Enter the surreal, pastel universe of Princess Cheeto where Mondays don’t exist, snacks are abundant and a good time to nap is anytime. Scrolling through her Instagram shows you that cats weren’t just brought into the world to serve or entertain. They came into this world in search of life’s pleasures, like the softest blankets and delicious snacks that are thoughtfully prepared by your human counterpart. While it’s been widely accepted that cats are arguably the best creatures in producing Internet ephemera, Princess Cheeto’s sass, wit, and pop culture sensibilities put her in a league of her own.
We sat down with her two humans Hugo Martinez and Sarah Ryan Hecht to learn more about what her global fan base, what she’s doing when she’s not shooting, and how they help her art direct her universe.
How did you both meet and what was the catalyst to creating the world of Princess Cheeto on social media?
Sarah Ryan Hecht: We met at work and were later roommates. I adopted Cheeto as a surprise for Hugo’s 23rd birthday. She popped out of a box one afternoon, and Hugo was absolutely speechless. I think he cried – and then immediately wanted to name her after flaming hot Cheetos.
Hugo Martinez: I definitely put my obsession with Internet pets onto Sarah. My first goal was to make her a cat lady.
Before working on Princess Cheeto, what were you doing? Did your prior careers help the process for developing her brand?
Hugo: I was working for a photographer. My entire career had been on set and in the studio. Having knowledge of photo production and image licensing has been crucial to keeping the Princess Cheeto world alive.
Sarah: I was a culture editor for a trend forecasting company, which is where my introduction to branding comes from. I covered artists and companies around the world, and learned what it meant to not only differentiate your offering, but keeping the entire brand experience cohesive. It’s definitely influenced us being able to hone in on a specific audience for Cheeto, and understand how we can stand out.
What makes Cheeto different from all of the cat accounts on social media?
Sarah: Hugo and I have always been passionate about art. We realized that we could leverage an audience far beyond cat people if we were smart about who we collaborated with. We try to incorporate relevant brands (even hobbies) that resonate with our design target, and we’ve been lucky to work with big names well outside of the cat realm. Hugo is also very timely with his pop culture references.
Hugo: I try to visualize Cheeto’s page as a gallery, like walking into a museum. Our photos are so different from other cat accounts, because of the way they flow and work together. It’s the aesthetic I like, I’m less interested in the number of likes or followers we have (at least, at the moment!).
What were your expectations when you first started the account? Did you have any idea she’d turn out to be a global cat superstar?
Sarah: I had zero expectations. I didn’t think the Internet needed another cat account, even when the cat craze first started. But, we were true to the aesthetic and honed in on her sass – we differentiated her. And before we knew it, Cats of Instagram reblogged her. She got thousands of followers, overnight.
Hugo: We created the account for us, and for our friends and family. But I never thought it would be what it is today. I think it’s all about timing.
Creatively speaking, what inspires the different scenes or situations for Cheeto?
Hugo: A lot of inspiration comes from everyday life with Cheeto. I’ve strived to turn it into a wonderland from the very beginning.
Sarah: Someone once told me it’s easy to think outside the box, and the real challenge is creating something wonderful inside the lines. Hugo does an amazing job of turning the mundane into magic.
How do you always manage to capture the perfect expression?
It’s all about timing and patience, and having a really fast shutter speed.
“The real challenge is creating something wonderful inside the lines.”
Can you walk us through your creative process when it comes to art direction, copywriting and shooting? How do you select props or choose color palettes?
Hugo: I usually start with sketching out an idea on a sticky note whenever the idea comes – it’s kind of like word vomit or free styling. Then I produce the set and wait for Cheeto to scope it out. The perfect shot like being on a safari in the wild, waiting for the lion. Patience is key. She also loves the texture of the seamless paper.
Sarah: From a personality and copy perspective, we really pushed for Cheeto to be the sassiest cat on Instagram, everything from her expressions to her pop culture references to her captions. And over time, Hugo and Cheeto’s voice have (naturally?) morphed into one and the same.
Is it hard to make her stay still?
Not when treats are involved.
It’s clear that Cheeto is loved all around the world. What are her fans like? Any bizarre fan mail?
We get really sweet messages from fans, or moms with kids who’ve nicknamed her! People even send portraits of Cheeto that they’ve created. We’ve had a loyal fanbase since day one. It’s one of the reasons we keep doing the account.
When Cheeto isn’t busy shooting, what is she doing?
Nap, eat, snack, repeat.
What would be Cheeto’s dream collab?
The dream would be a project with Google or Apple.
What’s Princess Cheeto up to in the next coming months?
A lady never tells her secrets! But we are excited to launch some exclusive Cheeto merch with Cute Pet Club.
- Image Credit
- Hugo Martinez, Sarah Ryan Hecht
- Lily Chen