Have you ever wondered why Pharrell Williams is so damn happy all the time? It might be because he has so many toys. Not just regular millionaire toys, like cars and yachts, but colorful, plastic toys, too: his vast collection includes inflatable magic wizards, Spongebob paraphernalia, and Daft Punk action figures.
So Pharrell was a natural pick for guest curator of Design Exchange's new candy-colored exhibition, This Is Not A Toy, which resembles a hipster man-child’s paradise. Many of the 700 pieces here are borrowed from Pharrell’s personal collection of what the museum calls “conceptual toys” or “urban vinyl”—they're part merchandise, part art. Designed by rockstar artists like Takashi Murakami, KAWS, and Misaki Kawai, the value of these toys range from $2 to $2 million.
Pharrell discovered the world of designer toys during a trip to Japan in the late '90s, where Nigo, a music producer and creator of hip-hop fashion line A Bathing Ape, showed him his own collection. “It opened up this whole crazy world for me,” Pharrell told The Toronto Star in a recent interview. “I couldn’t believe that life had evolved to the point that grown-ups were playing with toys!”
The designer toy movement originated largely in Asia in the '90s, when Hong Kong artist Michael Lau started customizing G.I. Joe dolls. In the early 2000s, companies like Japan-based MediCom started releasing Be@rbricks—collectible plastic bears, of which companies like Chanel and Coca-Cola started issuing customized versions.
Some of the artists featured in This Is Not a Toy are Pharrell’s friends and collaborators—FriendsWithYou, creators of inflatable polka-dot magic wizards, decorated a Rolls-Royce for his video for "Hot-n-Fun." We like to think that Pharrell wrote “Happy” while playing with his Daft Punk action figure collection and his five-year-old son, Rocket Man.
This Is Not A Toy is on view at Design Exchange in Toronto until May 19th.