“Welcome to Hello Kitty Air,” said a young woman decked out in retro flight attendant garb.
She was my first point of contact at the Hello Kitty Friends Around the World Tour, Sanrio’s new pop-up experience in downtown Los Angeles celebrating the world-famous cartoon character’s 45th anniversary.
Set up on the ground floor of L.A. Plaza Village, the colorful apartment complex on the edge of Chinatown, the pop-up features 10,000 square feet of cuteness. Once you’ve checked in and received your event passport and airline wings, you’re escorted on a global jaunt from London to Times Square in New York and from Hawaii to Tokyo.
In each space, Hello Kitty’s likeness looms large, reminding visitors that she’s an international sensation.
Running through Oct. 20, fans of the bow-wearing, mouthless marvel can book 45-minute walk-through tours, then smile and coo their way through a maze of kawaii (that’s Japanese for “cute”) installations. It’s the first stop on the anniversary tour. Future U.S. dates are set to be announced later in the year.
The attraction is a selfie-lover’s dream, with photo opportunities at every turn. I began my visit in the vivid yellow bag-check area, where a timeline made out of luggage counts the years since Sanrio debuted its ingenue. The event’s “1974 to Forever” slogan seemed like a fitting one — her friendly face just never gets old. And I, for one, have had a fondness for it for most of my 42 years — snapping up mementos bearing her likeness for both myself and my daughter.
My first destination was the U.K., where I found the primary-colored bedroom that Hello Kitty shares with her sister Mimmy (and, yes, you can pull down the hangers and take snapshots with the plywood cutout overalls and striped tops in their wardrobe).
In Paris, I passed a toque-wearing, baguette-toting Hello Kitty who offered up madeleines and other free goodies. Over in Honolulu, I noticed that Gudetama the Lazy Egg was tanning on a giant bowl of rice. Also Keroppi the Frog and My Melody donned kimonos in a Japanese village that was decked out with lanterns, cherry blossom trees and bamboo stalks.
Sanrio Inc., whose North American offices moved from Torrance to El Segundo in 2015, teamed up with such corporations as Toyota, Herschel Supply Co., and Levi’s to make limited-edition products for the event.
Parked outside the entryway the day I was there was a fully-wrapped Hello Kitty Toyota Sienna minivan, tricked out with red interiors. Throughout the pop-up, OPI manicurists provided complimentary themed designs featuring a new collection of custom colors. Not surprisingly, the hand towels and polish-drying fans at their stations, I noticed, were on-theme too.
Opportunities to shop abound, whether a visitor drops by the gewgaw-filled 45 Gift Shop near the entrance or the full-fledged Baggage Claim store at the end of the tour. I spotted personalized luggage tags on the low end, while embroidered 1974 varsity jackets and Girl brand skateboards await those willing to spend more.
If a visitor needs to refuel after all that cheesing and peace sign-flashing, there are sweet treats for sale in the Hello Kitty-themed cafe. The pastel macarons, cotton candy and decorative caramel corn bags looked primed and ready for an Instagram feed.
As with many of the pop-up events that have flooded L.A. in recent years, there wasn’t a wealth of actual activity here, I noticed. It’s a blank slate of a space that’s been filled with cut-outs built for standing beside, behind or atop.
No doubt, Hello Kitty fans or those who are curious can fill their entire timed session taking an enviable stream of adorable photos with which to delight their social media followers. However, don’t expect to see much in the way of live performances, demonstrations, special guests or costumed characters parading through the rooms.
All the same, the attraction is sure to be a hotbed of influencers, Insta-stars and those who instinctively flock to the beacon of all things bright, shiny and new. And for those who’ve spent their lives collecting Hello Kitty stickers, coin purses, apparel and beyond booking passage on this tour is a no-brainer.
When: Through Oct. 20
Tickets: $22-$50 (limited ticket availability on certain dates). Children under age 3 free.