Hello Kitty's canine cousin Rebecca Bonbon is latest Japanese craze in the making

Meet Rebecca Bonbon. She's not from around here, but chances are you'll be seeing a lot more of her in the near future. Rebecca was born in Paris but has lived most of her life in New York (it's a long story), and if your paths have never crossed, it simply means that you haven't been hanging out in the right circles.

Madamoiselle Bonbon, you see, is not any old French bulldog; you won't catch her sniffing random bottoms or watering tree-trunks in her local park – and for the record, you can be sure that this dignified little lady doesn't answer to wolf-whistles.

Rather, for the past five years, Rebecca Bonbon – so-called because of her taste for sugary confectionery – would most likely have been found picking out glitzy accessories and floral hairclips in New York's fashionable boutiques, or gossiping with friends over long, civilised picnics. But as of next month, those lazy days will be a thing of the past, as she prepares to take her first step towards international mega-stardom. If her family record is anything to go by, it won't be long before this little-known pooch is a household name.

Despite being different animals altogether, Rebecca is in fact a cousin of one of the world's best-loved graphic characters, Hello Kitty. The iconic feline was created by Yuko Shimizu back in 1974.

Since then, Hello Kitty's become a global superstar, with legions of fans across the generations. And now, four decades after the Hello Kitty empire came into being, Shimizu is hoping to emulate its success with her doe-eyed canine. Although, as the artist explains from her Tokyo apartment, it was not a promising start for Rebecca.

In 2005, Shimizu started a series of illustrations of her pet cats (she has four), but by some happy twist of fate, these sketches ended up looking more like a dog. Some re-thinking was required, which led to some re-working, and finally, a little further down the line, the refined French bulldog was born. Since then, Rebecca has been leading a relatively quiet life, but all that is about to change...

Next month, the Rebecca Bonbon brand will be officially launched with a range of back-to-school stationery (available in WH Smiths), to be followed by a series of T-shirts, dog clothing and soft toys. As the Hello Kitty brand has shown, the marketing possibilities are endless.

Despite an unsettling start to life, Rebecca has emerged a happy and well-adjusted creature, firmly ensconced in a spacious apartment overlooking Central Park and, with the help of the internet, is making friends all over the world.

While Shimizu insists that Rebecca is terribly discreet and wouldn't dream of disclosing the names of her celebrity pals, a quick peek at the photos on her Facebook site, in particular an album entitled "Mes Amis", reveals that Bo – President Obama's dashing Portuguese water hound – and several of Paris Hilton's impossibly tiny chihuahuas are among her closest friends.

Even before her launch as international mega-star, Rebecca has become so popular – and not just with the doggy jet-set crowd ("she wants to spread happiness across the world") – that as well as regularly updating her Facebook page, she's had to create a Twitter account and her own website (rebeccabonbon.com) to keep fans up-to-speed with her girl-about-town antics.

Clearly such an attractive young bitch has her fair share of male admirers to contend with too, but her creator will not be drawn on whether or not there's a Monsieur Bonbon waiting in the wings: "For now, she's looking forward to what lies ahead," is all Shimizu will say. And in any case, she adds, let it be clear: "Rebecca Bonbon doesn't kiss and tell!".

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