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The business of play: inside the weird world of Toy Fair 2014

This is where the war is waged for a spot inside toy chests across America

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Toy Fair 2014 Photo Essay Hero 2040
Toy Fair 2014 Photo Essay Hero 2040

The business of toys is one of endless reincarnation. Barbie will always totter on slender legs and permanently arched heels. Transformers will always be more than meets the eye. Monopoly will always teach families the inherent conflict in the landlord / tenant relationship. But times change. In 2014, you can print Instagram photos for that Monopoly board, and Mattel is building new dolls whose torsos light up to express emotions. Lego builds metasets based on a Warner Bros. movie about Lego sets. And it’s all on display at New York’s Toy Fair, where roughly 30,000 buyers, sellers, and reporters converge each February to vie for a place on bedroom carpets across the world.

If it’s possible to be overwhelmed by children’s playthings outside an episode of The Twilight Zone, it will happen here, especially because the Javits Center in Manhattan is perhaps the most intimidating place you’ll ever play with a Barbie doll. Sitting between the Hudson River and a snowy construction site, it’s a maze of escalators, bare cement, and gray metal lattices, briefly transformed into a technicolor playroom by the likes of Mattel and Crayola. Big names and elaborate booths anchor long rows of video game and TV show tie-in toys, dollmakers, and tiny groups looking to break in with a new board game or gadget. Unimpressed and vaguely annoyed, Grumpy Cat presides over her own line of plush merchandise. This should not surprise you.

The barrage of increasingly alien pop culture, technological augmentation, and companion apps is enough to make one feel curmudgeonly, even if your own childhood entertainment was often battery-operated. Adult humans were simply not made to view so many toys. It is hypnotic, like looking into a whirlpool. All that’s left is to try to see a few fragments as you would at age 10, when the idea of an entire convention center filled with toys would have sounded much too good to be true.

Not that children can actually get into Toy Fair, mind you. Youth is truly wasted on the young.

Photography by Dante D'Orazio.

Toy Fair 2014 in pictures


Toy Fair takes place annually at New York City's Jacob Javits Center. The industry-only event draws some 30,000 visitors.