Twenty-five thousand people of all ages, drunk on cuteness: That was Hello Kitty Con.

There can be but few places in the world where adult strangers can exclaim to one another in all friendliness and sincerity: "I love your ears!" But throughout the packed exhibits and cosplay contests and crafts classes, amid booths offering Hello Kitty Beats by Dr. Dre and customized Hello Kitty t-shirts, and all through the stage performances of costumed dancers, the atmosphere surrounding Hello Kitty's 40th birthday festivities was one of pure contentment.

Even a hard-bitten publicist lamented that soon it would all be over, and her apartment, currently bedecked in Hello Kitty, would be back to its former state. "And I'm gonna go, where's all the pink and happiness?"

Katy Perry stopped by HK Ink, the convention's tattoo shop, for a tiny Hello Kitty tattoo:

The free tattoo appointments went like hotcakes, reaching capacity in just minutes each day of the convention. Lucky recipients could choose from several flash sheets including more than 100 designs by Chicago tattoo artist Mario Desa of Great Lakes Tattoo. Desa was joined by four other artists, and they were busy every minute.

Sanrio Brand Visual Manager Sarah Walsworth got a tattoo, as well; she has been with the company for nineteen years, but this is her first Sanrio-themed tattoo. I asked her to comment on how Hello Kitty had evolved... at first a mascot for children, and later something far larger, something gradually taking on a life of its own in the adult world. (After all, little kids can't even get tattoos.)

"I think people can love anything enough that they want to put it on them... a tattoo is just another way to say, "Okay! I love Hello Kitty so much, I'm going to put it permanent. It's just another medium to channel that love for that character, or that brand."

"There's no end to how [Hello Kitty] can be applied and worn: there's product, there's design... she's a muse, who inspires a lot of people to do [their own art.]"

Asked how long she'd loved Hello Kitty, one cosplayer replied, "For as long as I can remember. But my dad asked me why I still like Hello Kitty, and I told him: 'I'm not that old yet.'"


Saturday night, several hundred revelers gathered for the culmination of Sanrio's Hello Kitty 40th anniversary festivities: a birthday party at Koreatown's Line Hotel. This was wilder and even more fun than the convention: there was booze galore and an adorable cosplay DJ, and there was breakdancing by the pool, and a Sephora room for trying on makeup; there was an outdoor photo booth, and there were cosplay ladies wandering around like cigarette girls of old, only bearing Hello Kitty Pocky.

A young lady dressed in glasses of champagne rolled in, and you could give her a small ticket and withdraw from her skirt a glass of champagne.

And there was a huge and gorgeous cake.

The rest is rather a blur, I fear.

Happy birthday, Hello Kitty.

[Photographs by Maria Bustillos]