Queen of Cute


You've probably met Hello Kitty.

With her small, engaging eyes and enchanting disposition, Hello Kitty has cemented herself as a timeless merchandising icon. Her round face brandishes pencils, backpacks, socks, shoes, toasters, bicycles, computers, and everything else under the moon. You maybe very good friends with Hello Kitty, or you may curse the cute sidewalk she skips along.

Familiar as you are with Hello Kitty, have you ever met her mother? Would you know Hello Kitty's queen illustrator if she walked down the street? Would you recognize her illustrations? In fact, do you even know who made Hello Kitty? Well, allow me to introduce you to queen momma of cute Ms. Yuko Shimizu.

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Yuko Shimizu is a Japanese designer who graduated from Musashino Art University, one of the leading art schools in Japan. Upon graduating, Ms. Shimizu was hired as a designer at Sanrio. In 1974, the designer became influenced by the book illustrator John Tenniel, particularly his work for author Lewis Carrol in the book Through the Looking Glass. In 1974, Yuko presented an illustration of the famed Hello Kitty to Sanrio founder Shintaro Tsuji, an illustration roughly designed around John Tenniel's etched kitties from Lewis Carrol's book. Mr. Shintaro Tsuji's first response to the mouthless kitty cutie? "Not too bad." Little did Sanrio's founder know, that while Yuko Shimizu's design disinterested him, the kitty would be embraced by millions of consumers world wide.


In 1975, the cute kitty design was given an identity (Hello Kitty!), and her cute round mouthless face was stamped on a tiny coin purse. Yuko Shimizu left Sanrio to start a family the following year, and Sanrio took the job as Hello Kitty's main distributor and owner. Since 1974, Hello Kitty merchandising has raked in billions of dollars. Yuko Shimizu is one of the most influential designers in the world, enforcing the story of "cute" and "adorable" that still permeates in Japanese culture today. And yet, the designer has profited little from her creation since her departure in 1976.

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But what is Yuko Shimizu's work beyond Hello Kitty? After Sanrio, she became a freelance designer and introduced a new series of illustrations using CG and silkscreening in 1997. Angel Cat Sugar is another invention of hers, debuting in 2002 with an uncanny resemblance to her pink parading white kitty sister. Rebecca Bonbon, the French Bulldog alternative to pink sparkly white kitties, also joins the leagues of cute with her sister kitty cats. Who knows what future adorable merchandise awaits the queen of cute's creative wand?

So next time you see that cute sparkly Hello Kitty backpack, or come across Hello Kitty pair of converse all stars (I totally have a pair of these), don't forget to salute the momma of iconic cute: Yuko Shimizu.

by Alyx Jolivet
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