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Cat Power: Hello Kitty Turns 35

Hello Kitty will be feted by Sanrio with a host of special anniversary products and events.

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TOKYO — Japan’s most fashionable feline is gearing up to mark her 35th birthday this fall with a long list of special products and festivities.

This story first appeared in the August 20, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Sanrio, the parent company of the Hello Kitty brand, is planning to fete the cartoon cat’s Nov. 1 birthday with a host of fashion-related products, from a one-of-a-kind gem-encrusted necklace to iPhone cases by Kimora Lee Simmons and limited edition Asics sneakers.

“We want to talk about the essence of Hello Kitty,” explained Janet Hsu, the Los Angeles-based president of Sanrio global consumer products.

Hsu said Hello Kitty products rake in worldwide sales of more than $5 billion annually. “A huge percentage of that is in the fashion category,” she explained, adding the brand is seeing “tremendous strength” in fine jewelry. The company declined to break down sales by product category.

Over the years, Hello Kitty’s image has graced almost every conceivable product, from scented erasers to Fender guitars. She has two theme parks in her native Japan and there is even a Hello Kitty-themed maternity hospital in Taiwan. At Sanrio headquarters in Tokyo, visitors sip Hello Kitty’s own brand of green tea out of Hello Kitty cups as they sit in Hello Kitty chairs.

In recent years, Hello Kitty’s reach has extended beyond young girls to stylish women, who shop the brand both for themselves and their daughters. Hello Kitty’s fashion quotient has increased through a bevy of collaborations with firms such as Christian Dior, Heatherette, Anna Sui and A Bathing Ape. Her celebrity following includes Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus.

Hsu said sales of Hello Kitty-branded items have proven surprisingly resilient in the current recession, thanks to a wide variety of price points. Prices range from $3 for a small notebook to tens of thousands of dollars for a piece of fine jewelry.

“It really gives a lot of options to the consumer,” Hsu said.

Some of the birthday-themed products in the works include:

• An expansion of the Kimora Lee Simmons collaboration beyond jewelry into a series of lifestyle accessories such as iPhone cases, business card holders and belt buckles.

• The sale of a special one-of-a-kind necklace created in collaboration with Swarovski. The Hello Kitty Jewel Doll, unveiled at Baselworld earlier this year, inspired the necklace’s gemstone-encrusted figurine.

• Limited edition Asics sneakers.

• New products from Hello Kitty’s ongoing collaboration with the California-based streetwear label Tokidoki, known for its quirky Japanese-inspired anime illustrations.

• A series of Judith Leiber-designed items based on retro Hello Kitty designs.

• A collection of handbags and other accessories bearing Hello Kitty’s official pink, blue and yellow tartan, which has been recognized by the Scottish Register of Tartans.

• A special capsule collection of Hello Kitty-themed merchandise at Hong Kong-based retailer Lane Crawford. The goods include T-shirts, footwear, handbags, costume jewelry and eyewear. The retailer has enlisted a large roster of designers and brands for the project including American Apparel, Repetto, Havaianas, Linda Farrow, Les Bijoux de Sophie and Belgian milliner Christophe Coppens.

Sanrio also is planning to commemorate the anniversary with a retrospective and art exhibition at Royal/T gallery in Culver City, Calif. Entitled “Three Apples,” the event will showcase a variety of past products as well as newly commissioned artworks from artists such as Gary Baseman, Buff Monster and Ron English. The exhibition will run from Oct. 23 through Nov. 15 and be free to the public.

“We wanted this event to be much more about our fans and making it accessible,” Hsu said.

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