Inside the Hello Kitty empire: An icon turns 40

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Allegory of Love by Marc Dennis

Hello Kitty couture
Hello Kitty couture
Allegory of Love by Marc Dennis

My, how the super-cute Japanese export known as Hello Kitty has grown since first adorning a coin purse 40 years ago. For one thing, she’s become an $8 billion international empire, with her image affixed from backpacks to underwear and airplanes to tombstones. She’s also the character that sparked the “cute” culture called kawaii while helping to break down racial barriers at a time before things from Japan were considered cool. Hello Kitty is also the source of controversy: A recent revelation by Sanrio, her parent company, claimed she is a character, a little girl, and not a cat, sparking endless discussion, debate and woe.

To celebrate the maturation of the icon, the Japanese American National Museum has dedicated two floors of its gallery space to an exhibition that will remain on display thru April. One floor is filled with a survey of products from over the last four decades (a Hello Kitty walker illustrates what many museum-goers declared, that their love for the character will last through their ripe old age.) The upstairs floor is filled with fine art commissioned by Sanrio, depicting her in an inventive array of media.

Not enough Hello Kitty for you? The first-ever Hello Kitty Con takes place in just a few weeks in and around the JANM. In the meantime, we paid a visit to the opening last week:

Hello Kitty Transcendence by Martin Hsu
Hello Kitty Transcendence by Martin Hsu
Yummy Gummy Kitty by Jonathan Stein
Yummy Gummy Kitty by Jonathan Stein