Sunday, February 3, 2013

Hello Kitty says 'Hello, city!'

New York exhibit shows why she's the cat's meow to Betsey Johnson and her feline-loving fans

Fashion legend Betsey Johnson poses with her original Hello Kitty inspired artwork at her west 37th Street studio. The piece will be featured in an upcoming exhibit of Hello Kitty inspired artwork. (Craig Warga / NY Daily News)

Craig Warga/New York Daily News

Fashion legend Betsey Johnson shows off her original Hello Kitty-inspired artwork.

Hello Kitty is making the most of her nine lives.

Nearly four decades after the brand launched, the cool cat is more popular than ever, leaving fans of all ages purring for more.

An exhibit boasting art inspired by the pop culture icon, “Hello Kitty, Hello Art!,” opens Friday in Little Italy. It celebrates a new book of the same name. The fashion-conscious feline also has partnered with style and beauty brands like Sephora and Forever 21.

And she recently made her debut as a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“I love Hello Kitty,” gushes designer Betsey Johnson, one of 45 artists whose Kitty-themed pieces will be on display at Openhouse Gallery on Broome St. Friday through Sunday. “She’s fun, accessible, global - absolutely established worldwide. Everybody knows Hello Kitty.”


New York Daily News

Marie Moss and her daughter, Mazie, 11, are surrounded by their Hello Kitty collectables.

And she means everyone. Created in 1974 by Japanese company Sanrio, Hello Kitty has held onto original fans, while charming new ones.

“Me, my daughter, now my two granddaughters - ages 6 and 4 - are all massive Hello Kitty fans,” Johnson says. “Princesses come and go, but Hello Kitty is an absolute constant.

“There’s something so sweet and loving about her,” she adds. “She’s ageless, timeless, non-threatening. It’s simple and adorable.”

Her grandkids sport Hello Kitty pajamas and wear Sanrio backpacks to school, and Johnson remembers buying products for their mom.

“But I would always buy Hello Kitty just as much for myself as my child,” Johnson admits.

The exhibit follows the fall release of “Hello Kitty, Hello Art!,” a book celebrating Sanrio characters through interpretations by various artists.

Johnson jumped at the chance to draw Hello Kitty for the exhibit. Her first attempt turned out to be too personal, so Sanrio chose another piece Johnson originally made as a thank-you note.


New York Daily News

A display of some of Marie and Mazie Moss' Hello Kitty souvenirs in their apartment

“This took me about eight minutes,” she says of her Sharpie-sketched Hello Kitty. “That’s one of my little iconic sweetheart neckline, puffy tutu dresses, with little fingerless gloves. And high heels of course.”

For the finishing touch, she kissed Hello Kitty’s face, adding a lipstick imprint of her own mouth.

Other artists taking part in the exhibit include Paul Frank and graffiti artist POSE.

“The exhibition really targets our adult fanbase, which is very significant in the world and in the U.S.,” says Sanrio President Janet Hsu.

“[Hello Kitty] has a very wide appeal because of her Zen-like disposition,” adds Hsu. “She’s been very relevant. She’s always transforming and changing with how the world is changing. She’s such a lifestyle brand, it’s not only about the T-shirt or pencil.”

Many fans who loved the character as kids grew up into adult Kitty collectors. Ariel McClellan’s obsession with the Sanrio star was sparked as a toddler when her aunt gave her a stuffed Kitty.

Now 26, her Hell’s Kitchen pad is packed with Hello Kitty figures, clocks, purses and portraits.

“I grew up with Hello Kitty and now there are so many things that are adult products, so I just transitioned into adulthood and so has the Hello Kitty marketing,” McClellan says.

She has the Sephora makeup kits and Forever 21 T-shirts and pajamas.


Susan Watts/New York Daily News

Ariel McClellan says Hello Kitty's popularity is 'out of control right now.'

A longtime fan, she’s noticed Hello Kitty is bigger than ever. “It’s out of control right now,” McClellan says. “I walked into a gas station where you wouldn’t expect to find anything, and there’s something Hello Kitty on the wall.”

Marie Moss, 50, was a huge Hello Kitty fan before Sanrio asked the former Seventeen magazine fashion director to write four books about her.

Moss’ Sanrio infatuation began when she was in high school in New Jersey.

“She always kept up with what was trendy,” she notes. “If in fashion, stripes were happening or nautical or flowers, Hello Kitty was reinvented to go with those trends.”

Now, she shares her love of the character with daughter Maisy, 11. The young upper East Sider has a simpler reason for being a fan.

“She’s always happy and colorful,” Maisy says. “I like things that can go in my pencil case for school, like Hello Kitty erasers and pencils. They always make me happy, especially during tests.”

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