collection of cuddlies in a multitude of colours make-up bags, boots, bikinis and headbands. Christine created her multi-piece handmade Teddy collection in 2021 and describes her process as making “clothes based on how I feel about myself. I feel sexy, confident, and beautiful so I definitely want everyone to feel that when they’re in my pieces. It’s an amazing feeling to wear someone’s designs and feel sexy and that’s definitely how I want everyone to feel when they’re in By Laneya Christine”. 

Trends are cyclical but brand and house codes are timeless and Christine is an exciting example of how codes will evolve as we see the new guards of the industry progress in their positions. Christine aspires to see Rihanna in her Teddy designs one day and envisions herself as “being one of the top black designers in the world” and hopes to“see even more celebrities and amazing people wearing my pieces I put so much love into making”. 

In a culture where comfort is needed now maybe more than ever, incorporating cuddly toys, A.K.A the bread and butter of self-soothing, into fashion isn’t the most shocking trend we’ll see this year. As Mitchell puts it, “Whether you’re “cool” or not, the chances are you probably grew up having some kind of teddy or plushie and welcoming this kind of thing back into your life is just fun, even if it’s only for nostalgia.”

Phoebe Cotterell

Phoebe Cotterell is a writer from Bristol, UK. She is currently an editorial writer at BeautyMatter. Phoebe’s work has been featured in Check-Out Zine, Focus, Fizzy Mag and more.  In particular, she loves writing about interesting trends and their history, covering catwalk reports and editorial beauty.

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