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Year of the Teddy Bear

Text by John Lampard

I have bad news and I have good news. First the bad, there is strange new creature prowling our neighbourhoods. The good news, it’s not interested in us. But there’s more bad news; it’s after our teddy bears!

Did you realise that while you are out wining, dining, and partying the night away, Akina, the “villain with a button fetish”, may be prowling the darkened streets, on the look out for your teddy bear’s button eyes?

Fortunately though, for us and our teddy bears, Akina is in fact one of the fanciful creations of Sydney fashion designer and illustrator, Lang Leav. And while we may wonder what torments Lang’s teddy bears caused her, that inspired a character such as Akina, revenge is the last thing on her mind.

Artwork by Lang Leav

In fact Akina is part of a theory Lang has in regards to missing teddy bears.

“I have nothing against teddy bears, I’m totally on their side! I think Akina and The Teddy Bear’s Picnic was originally inspired by the idea that everyone has a special teddy bear memory,” she says.

“Mine was named Russ, he wore a bright orange cap and had a missing button eye. I would always wonder where all the lost teddy bears go. Akina is just one of my theories, though I hope she hasn’t gotten to Russ.”

Growing up, Lang was always engaged in creative pursuits whether that was crafting sculptures made from clay she dug out of the garden, or sewing with her mother, who was a seamstress. Despite this however, it was not until she left high school, and went to university that she felt certain she was embarking on a creative career.

Artwork by Lang Leav

“Throughout high school, I was fairly average and never excelled in anything other than art. But in the area I grew up in, art was a subject that didn’t seem to count. When I first started my design course at The College of Fine Arts, I felt like I was finally good at something that counted.”

Since then Lang has gone from strength to strength, with the establishment of the Akina fashion label, and winning the Noise Qantas Spirit of Youth Award (SOYA) in 2005 which, ironically, she was almost too frightened to enter.

“I didn’t enter SOYA until the last possible moment, because I felt like the competition was out of my league. It’s so scary to put your work out there for others to scrutinize. But the scariest decisions you make always turn out to be your most rewarding ones.”

And one of those rewards was mentoring from Australia’s top fashion designer Peter Morrissey, an opportunity any up and coming designer would envy. And it is something that has made a world of difference, says Lang.

Artwork by Lang Leav

“Winning SOYA was an amazing, incredible experience and it absolutely opened a lot of doors for me. Noise and Qantas were so supportive and continue to be so. The mentorship with Peter Morrissey was more than I could have ever expected. It involved plenty of long chats about Akina and which direction I wanted to take my label.”

“Mr M. gave me really helpful, practical advice and lots of inside information on the fashion industry. He’s been such an incredible source of support, I am so lucky to have him on my team. He’s given me a strong foundation to work from.”

This has enabled Lang to set in place a five year plan which will see her opening concept shops in Sydney and Tokyo, having the Akina label stocked by top retailers, and more solo exhibitions, among other things, she says.

“Most importantly though, I want to keep learning and growing as an artist, I want to keep creating.”