Nestled in Edison, New Jersey, GUND has been creating huggable and adorable plush designs for 120 years. It’s weird to type “nestled” and “New Jersey” in the same sentence, because the so-called Garden State is often derided for being a mecca for mobsters and manufacturing polluters. It’s usually portrayed in pop culture as the stomping-grounds of the Sopranos (the gangster kind, not the Wagnerian type) and smelly gas refineries. So, it’s refreshing to shine a light on Jersey’s joyful Plush Life connection … and GUND does just that!
At Toy Fair 2018, GUND had a busy and bursting-to-the-seams booth. Visitors were constantly popping in and out of the company’s showroom, and each guest was treated to an array of amazing new designs for 2018, as well as returning, popular favorites. Celebrating its 120th birthday, GUND knows a thing or two about how to make people happy, and the key seems to be to unleash stuffed animals that invite hugging and cuddling.
My tour guide for the morning was Don Lehnert, and the digital and commerce guru for GUND has such an affable and friendly manner that the walk-around felt like a homecoming reunion. Lehnert grew up with his own favorite plush toys, and as a father himself, he understands that connection between childhood imagination and having a plush buddy to embrace.
In the GUND showroom, the designers unveiled a large assortment of teddy bears, quirky critters, novelty items, and movie & TV tie-ins. It was a good mix of original characters and licensed reproductions.
Among the fun and unexpected creatures were dinosaurs that roar — the T. Rex is the most popular of the prehistoric pack — and lots of mythical and fantastical beasts. As I saw in many of the vendors’ exhibits at Toy Fair 2018, unicorns are ruling the roost. The GUND unicorns are gentle and lovely, mixing pastel colors with floral designs. Paired with some princess and fairy dolls, the mythical creatures are a perfect accessory for a nursery or a young girl’s bedroom.
Baby showers and infant gifts were represented in many of the on-hand plush items. Traditional colors — blue for boys, pink for girls — were noticeable in the very young children’s selections (Baby’s First Bear), and the beloved characters from Beatrix Potter’s imagination were meticulously crafted in several different sizes. The smaller array of Peter Rabbits, Jemima Puddle Ducks, and Tom Kittens (among other of Potter’s creations) really were exceptional. They reminded me of the small spot illustrations that used to grace the storybooks by Potter.
It was quite nice to see small renderings of the fabled characters. Potter used to paint watercolors of her brain children, and the smaller-sized GUND versions are just like the paintings sprung to life. They are really magical.
Potter is an artist who has endured over the decades, and GUND treasures these mementoes of the past. But the plush for 2018 goes way beyond nostalgia and sentimentality. Pusheen the cat — the star of social media — is still going strong in her collectible plush form. With surprise boxes (that’s a trend that is not vanishing any time soon) and holiday incarnations, Pusheen is proving to be a feline for all seasons.
Boo, deemed the World’s Cutest Dog, is another social media sensation that continues to give GUND designers a heck of a lot to work with and dress up in an array of adorable costuming. A cute dog in an equally cute outfit adds up to collectible gold. Boo reminds me of Mr. Piffles, the real-life dog that accompanies wisecracking magician Piff the Magic Dragon on his international tours.
Piff and Mr. Piffles did quite well on “America’s Got Talent,” and I was fortunate to catch the duo in a rare New Jersey appearance. My family and I were delighted by Piff’s and Piffles’ antics, and the costumed Boo plush dog evokes the magician’s canine assistant. Check out the GUND Boo dog and Mr. Piffles, it’s like a convention of too-much cuteness!
GUND walks that tightrope of taking a recognizable, well-known property (such as a Pusheen, a Boo, a Curious George, or a Sesame Street puppet) and dressing it up with all new bells and whistles. Every year — and 2018 Toy Fair is no exception — they debut a familiar character in brand-new outfits, vehicles, and vignettes. It’s quite a feat, and especially when one considers it has been occurring for 120 years.
I enjoyed my walk-through of the GUND showroom. I liked the variety of actual animals (beautifully maned horses for the equestrienne set) as well as the flights-of-fancy originals. As a fan of anime, I was partial to their ever-expanding Studio Ghibli line. I love seeing how these Japanese film characters get translated to plush toys, backpack decorations, and other collectible accessories.
Perhaps the oddest — and most delicious — debut at GUND was also from Japan. It was the Lazy Egg. Yes, you’ve read that right. The Lazy Egg, known as Gudetama in Japan, is indeed an egg that has a hardboiled, negative personality. Cracked too early, and living on the wrong side of the shell, Gudetama is an egg that has a serious problem with morning time and healthy breakfasts. Pessimistic and world-weary, Gudetama does not have a sunny-side-up attitude! The egg is available at GUND in all manner of plush effigies: keychain figures, soft toys, surprise boxes, and cuddly critters. (If a Lazy Egg counts as a critter!)
Following in the shadow of perennially mopey characters, like Eeyore, the Gudetama egg is looking for his 15 minutes of fame in America. Whether he ends up overcooked or scrambled, the egg has a huge following in Tokyo and other Asian metropolises. GUND is hoping that the egg will continue to be an egg-cellent plush bet! Let’s face it, this is a Humpty Dumpty egg that is perennially stuck in a Wednesday “hump day” depression. Overseas fans cannot get enough of his surliness.