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A powerful Japanese cultural phenomenon, Cute (or ‘Kawaii’, meaning childlike) first emerged in the 1970s and was characterized by a playful aesthetic, often in shades of cherry‐blossom pink, that was marketed by many manufacturers across a wide range of goods and services. One of the best‐known exponents of Cute was the Sanrio company's Hello Kitty, a cartoon‐like cat whose branded image was applied to all kinds of consumer products, from children's toys to credit cards and mobile phones. After a rather romantic ‘look’ in the 1980s ‘Cute’ took on a more humorous edge in the 1990s. After a slight ebbing of its popularity, it then took on a strong Retro or Super‐Cute (‘Chou‐Kawaii’) dimension, perhaps on account of Cute's first generation of consumers becoming teenagers and young adults seeking to harness earlier memories to their young adult lives, albeit with a sense of irony or an appreciation of kitsch. Although voraciously consumed by South East Asian teenagers it also exerted a considerable impact on Western youth culture. The Cute cult was widely covered in style magazines such as the Face or experienced more directly through the Japanese rock band Shonen Knife, a support act for Nirvana. Shonen Knife projected a little girl image sustained by lyrics about jellybeans and Barbie dolls. Blended with the potent 1990s Japanese High‐School Girl (‘joshi kosai’) brand, such an aesthetic influenced the ‘baby doll’ dress and Doc Martens boots look known as the ‘Riot Grrls’.

Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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