Design Bears Growl

“We felt that it was the right time,” said Aki Choklat, the editor. “There have been so many emerging bear-identified designers and art coming out we felt we had to do it now.”

Lest you think this is just a silly trend: “We wanted the book almost to be like a bear design directory of sorts—maybe volume one?—since we feel we only scratched the surface so far,” Mr. Choklat said.

A Bear’s Life’s next issue will also be dedicated to designers and artists.

Paws on the Persian Rug!

On a recent Sunday night at the Eagle, a bearish-leaning gay bar on 28th Street, conversations with the clientele present revealed a surprising intensity of interest in good design.

“I mean, I’m a modernist,” said Andrew Magnes, a 36-year-old architect, describing his favorite style. He had a full, untrimmed beard and was wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt. “I’m into as much clean-cut architecture as possible.”

“I have a design mind,” said Brian Reus, a tall, big-boned 54-year-old with an untidy goatee and an oversized nylon jacket. “I just do it to create, you know? I’m creating things all the time. I like to design by what presents itself to me, like if a chair presents itself to me, then great! I love simplicity, like a real simple design. With design, influence comes from everyone—a little Frank Lloyd Wright, a little of somebody else!”

One shirtless bear, a 53-year-old psychiatrist, stood in the corner of the ground floor of the bar, the black hair on his belly, torso and shoulders and back fully exposed. He disagreed that bears were getting into fashion … but then started talking about his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, where he’s lived for 14 years.

“I have the best furniture that money can buy,” said the shaggy shrink. “I only buy from the best antique stores in the city. I have lots of Persian rugs, including this one 50-year-old Iranian carpet. In fact, the City of Knickerbocker—this antique dealer—really wants to buy this one bronze lamp from me.”

Attention to detail is especially, if incongruously, important to the Design Bear. Take Mr. Blake, the artist, who showcases his works at the iconic Matthew Marks gallery in Chelsea. On a recent trip to his studio in Crown Heights, his bearness was overwhelming. He has a long, wild gray beard and wore a sleeveless shirt under overalls with the logo “Big Ben.” There was a slight tear on the backside of his overalls, exposing a furry bottom.

But as with his fashion counterparts, Mr. Blake’s actual work is the epitome of elegant beauty. “So that’s a small, very tiny wire abstract sculpture with beads and buttons,” he said, showing one of his creations. “That chain is about four feet long, and these are various kinds of glass beads and there’s some feathers. It’s all very kind of delicate.”

Delicate! It’s not a word you’d associate with bears, who’ve been defined as a gay sub-community since—depending on who you ask—either the 1970’s or the 1980’s. But only now, it seems—post-Queer Eye—is the culture at large ready to expand its notion of homosexuality to include not just limp-wristed nancy boys but, well, men. Big men. Who, heck, might just know their way around a bias cut.

“I think at this point in the game there are bears in whatever profession it is,” Mr. Blake said. Still, he added, “the straight people who I know who have not had a lot of contact with the gay world are fascinated by the idea that there is something called bears. They are, like, shocked by it and it’s still kind of a joke to them. Look at the couple on the Sarah Silverman program—they’re a bear couple and the joke is that they’re this gay couple and do all this gay stuff but they are heavy, video-game-playing, bearded guys.”

Mr. Costello admitted the design world has not been entirely accepting of his bearness. “It’s still a very visually oriented business,” he said. “We’ll get comments, or whatever: ‘Don’t you guys wanna eat those hors d’oeuvres?’ You know where they’re coming from, but you know what it is and you laugh them off. You have to be comfortable with yourself. That’s really the bear mentality: being comfortable with who you are.”

Design Bears Growl