She is the world's most popular feline fetish. She inspires such devotion throughout the world that the phenomenon gets its own word: Kitira. She is the ne plus ultra of infectious cuteness and the proof is in the 12,000 iterations of her licensed products that include a theme park, airline, cars, buses, and motorcycles, a Fender Stratocaster, wedding gowns, wines, cafés, and even a hospital.
Maybe its her perennially inscrutable expression that demands such wallet-baring affection. What is hiding behind her mouthless visage – an ageless stoicism that allows us to project our own feelings upon her – that draws us in? She is at once sphinxlike, zen, and the very symbol of acquisitive materialism. And then, in 2014, at 40 years old and following a banner year of $7 billion in worldwide sales, she got her own convention in Los Angeles.
In celebration of the world's very first official Hello Kitty Con, The Line Hotel installed a Hello Kitty VIP guest room. And once again they came to Sean to design it.
Designed to be more celebration than tribute, it would've been easy to let the room to become a cathedral to Kitty kitsch. Sean kept his use of the icon subtle and strategic, mysterious even. Using a generous amount of restraint, though it might've seemed impossible, Sean was able to keep the Kitty – the alpha and omega of commercial archetypes – tamed.
At first glance, two aspects leap out: a liberal use of pink, and the motif of stacking and layering that undergirds the overall design. The pink, of course, was unavoidable as the color is one of Kitty's base elements and an integral component of its radiant kawaii.
(An inside joke: The subjects of the wall's large framed photos are from a band called Nylon Pink.)
The room's decor is both a juggle of colors and textures and a disciplined balance. Together, they have a dreamlike quality. Sean balanced hard and soft, the cute and the edgy. The more traditional elements – the patterned wallpaper, the bare concrete of the walls, the squared poufs – frame the room as punctuation marks, to clarify and contain. It couldn't have been Kitty without whimsy and that concept is highlighted in the use of Dejana Kabiljo's surreal dessert-ified couch (entitled Let Them Sit Cake) and the pink splat wall mural.
Then there's the stylized graffiti on the living room's coffee-styled tables and the more street style of the lettering used on the walls of the bathroom. Throughout the room Sean has the actual Kitty logos obscured or hidden. This is demonstrated with both the bundled blankets and in the tiny Kitty representations on the toilet paper wall covering in the sitting nook/bar area. Also, in the way the Kitty disappears through the sheer repetition of its image as in the white plastic figures tiled in the bathroom or quilted on the bed. Even when Hello Kitty is written in neon, as in a hanging piece collaboration with artist Kelly Lamb, the words are superimposed over one another to cloak their conspicuousness.
While his approach to the icon is never less than deferential, Sean takes an affectionate impertinence in the way he addresses the Kitty itself. The way he straps it in bundles – as in the bundled comforters pouf/benches – or nails her to the ceiling and paints over its plush finish. In folding-in the logos of the the bundled blankets Sean makes them unreadable, the give-away being Kitty's characteristic hot pink – the straps that bind them together end up looking something like bondage wear. Also, the various plush and plastic figures used as a kind of mosaic tiling, the pink splat on the wall – all of these depictions take Kitty out of her cuddly suburban ambience and into the tension of the urban landscape.
Pushing on further with the concept that Sean first explored with his Leaf Table and it's simulacrum of stacked books, in the Hello Kitty room he expands the concept with towers of paper folia stacked like origami sheets. While Sean makes the sweep of the room active and ups the energy quotient, he's careful to stay within the boundaries of comfort: Kitty doesn't overwhelm her environment. Turning down the volume slightly on the hyperglycemic kawaii factor, Sean turned to the use of extreme non-traditional materials: toilet and craft paper, discarded product packaging, and the graffiti strokes of a spray can. Though the palette remains heavily tilted toward the pink, Sean even had his Mexican blanketed Negril chairs pinkened, they are counterbalanced with industrial grays and blacks, neon white, and the earth tones of the couch. Sean takes the icon downtown proper at last.
Welcome to the jungle, Kitty.