Fisher-Price might be known for some of the world’s most iconic toys, but sales have stagnated. So Mattel, Fisher-Price’s parent company, has enlisted star designer Jonathan Adler as creative director to reimagine the line as “happy chic” home decor. Adler will debut his first Fisher-Price toys, baby gear, infant clothing, and bedding for the company in 2017.
“We hear parents say the number-one motivator of purchasing is design and style,” says Mark Zeller, head of design at Fisher-Price. “You’re very careful about what you bring into your house or gifts someone brings to your kids, because it’s something you’ll be living with for a few years–and so you want to make sure it speaks to your sensitivity.”
Through that lens, Adler may be the perfect hire. Known for his exuberant take on high design, he started his career as a potter and got his first big break when he sold a collection to Barneys in 1994. Since then, he has built an interior design empire, selling everything from furniture to ties in more than 25 stand-alone stores and 1,000 other locations around the world.
Zeller describes Adler’s appeal to be his “touch of whimsy,” and hopes the designer will bring a feeling of “playful sophistication” to Fisher-Price.
“Toys are home furnishings. They’re out. To me home furnishings are the stuff you surround yourself with,” Adler says. “I think that one of the reasons this got me excited was that I was at a friend’s home, a millennial mom. It was a house I worked on–it was très chic–and her adorable baby’s not-so-adorable stuff was strewn everywhere. I thought, ‘This is the stuff you actually decorate with, and they could be a lot better looking!’”
Adler isn’t wrong. American children receive $371 in toys a year, which equates to countless living rooms carpeted in Duplo and endless discussions about the best storage solutions for all of that kid stuff. But to succeed at Fisher-Price, Adler can’t resort exclusively to his own playbook. Ceramics aren’t exactly baby-friendly, nor is the rest of his catalog, which is full of sharp edges hankering for foam childproofing and flaky gold paint just begging to be licked away.
“I’ve certainly had to change my ideas about what materials and all that kind of stuff are usable. But it’s been pretty easy if you want to know the truth,” Adler says. “I guess I never felt challenged. That sounds insane and arrogant. To me it’s just like, this is fun. I can immediately put on the hat of this is fun, and wild, and bright, and colorful. It’s not challenging because there are fewer rules. Beyond the obvious, like it’s got to be safe–and that’s Fisher-Price’s expertise–anything can be anything, and the wilder the better.”
“Kids will like [something], play with it for a time, and then move onto something else. So it’s got to be arresting for that time,” he adds. “The stuff I make for people’s homes, they have to live with it for the the rest of their lives, so there has to be a greater degree of subtlety.”
Adler’s work with Fisher-Price will debut in 2017, and at first he will focus on goods for newborns to two-year-olds. But as creative director, Adler has carte blanche to rethink Fisher-Price’s entire line of toys, including its most iconic pieces–like the Rock-a-Stack rings–which haven’t changed much in decades. Zeller hopes that Adler pushes the bounds of what the Fisher-Price brand can be, into the somewhat unbelievable vision for the future the company outlined earlier this year, but grounded in an aesthetic that we can all live with.
“I’m a realist. Nobody’s house looks like it looks in a photo shoot. There’s always stuff. Stuff stuff, stuff,” Adler says. “And the stuff is what makes a house a home. I’m a fan of stuff, and I think the stuff should just be as nice as it can be.”
All Photos: via Fisher-Price