Growing up, my family traveled to Asia nearly every year to visit our relatives. It was during that time I fell in love with the Japanese street style found in Tokyo. I was fascinated by the fashion tribes – decora, gyaru and gothic – from the districts of Harajuku and Shibuya. I first began experimenting with these styles as a teenager and continued to do so in the New York alternative nightlife scene (where I resided as a college student at Columbia University).
After a brief stint in law school, before discovering it wasn’t my passion, I began blogging about Japanese street style and underground culture in 2007. Eventually, La Carmina started to generate a solid audience and began expanding into opportunities I never thought possible – including writing books for Random House and Penguin Books, hosting TV shows (like Oddities, Bizarre Foods, Taboo), writing for travel magazines, and visiting countries like South Africa, Korea, Israel and Serbia.
Today, I'm continuously working on a number of dream projects connected to fashion and travel, such as TV presenting and journalism. My goals in doing so are to encourage people to express themselves with courage, see the world, and have an open mind towards all the different subcultures that exist out there.
Fashion blogging has changed immensely over the years and has become a potentially lucrative career. It can be tempting to follow the crowd and chase the quick gratification provided by big-name sponsorships and subsequently, its stream of affiliate income.
But from the start, I’ve always been adamant about paving my own path – even if it means less security. I’ve had to truly challenge myself in finding ways to pursue my niche in order to strike an organic balance between commercial and passion projects.
Using trial and error, I believe those taking those risks have definitely paid off. Instead of just outfit posts, I mix personal style with meaningful coverage about travel and underground cultures. Instead of relying on “modeling” and “social media influencer” type work (which can be fleeting), I’ve branched out do different mediums - particularly writing, TV hosting and producing. Some of the biggest milestones include co-hosting the Japan episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, appearing on TV programs like ABC Nightline and The Today Show, writing books, and traveling to places I never expected to see – the Maldives, Abu Dhabi, the Philippines, Wave Gotik Treffen festival in Leipzig, and much more!
Where does most of your inspiration come from?
Ever since childhood, I’ve been captivated by Japanese street fashion, especially the avant-garde “tribes”. I learn about edgy brands and pick up alternative makeup and styling tips from my friends. I also pick up inspiration from my travels – from Day of the Dead in Mexico to modern art in Taipei.
How would you define your style?
I believe the term “spooky cute” encapsulates a lot of what I wear. There’s generally a Gothic or Punk element to it, mixed with Asian kawaii – and my hair is always some shade of the rainbow.
Recently, I’ve been dressing in more sleek, minimal silhouettes and focusing on high-quality designs, particularly from independent designers around the world.
I’m a huge fan of the Goth, punk and alternative shoe brand Steelground Shoes – they make doll heel Mary Janes and other edgy styles.
In terms of shopping, Japan and Hong Kong are my favorite shopping cities, hands down. In Tokyo, my friends and I always visit Closet Child, the secondhand store that carries alternative Japanese labels like h.NAOTO, Putumayo, Alice Auaa. I also love to browse the young, alternative department stores: Shibuya 109, MaruiOne, LaForet, Lumine.
In Hong Kong, I head straight to I.T and Izzue, and pop by the Miffy boutique in Causeway By.
How do you find or decide what backdrops to use for your photos?
All of my “outfit” shoots are connected to a larger story, usually about travel or culture. The location is pivotal to the experience, so I don’t simply treat it as a backdrop. For example, I wrote about the fascinating Rainbow Village in Taiching, Taiwan, and the photos showed me reacting to the strange murals with my friend.
Last year, some of my favorite stories (which incorporated my outfits of the day) included sailing in Cebu, finding k-pop culture in Seoul, and visiting vintage stories in Tel Aviv.
What’s a must-see to visit in your hometown?
I always recommend Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology – I even did a shoot here. They have an impressive collection of Pacific Northwest native art, including totem poles and longhouses, as well as indigenous art from all around the world (Papua New Guinea, Mexico, China and more). The imagery is spiritual and powerful, depicting animals such as Raven and Thunderbird.
What interesting travel plans are you looking forward to this year?
My travel team and I are already booked through the spring. We’ll be back in Asia in February, to work on several projects involving video, travel and fashion. I’m excited to reunite with old friends, and also explore new countries. I’m also in the final stages of a dream project, which I hope I can reveal soon… let me just say that it combines all of my biggest passions, on a big platform.
Where do you recommend we visit?
If you’re in Asia, and looking for an outstanding beach getaway, I recommend Cebu in the Philippines. Last fall, I came here for a travel video and hotel showcase, and was blown away. I discovered quiet white sand beaches, intriguing local food like mantis shrimp and calamansi juice, and an upbeat pop culture that exceeded my expectations. Unlike places like Phuket (Thailand) and Kuta (Bali), Cebu isn’t infested with tourists, and everything is affordable (Check out my report on Cebu in this blog post!)
I’m also a big fan of Seoul, Korea. I love exploring the k-pop culture, fashion and theme cafes in young districts like Hongdae. Favorites from my last trip were a robot bar, a visit to Eat Your Kimchi’s studio, and stopping by a dog-petting café. You can read more about my tips for visiting Korea on La Carmina.
I’m the proud mother of Scottish Fold cat, Basil Farrow! This kitty breed is so sweet. Folds are known for their big eyes, plush bodies and miniature folded ears, which make them look like a cross between an owl and a bear.
Basil used to live with Mia Farrow and Ronan Farrow, but I stole him away. A lot of readers tell me they love seeing Basil Farrow on my blog, especially when he’s doing something funny like lying upside-down!
What’s on your iPod, bookshelf or movie list at the moment?
I’m a die-hard fan of Italo Disco and I’ve recently been listening to some upbeat Japanese tracks from the late 70s and early 80s.
I also recently read Donna Tartt’s novel, The Goldfinch, which is beautifully written.
I adore the awkward characters on HBO’s Silicon Valley, and I’ve seen Wes Anderson’s film The Grand Budapest Hotel over 10 times.
La Carmina is a travel TV host and alternative fashion blogger from Vancouver, Canada. Check out the video version of her interview below or visit her blog or Instagram to experience more of her day-to-day adventures!