Travis Smith and Chris Bale have discovered the formula for what it takes to make a modern bear. It’s even stated on their website — modern design + bears + retro + beefcake = well, you get the idea. But if not, they’ll be in Dallas all weekend to explain it to you.
Eschewing the blue collar sensibilities that come with a bearish persona, Smith and Bale celebrated the fact that they had an eye for mid-century motifs and preppy clothes.
“You could take the modern bear idea two ways as in ‘He is today’s bear,’” Smith said, “But we were looking at someone bearish who is into design and fashion and stuff. We were looking at things beside flannel shirts, computers and the usual perception of what a bear is.”
Taking their idea and devotion to all things aesthetically pleasing, the friends created a Facebook page in 2010 which quickly grew into a legit website. Soon after, the gents compiled the Guide for the Modern Bear, a book based on the crop of animal labels assigned to a variety of men and the qualities that apply to each.
“We knew the book was going to be diff than the page but the Facebook page was bringing people in thanks to the fresh content and a little skin,” Bale said. “So we knew there was an interest. We developed it like a birdwatcher’s field guide to tell the difference between who and what and kept it at a fun tone.”
The different labels became characters with such profiles on “panda bears,” “glam bears” and “cubs.” Biographies of sorts accompanied each that showed their design style, cities to find them in and even what they eat. While tongue in cheek, the book cleverly introduces design ideas and inspirations whether it’s a table setting or t-shirts (higher end, of course).
“The average bear sees the humor in it,” Bale said. “What we had to understand is that these labels are old hat and have been part of the vernacular. We just presented all that in this book with a fresh approach. And it’s definitely intended to a be a non-serious take on the subject.”
By day, Bale is a Realtor with a distinct flair for interior design and urban living. Smith describes himself as a mid-century modernist guru ready to dole out lifestyle tips. They met by running in the same circles where both owned shops that geared toward retro and modern decor. And both felt they were a little misplaced within their communities.
“I look like a bear, I like trendy clothes and I’m a little bit of a princess. I always say I’m a design queen trapped in the body of a truck driver. But I knew I couldn’t be the only one that feels this way,”Smith said.
That idea blossomed into so much more and both gentlemen ended up learning something about their selves in the process.
“I was aware of bears, but I didn’t know I was a wolf,” Bale laughed. “ I also discovered, after going through the characters, that I’m into otter guys. I like guys who are lanky, lean and furry.”
“Well I realized that at 52, I’m not gonna be a musclebear, just a big ole bear,” he chuckled, “But that’s OK. This really allowed me look at myself and be OK with who I am.”
Texas Bear Round Up marks the duo’s first bear event to introduce their book in and they anticipate good things for the crowd. But the weekend looks like a working one for the two, albeit, one they’ll likely enjoy. On top of working the vendor market at TBRU, they’ll be partaking in some local research for future projects.
“We’re very excited that this is our first TBRU, but we also excited to do research in Dallas,” Smith says. “We’re going to get a mid-century modern tour of the city. We really wanna go deep into a lot of cities so we have definitive guides for the future.”
The two have plans to expound further on bear culture and community.
“We’re kind of taking the whole bear thing to another level that has not been explored in the past,” Bale said. “One thing I think the book does is that it is informational and has sexy photos, but thre is an underlying sweetness to it that I think nails the description of the community. Bears tend to always be sweet to everyone.”
“Yeah, the bear world is inclusive and our idea of design is inclusive,” Smith added. “Our job is done if we can introduce people to it. That’s the awesome byproduct of this. Anyone can become a modern bear.”
Smith and Bale appear at TBRU’s vendor market Friday–Sunday. Crowne Plaza Hotel Dallas Market Center, 7050 Stemmons Freeway. TBRU.org.