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latimes.com

SNEAK PEEK

Wall-to-wall Hello Kitty? Blik lets this cat out of the bag

By Craig Nakano

6:23 AM PDT, March 15, 2013

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She's had her own TV series, theme parks and Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float. She boasts more Facebook “likes” than First Lady Michelle Obama or Mickey Mouse. And her annual sales have been estimated at $5 billion.

Not bad for a cat with no mouth.

Hello Kitty, the feline superstar who manufacturer Sanrio says “speaks from the heart” instead of a mouth, soon will be clawing her way onto new territory: your walls. On Thursday, the Venice design firm Blik will launch a line of rub-on wall graphics for the home featuring the Kitty's famed black whiskers, yellow nose and puffy red hair bow on whatisblik.com and sanrio.com.

We talked with Blik co-founder Scott Flora for this edited Q&A and asked about his experience working with an international starlet:

How did this Sanrio project come about? Are there closet Hello Kitty fanatics in the halls of Blik?

About two years ago we were looking for new projects, and Sanrio was on the list. After we got the agreements signed, it still took a year-plus to get the designs right, to get the products perfect.

Honestly, Sanrio is one of those iconic brands. My daughter obviously loves them, and I remember my sister collecting Hello Kitty stuff 25 years ago. You don't see many brands that have been around for 40 years and still have the kind of fanatics that it has.

I've been comparing the reaction [to Blik's Hello Kitty designs] to the reaction I see with Keith Haring [the late artist whose work also has been licensed as Blik graphics]. Young kids, they see Haring's work and connect with it for whatever reason — simplicity of line, color, whatever. Hello Kitty is the same way. It is one of those curious things. You just connect with it.

Who came up with the Hello Kitty designs, including the Hello Kitty Hide & Seek graphics and the forthcoming Angry Kitty, in which the Mona Lisa of cats looks like she's finally lost her eternal moment of Zen?

We pushed for six avant-garde designs, and that [Angry Kitty, due out in late 2013] was the one that made it through. The Sanrio marketing folks were nervous. We love the iconic Hello Kitty, but we wanted to show her in different ways and from different angles and use different color schemes beyond red, white, blue and yellow. So in Hide & Seek, she's peeking around objects and space. For the wall tiles [Blik's glue-free repositionable wallpaper], we wanted to push the limits of the color scheme. The white Hello Kitty on black background came out of that, and the teal/mint Hello Kitty came out of that too.

Were there any no-nos, things you couldn't do?

Sanrio really didn't want us changing her expression. They didn't want her doing anything other than the standard Hello Kitty things — standing or sitting. Getting her to turn her back — it may not sound like much, but when you're working with a brand like this, it's like you're asking for the world. Changing her into a solid black shape, pencil drawings, digital pixels — that was all completely off-limits.

Where do you think most of these designs will go, rooms for children or rooms for adults?

Sanrio says people who purchase their products see Hello Kitty as part of their lives through adulthood. A young girl or boy starts out meeting Hello Kitty for the first time, and they live with that character in various forms — pens, stickers, pencil sets. Then they progress to T-shirts. Maybe they go through a phase in the teen years when they might buy an iPhone case. Hello Kitty might take the form of an abstract graphic. Eventually they come full circle and introduce Hello Kitty to their kids.

Given her worldwide stardom, how many Hello Kitties do you expect to make in the coming year? Will you be seeing Hello Kitty in your dreams?

It's going to be thousands, tens of thousands. More than that? Who knows. Our brand is based on a boutique philosophy. I have a feeling this one will test the limits.

We've worked on Hello Kitty for so long. She's already in my dreams.

craig.nakano@latimes.com

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