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The Business of the Bear Den

July 9, 2014 6:00 am0 commentsViews: 759
All images courtesy of Modern Bear.

Image courtesy of Modern Bear.

by Steve Desroches       

Just about four years ago best friends Travis Smith and Chris Bale had an idea. What if they took their love of modern mid-century design and mixed it with a little kitsch, pop culture, and the bear community into a new business venture? The two started a Facebook page. After all, it was free, so if it failed, no big deal. Their friends said they didn’t think it would work, as bears don’t seem terribly interested in mid-century design and architecture, at least not enough to have it catch on in a big, bear way.

“I remember how thrilled we were when we had 100 followers,” says Smith from his home in Palm Springs. “Now we have 72,000 followers.”

Now the duo have Modern Bear, a multiplatform media business that caters to the bear community, focusing on design, lifestyle, and travel, all with a playful sense of humor and sometimes a bit tongue-in-cheek. The two will be in Provincetown for Bear Week, promoting Modern Bear as well as having fun.

“I think it’s definitely the mother lode of all the bear events in the U.S. and in the top five of international events,” says Smith of Provincetown Bear Week. “It continues to get bigger and bigger.”

In part bear events have become so popular as they are usually devoid of the attitude that can be present in gay events. Despite Bear Week being for bears, the open-minded attitude of the culture also welcomes those who don’t identify as bears, which is also why Modern Bear has taken off and found fans outside of the targeted communities. At events straight couples will often approach the two, with women asking what member of the “gay animal kingdom” their husbands and boyfriends are. A bear? A wolf? A silver fox? An otter?

“They’re familiar with all the characters,” says Smith. “They find it so fascinating as it doesn’t exist in the straight world.”

It’s testament to how popular and ubiquitous bear culture has become, going from a gay subculture to knocking on the door of the mainstream. Of course, implicit throughout is a sense of humor. Blogs and books abound about interior design, fashion, and popular culture, but when it’s told through the lens of bear culture it presents itself in a niche manner that both entertains those interested in the topics and attracts those who might not be familiar, but enjoy the introduction from a community known to welcome all with no pretense or attitude. It’s Martha Stewart with a hairy chest and a beard.

While in Provincetown they’ll be signing and selling their latest creation, the Guide for the Modern Bear: A Field Study of Bears in the Wild. Part travel book, part comedic spoof, part design handbook, the book provides information on bear hangouts everywhere from New York to Barcelona, London to Chicago. It also playfully lists 14 bear types: the Club Cub, the Tiki Bear, the Polar Bear, the Hotter Otter, the Design Wolf, as well as the Goldy Lox, the culture’s more loving name for a bear “fag hag” (for lack of a better term).

“ We do not take it seriously,” says Smith of the wildlife kingdom of the bear archetypes. “We don’t want anyone to take the monikers too seriously. From day one it’s always been meant in a campy, kitsch manner. It’s funny. It’s all about having fun.”

Modern Bear is expanding into producing short YouTube videos and is in talks with television producers for a show featuring their design advice and aesthetic as well as the bear community. Also in the works is a calendar of the duo’s humorous bear-inspired parodies, which they call “bearodies.” They’ve designed and photographed themselves in shoots of “Valley of the Bears,” a spoof of the famed Farrah Fawcett posters called “Bearrah Fawcett,” and the two hairy and happy men in a playful parody of the Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass album cover “Whipped Cream.”

Smith and Bale know how to generate a laugh while also giving great advice on how to design a stellar sunken living room or a bedroom that would have Jacqueline Susan squeal with delight, or more appropriately, a gleeful “woof!” Modern Bear is a mйlange of everything these guys love packaged in an accessible manner for those that hang in the bear den or those just taking a peek inside.

“It’s really turned into a cottage industry within the past four years,” says Smith. “Who would have thunk it?!”

Travis Smith and Chris Bale of Modern Bear will be signing books in Provincetown at the Bear Market at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial St. on Sunday, July 13, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and at Joe Coffee, 170 Commercial St. on Tuesday, July 15, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. For information visit modernbear.net.