Photos courtesy of Laurence Veron
Keeping our eyes focused across the Atlantic Ocean once again, we at the PLUSH LIFE are happy to be in a Parisian state of mind. Though I’m not wearing a beret, I am envisioning a charming street scene complete with mimes, mock turtlenecks, and merriment. Merci beaucoup, French postcards and French MGM musicals! I salute your sense of style, fierce independence, and savoir-faire, especially in the wide, wild world of couture.
Tying in with Bastille Day (July 14, or le quatorze juillet, as they say overseas), I’m taking a stroll down this imaginary Rue de Make-Believe, and am revisiting the photos and answers that Laurence Veron provided a little while back. Don’t worry about getting déjà vu (another nod to France and its philosophical bent) because most of these pictures did not make it into the final article’s layout. Space didn’t permit their running, so this week’s blog gives us a chance to see and appreciate Veron’s talent and point of view.
When I asked Ms. Veron when was she born, she answered in a very European/very colorful way: “Exactly 20 years and 20 days after the D-Day.” That’s a perfect response because it makes us Yanks (and other readers) do a bit of research if we don’t know our WWII history by heart. (The answer is Laurence Veron was born on June 26, 1964. D-Day was June 6, 1944. Yay, education!)
Trained and educated in the field of psychology, Veron had a partiality for fashion design and a personal fashionable flair. Before she even began to dream up her own ensembles, she crafted wardrobes for her dolls. Eventually, she gravitated to Paris to attend a reputable, renowned fashion school. Veron originally hailed from French Normandy, in Cherbourg (side note: if you haven’t yet seen it, try to stream or purchase the DVD of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” one of the most beautiful and trend-setting musicals ever made). Comfortable with her creativity, and proud of her ability to conjure up patterns, Veron made dolls and stuffed animals. The toy critters were especially popular with the children of her friends and her own nephews, so she created these as gifts for Noel!
Working for a ready-to-wear manufacturer, Veron had a bout with a serious illness, which made her re-examine her life and her career. “Bears came right at this time to me, and they enlightened me and my life. My first bears were for children, but in 1996 I turned to collectibles. I tried on my own to perfect my patterns, and I studied books and always tried my hands at new ideas. I was able to improve my creations by doing this,” she said to me. “Working on my own, and not being afraid to fail, was like a school and a way to learn all about bear making.”
In 1988, famous French fashion designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac grabbed headlines and received worldwide coverage for his teddy bear coats. Each acrylic-and-polyester winter coat was made from banding together more than three dozen identical toy bears. Royalty, movie stars, recording artists, and society “It” girls all clamored to have this teddy-bear tog covering their willowy frames. Such well-known personalities as Lauren Hutton and Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis ordered the couture cub coat. The Gallic fashion impresario had created a Noah’s Ark coat, which boasted a dozen different species, so the bear branching-out was a no-brainer!
Back in 1989, Castelbajac told “People” magazine: “To me, it is a dream coat, with roots in my childhood emotions and memories. If I ask myself what animal I’d like to come back as, I would say a bear. They are thoughtful and endearing creatures.” When he was pressed to explain how he chose which kind of teddy bear to bond with one another, he said it was a matter of feeling and choosing according to that emotion. “From a distance, they look like a homogeneous pattern. To get the full impact of the individual teddy bears, you need to snuggle up to the wearer!”
The American press delighted in this bold and brash fashion statement. After all in late 1988 and early 1989, adult teddy bear collectors were slowly and tentatively coming to the foreground of the collectibles marketplace, but they were still not that well known or acknowledged. They were indeed a rare breed, so Castelbajac was touted as a Pied Piper for inner children, and described as being a “frisky fashion designer” or a “costumer who believes that adults should remain young at heart.”
While he might have been just a bemused blip on the American pop culture scene, his accomplishments and reputation remained strong in Laurence Veron’s memory. Many years after his notorious success — “taking teddy bears from the nursery to the runway” — she approached him via telephone for an interview for a British bear publication. The two were very sympatico with one another, and as a way to say “merci” for the conversation, Veron sent him a mini bear that she had handmade. The little creature was named Jean-Charles, after the designer. “He was very fond of that bear,” Veron recalled. “He ordered six of them! He also placed my bear Bibok in his concept store, wanting him to be an exclusive. All of this made me very proud.” (It’s interesting to regard how this teddy bear coat has become a standby for Castelbajac, who has resurrected it in all different shades and shapes over the past 30 years! It’s been purchased in more recent incarnations by the late Farrah Fawcett and pop icon Madonna. It shows no signs of ever going away! He’s also made a frog coat that has stitched together a pond’s worth of Kermit toys.)
From 1996 to 2007, Veron showcase her versatility by making bears, writing bear-themed articles, and giving bear artistry exhibitions. Never one to keep her knowledge to herself, she conducted workshops and encouraged people to unleash their artistic, crafting capabilities. Soon finding herself immersed in another profession, Veron did not want to bid bear making “adieu,” so she entrusted her friend Isabelle as a bear collaborator and artist.
This partnership lasted from 2007 to 2009, when they both realized that their time could not be shared with bear artistry any longer. Not wanting to depart this beloved niche entirely, Veron offered up many of her patterns online to be followed and made. Laurence and Isabelle together spearhead a website (that can still be accessed today) entitled alentours.com/wordpress. It is a way for bear fans to see what has been made in the past and to attempt to mimic it in their own manner.
The page is in French (but you can request that it be translated into English) and there are a dozen or more patterns and images to tackle. Laurence Veron was a fun artist to interview, and I am so glad that this week’s The Plush Life could offer up a petite glimpse into her jolly and generous mind frame.
Whatever she and Isabelle might be pursuing today, they have their pattern website as a legacy that reflects their deep and sincere connection to the world of bear making, collecting, and appreciating. Merci beaucoup, mademoiselle et madame!