Hello Kitty is an icon that doesn’t stand for anything at all. Hello Kitty never has been, and never will be, anything. She’s pure license; you can even get a Hello Kitty car! The branding thing is completely out of control, but it started as nothing and maintains its nothingness. It’s not about the ego, and in that way it’s very Japanese. — Tom Sachs
Artist Tom Sachs often references contemporary icons of popular culture and consumerism in his work: McDonald’s, Prada, Hello Kitty. I saw him speak at a conference years ago with Ikuko Shimizu, the original creator of Hello Kitty (let me tell you, when she took the stage the whole audience stood up and roared with applause. She’s a rock star). She had never seen any of his work and was genuinely surprised that her creation had such a huge cultural impact. She said humbly, “Well, I knew it was a very popular character.”
I was a fan of Hello Kitty back when I was a 3rd grader collecting stickers and miniature colored pencil sets and I love her to this day. “Teen Angst Hello Kitty” (I’m not making that up, that’s what it’s called) hangs above my computer:
On my wall is a piece from artist Michael Paulus who draws skeletal systems of cartoon characters:
I love Hello Kitty for her minimalist lines, her over-sized head, her expressionless, speechless gaze (She has no mouth, but there’s no deep meaning behind this. When asked, Shimizu said she could never get the drawings right so she said, forget it!). Her adorable blank stare is like a template inviting you apply anything you want to her surface. And Hello Kitty is most definitely a she. You don’t need DD sized boobs or long blond hair and a dream house. She’s got that sweet, little bow placed at a cocky angle just below her left ear. And, or course, the name. How can you resist? The awkward, broken English name that is both generic and completely unique. You can not help but love her.
So we want her little face on anything and everything that can be bought instantly transforming the most mundane, utilitarian, “grown-up” object into something kitschy, fun and cute taking us back to a more innocent time in our lives when we carried Lego pieces, secret notes, and glitter glue in our little purses instead of iPhones, credit cards and tampons.
So along with the obligatory and age appropriate tiny purses and diaries, you can buy Hello Kitty kitchen timers, license plate frames, toasters, stainless steel sauce pans, golf bags, digital cameras, coffee makers, diamond jewelry, a Fender guitar and makeup . Then you can fly to Japan on a Hello Kitty jet.
So why not a vibrator? It’s marketed as a “shoulder massager” (so is the Hitachi and all those hand vibes you get at Brookstone) maintaining the illusion of respectability. Sanrio has always maintained that it is a “health-care product”. It was their best selling novelty item before it was discontinued when it ended up being sold in sex shops next to much more obviously adult toys. But since it’s back, perhaps the company has loosened up, re-evaluated it’s consumer and decided to innocently look the other way.