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Hello Kitty’s lead designer tells the origin story of the British schoolgirl

SINGAPORE — Last year, the world was sent into a tizzy when it was revealed that Hello Kitty is not actually a cat, but a British girl. The shock waves however, puzzled Hello Kitty’s lead designer Yuko Yamaguchi. “I designed her to be a girl. She has a pet named Charmmy Kitty. I do not understand why Hello Kitty is perceived as a cat,” she said in an interview with TODAY.

Hello Kitty’s lead designer tells the origin story of the British schoolgirl

Yuko Yamaguchi is the third character designer of Hello Kitty. Photo: Damien Teo/TODAY

SINGAPORE — Last year, the world was sent into a tizzy when it was revealed that Hello Kitty is not actually a cat, but a British girl. The shock waves however, puzzled Hello Kitty’s lead designer Yuko Yamaguchi. “I designed her to be a girl. She has a pet named Charmmy Kitty. I do not understand why Hello Kitty is perceived as a cat,” she said in an interview with TODAY earlier this week while in town for an autograph signing at the Robot Kitty exhibition. This is her second time in Singapore, having been here to celebrate Hello Kitty’s 16th anniversary back in 1990.

Yamaguchi, who became the leading designer for Hello Kitty in 1980, is the third and current designer for the Kitty brand. The famous feline was created in 1974 by Yuko Shimizu, who left Sanrio two years later to get married. There was another designer named Setsuko Yonekubo.

Yamaguchi further explained that back in 1974, many Japanese girls were dreaming of Britain. And Britain seemed like a place straight out of a fairytale, which was why Hello Kitty was conceived to be a British human girl,” she added.

Besides the revelation that the non-Kitty is, in fact, a girl, the Sanrio icon used to have a mouth back in the 1980s. For the film “Kitty and Mimi’s new umbrella”, which aired for a short period of time then, Hello Kitty had a mouth and could speak. “Fans who watched the film remarked that with a mouth, it is not Hello Kitty at all. It is then in 1990 that I decided to remove the mouth,” added Yamaguchi. 
That was not the first time Yamaguchi had taken heed of fans’ response and feedback. In past collections, Hello Kitty’s classic bow was not favoured. “Fans kept asking why does Kitty have only one bow,” she said. This is why in other collections such as the Hello Kitty Strawberry collection, Kitty sported a strawberry. There are even occasions when the bow was replaced with a flower, she added.

As for the cat (and whiskers) factor, Yamaguchi mentioned that she got the inspiration from Alice In Wonderland. “The fairy tale features a cat character (Cheshire Cat) which is where we got the idea to make Kitty look like one too.”

And while the designer is probably aware of Hello Kitty’s popularity, she remains surprised by the large fan base the Kitty enjoys in Singapore. She also has some exciting plans for ardent Kitty enthusiasts. As all self-respecting Hello Kitty fans know, she has a boyfriend named Daniel, and Yamaguchi is planning to introduce Daniel’s family.

“As of now, only Daniel’s father, Paul has been introduced on the website. I am hoping to introduce Daniel’s mother and twin brother, and roll out related products of them probably by next year.” So are you ready to collect more Kitty relatives?

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