As strikingly fun yet entirely functional design objects, the inflatable and plastic toys created by one of the most talented toy designers of all time ‘blew up’ to become icons within the field of modern 20th century European design…

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The Czech toy designer Libuše Niklová (1934 – 1981) was a pioneer in her field and although she died young, left a lasting legacy on art and design with highly original and artistic toys that she created over the course of twenty years in collaboration with the plastic processing brand ‘Fatra’.

Plastic only became widely available after World War II and with her highly inventive approach to emerging technologies, Niklová’s groundbreaking work with the company helped to alter the perception of children’s toys, which until then had been mostly wooden and produced in limited amounts. Holding a total of nine national patents, her innovative approach recognised the immense potential of plastic in that it meant toys could be mass-produced, cheap, colorful, lightweight, washable, and easy to store.

From her early work in the mid ’50s, and through the ’60s and ’70s, the dozens of ingenious plastic toys she created for Fatra have grown to reach iconic status. More importantly, however, they earned a special place in the hearts of several generations of Czech children, and many a nostalgic memory for countless Czech adults.

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Her creations included squeezable rubber figures, inflatable and also sound-producing objects which magically conjured up a menagerie of animal forms with a deft use of colour, abstract shape and structure. Simple forms with just a few cuts of rubber and heated joints together with a whimsical sense of humour seem to animate each toy with a personality. One of her most famous designs from 1963 utilised the accordion like sound and structure of an industrial plastic tube to create the body of a cat, becoming one of the first mass-produced toys in the country, even able be used in the bathtub. In the early ’70s, Niklová also designed a series of inflatable toys – a yellow giraffe, red buffalo, blue elephant and other animals making good use of their larger scale to function as children’s furniture as well as playthings.

Recently, the iconic toy designs of Niklová have now been re-issued to give even more years of pleasure and delight to fresh generations of babies, children and of course, grown-ups. The charming range available at Larks includes the inflatable ring rattles for babies – ‘Little Sun’; ‘Doggie’ and ‘Kitty’ and also the iconic large scale animal ‘seat’ inflatables – ‘Buffalo’; ‘Giraffe’ and ‘Elephant’. Made by Fatra in the Czech Republic in the traditional manner and using the original machinery, they make for timeless, authentic reproductions, as both captivating toys and beautiful design objects.