Column: Teddy bears: why we love them so

Column: Teddy bears: why we love them so
Teddy bears contain memories of a mothers comforting ways . (Photo provided by Tom Ferraro)

How often I hear from my patients “Boy oh boy, another holiday has come and gone and all I have to show for it is another tie that I won’t wear.”

I usually answer by recommending they do what I do each Christmas. I go out and buy myself something that I actually want.

This year was no different. I drove myself over to the Miracle Mile in Manhasset, walked into the Ralph Lauren store and started to browse. As I began to salivate I noticed something that struck me as curious.

There on display was a handsome looking blue cashmere sweater with a cute looking Steiff teddy bear embroidered on its front. The salesman told me that was the famous Polo Bear, an image that Ralph Lauren had been using for years.

I once noticed how Louis Vuitton had been using the cute anime images by the famous Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, founder of the ‘superflat’ art movement. But I had no idea that the use of childlike images were also being employed by Ralph Lauren.

Louis Vuitton has been mining the field of post-modern high-low art for a while by employing graffiti artist Stephen Sprouse, the crazy/clever Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and more recently the one and only Jeff Koons.
The Ralph Lauren Polo Bear has an interesting history.

In the early 1990s his creative team gave him a present of one of those high end Steiff teddy bears. They dressed the Steiff teddy bear in a tiny Polo outfit and Ralph liked it so much he decided to sell them in his stores.

The image of these cute teddy bears on his sweaters became so popular that it is now the unofficial mascot of the brand.
The Steiff teddy bear is made by the German-based plush toy company founded by Margarete Steiif back in 1880.

Margarite Steiif was afflicted with polio from the age of 18 months and despite paralysis and pain she persevered and managed to educate herself and became an expert seamstress.

Eventually she began to manufacture children’s plush toys with the company motto being “only the best is good enough for children.”

These sublime little toys are known for their quality and beauty and why Ralph Lauren has associated his company with them.
But the bigger question for me as a psychoanalyst is why have high-end fashion companies such as Ralph Lauren or Louis Vuitton place images of children’s toys or cartoon characters on adult luxury wear?

And this trend is global. Coach handbags use the Peewee Herman Rexi dinosaur figure. Metlife uses the Charles Schultz Snoopy characterand ANA Airlines paints Pokemon images on the sides of some of their jets.

Gone are the days when companies used sex to sell their wares. Now they have embraced images from our childhood.
Children grow fond of teddy bears, stuffed toys or security blankets when they are about 18 months old, about the time when they become upright, ambulatory and begin to leave the mother’s side.

They venture out into the world by bringing a reminder of their mother with them. Linus had his cherished security blanket and so did you and I. These items are referred to as transitional objects in psychoanalytic circles.
My guess is that the wild and sweet popularity of the Ralph Lauren Polo Bear or a Louis Vuitton Murakami handbag is based upon those childhood memories hidden within our unconscious, the memory of the good enough mother. These distant memories are of great value.

A fashion designer I know mentioned to me that the teddy bear’s popularity dates back to 1902 when President Teddy Roosevelt showed compassion by not shooting a young bear when he was on a hunting trip.

These memories are all embedded in the nation’s collective unconscious and thus are as American as apple pie and just as satisfying.
Marcel Proust’s timeless masterpiece “Remembrance of Things Past” demonstrated the power of past memories.

Towards the beginning of the novel the narrator tastes a petites Madeleine cookie and it triggers memories of his aunt in Combray, France and how she would feed him these cookies and tea as a child.

This small memory opened up a larger memory of the walks he would take as a child, the “Meseglise” walk and the” Guermantes” walk and that brilliant passage remains one of the most sublime 70 pages in modern literature.

Even before Freud, Proust demonstrated the importance of retrieving memories.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that high end fashion houses have discovered a way to bring comfort to the folks that buy their clothing.

Regardless of the price if a sweater or a handbag can bring a bit of comfort and calm to our harried adult lives then I suppose it’s worth its weight in gold. Images of teddy bears, Snoopy and anime characters subtly conjure up memories of childhood days when we were free from anxiety, stress and worry.

Ah yes those were the days alright. Those were the days.

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