The original Kewpie was created based on the original illustrations by Rose O’Neill, in the mid 1910’s, I have been a huge fan of these little dolls ever since I received my first Kewpie doll in the early seventies when I was a toddler, it came with a small Kewpie sized baby bath and sponge, often I would even wash my little brothers hair and scoop it up ‘Kewpie style’ with the shampoo froth. I didn’t really question the existence of the Kewpie or ask where it came from …it just was.
Whilst living in Japan and shopping around I noticed this cute little doll in many toy stores, aisles of them in fact. I even found one that had to be at least four foot high, I also noticed the Kewpie icon on several condiments in my local supa…the company being Kewpie Mayonnaise…. producer of the most delicious mayonnaise in the world (in my opinion). Of course, being Japan, this character was integral in the marketing and promotion of the products they had on offer and new toys were constantly being designed and limited editions released as part of promotion. Tarako being the most recent phenomenon.
What I didn’t know however, is that apparently Kewpies were the first case ever of merchandising based on a comic character. Incredible is it not? Rose O’Neill is credited with writing more than 5000 kewpie stories for magazines and with the subsequent creation of the first Kewpie toys (made of celluliod) they soon made her both rich and famous. This got me thinking…
Now, nearly 100 years later, thousands of designers are now turning their illustrated characters into merchandise through companies like ‘Flying Cat’ , craft blogs proliferate the web with women making ‘softies’ and other merchandise, and it seems now to be taken for granted that illustration to merchandise is the next logical step for many of these creators. Even as consumers I am sure most people don’t question this phenomen too often either, and if you did I am guessing most people would have suspected Disney or another equally large corporation, most probably Japanese, to be the instigator of all this character merchandising.
I also recently read some statistics, did not bookmark the page however, on the internet that said that over 90% of the illustrators doing character design for merchandising in Japan are women…. interesting, ne!
To come full circle however I found this Japanese toy company, Buildup, on my travels recently and that’s what began this whole sojourn back into Kewpie land. See pic.
They have redesigned the Kewpie, naming them pikew’s, and given each an equally un-cute affliction. What would Rose say?