Interview with La Carmina
It is hard to fit La Carmina (http://www.lacarmina.com) in a box. To restrict what she does to roles she has played, limits her and she is, in my opinion, limitless. Beneath her striking exterior lies an intelligent, strong and well-spoken woman with the drive and passion to accomplish anything she should put her mind to. La Carmina is a successful Japan & alternative fashion/subcultures blogger, TV host (Travel Channel, Food Network, CNN among others), author of 3 books (Penguin USA and Random House), fashion designer and journalist for AOL Travel/Huffington Post.
Her popular blog – http://www.lacarmina.com/blog – has been featured in many major publications (The New Yorker, Washington Post, WWD, Cosmopolitan, Vogue Italia, and LA Times). She is a travel and pop culture journalist for CNN, and Huffington Post /AOL. La Carmina has a large, passionate online following, and she was one of the 40 world’s top fashion bloggers to be flown to Luisa Via Roma’s event in Italy.
She’s written 3 books about Jpop culture for major publishers (Random House, Penguin USA). These include Cute Yummy Time (about decorating food to look adorable) and Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo (maid cafes, cat cafes, vampire and ninja restaurants). La Carmina is a graduate of Columbia University and Yale Law School. More about her books: http://www.lacarmina.com/books.php
La Carmina has appeared on The Today Show and co-hosted an episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern for Travel Channel, which airs in 75 countries. NHK Japan filmed a documentary about her work; recent TV hosting and arranging credits include Food Network, Dutch Pepsi, Sony Australia, Canal Plus France, Belgium TV, Norway TV, Fuel / Discovery/ National Geographic, and CNN International.
She hosts, writes, arranges and field produces a “Coolhunting America” travel TV show for Huffington Post / AOL. La Carmina travels and scouts underground attractions and bizarre subcultures, starting with Wisconsin.
She runs a trend consulting/TV hosting and arranging company: La Carmina & The Pirates. The crew specializes in Cool Japan, cosplay, Goth, burlesque, LGBT, Jpop fashion, music, art and youth subcultures. (http://lacarmina.com/pirates)
If that isn’t enough La Carmina designs clothing with various fashion brands. She recently released the HOPE t-shirt collection, and Soho Hearts Swarovski panda necklace, with funds going to the Japan earthquake and tsunami victims.
You were studying law at Yale when you started your blog. What first caused you to become interested in Japanese Fashion and culture?
La Carmina: Ever since I was one year old, I travelled yearly to Hong Kong and Asia with my family. In my early teens, I visited Tokyo and my mind was blown open by the stunning Visual Kei, Gothic Lolita and Harajuku Punk styles I saw.
When I began my blog in September 2007, I was Yale Law student at crossroads — I needed to be in a more creative field. Blogging was the perfect way to share my love of Japanese street fashion and subcultures. Upon graduation, I had books and other projects in the works, so I decided to pursue this road instead. And never turned back. I grew up in Vancouver, Canada with no media/entertainment connections whatsoever, so my blog let me break into tight-knit industries such as travel and pop culture TV hosting. Every day, I’m amazed at the opportunities that arrive in my inbox; my adventures keep getting weirder, and I love it!
We have so much to cover. Let’s start with your books. First, “Cute Yummy Time” is about decorating food to look adorable and the second is “Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo” covers maid cafes, cat cafes, vampire and ninja restaurants among others. How did you get the inspiration for these books?
La Carmina: I am fascinated with the intersection of pop culture and food. My cookbook Cute Yummy Time (http://www.lacarmina.com/cookingcute.php) was inspired by the adorable bento-decoration trend I saw in Japan. Think rice balls and sushi, made to look like smiling penguins and Hello Kitty. I thought: why not put a healthy, Western food spin on the idea? I did a few blog posts with cute food experiments, which my literary agent successfully pitched to publishers.
Crazy Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo (http://www.lacarmina.com/tokyorestaurants.php) is full of stories and photos of Japan’s wildest theme restaurants, from monkey waiters to cosplay maids. Again, I connected the dots during my travels to Tokyo, where I observed the burgeoning number of fantasy-experience restaurants. All my books are available on my site. (http://www.lacarmina.com/books.php)
Why do you think that restaurants like this have not caught on in the US?
La Carmina: In Tokyo, Japan, people are accustomed to a vivid, neon, bustling environment — a city of sound, noise and bizarre things, whether it’s cute character mascots on police station logos, or girls wearing French Maid costumes in the streets. It makes sense for over-the-top theme restaurants to blossom here. The Japanese also are more open to diving into the experience and being silly; there isn’t the “cool armor of irony” that some Westerners don, which prevent them from fully entering the fantasy world (such as vampire waiters serving you bloody crucifix crackers!)
I would love to find out more about your interests in fashion. Your style has been described as Harajuku Spooky Cute but your interests and knowledge are much broader. How would you best describe your interest in fashion?
La Carmina: Fashion is one of my favorite ways to be creative. Every time I doll up, I try something new. I experiment with alt makeup techniques and DIY nail art; I customize my clothing and put together unexpected coordinates. I’m fascinated by alternative beauty; I love to create unconventional, space-disco-creature looks that are unexpectedly beautiful.
Who are your inspirations in the fashion world?
La Carmina: Love the Rococo era for its decadence. Sailboats on heads, and flounced skirts too large to fit through doorways. I’m also inspired by Visual Kei bands, Goth and Lolita fashion. But most of all, I’m inspired by my “pirates” — my friends and underground associates, who never fail to create out-of-this-world looks.
You seem to break “normalcy” in that your work has no rules. How do you approach your work? Is there a creative process you go through?
La Carmina: I’m lucky that much of my work and personal life overlaps; much of the blog is about my adventures and explorations. As long as I stay active – playing around with fashion, traveling, coolhunting – there’s never a lack of creative inspiration. In fact, I have a backload of blog posts; I still have mountains of material from Italy, Hong Kong and Tokyo to put up.
I choose my projects carefully. I’ve turned down a number of lucrative TV, sponsorship and writing offers because they didn’t feel right. Every job I take on has to fit with who I am. In the words of the Marquis de Sade, “Kill me again or take me as I am, for I shall not change.”
Since you have accomplished so much is there one part you enjoy more than the others?
La Carmina: At the moment, I’m most interested in alternative and subculture travel TV hosting. It’s a medium that combines my passions – for youth subcultures, alternative art and expression – in a visual, entertaining and informative fashion. I love every aspect of my work; it feels like play, so I don’t mind the long hours.
You are best known for your work with Japanese subculture but you are quite knowledgeable about cultures as well. Can you tell us what attracts you to things off the mainstream?
La Carmina: Ever since I was a pre-teen, I’ve been drawn to alt subcultures: Goth, Punk, Visual Kei. They represented a safe space where misfits (like me) could band together, and celebrate how we were different from the rest.
Today, as a TV host and writer, it’s my goal to present alt culture in a positive light. Many people dismiss the underground scene as “weird” or “extreme.” So I do my best to show we’re a family; that we’ve cultivated a vibrant environment where everyone can express themselves.
I’ve most recently been able to do this via my Huffington Post travel TV series. In “Coolhunting America,” I travel to unlikely places in the USA (starting with Wisconsin), where I discover hip, weird, crazy attractions — such as a spy-themed bar and retro love hotel!
Your success and your career path reminds me of the successful Singaporean blogger, Xiaxue. How much time and effort does it take to run a popular blog and do you spend a lot of time marketing and promoting yourself?
La Carmina: I try to bring as much value as possible to my social networks, especially Twitter and Facebook. I post Japan-related news and inspiration photos; I ask and answer questions, and hold impromptu contests. I think by providing fun, genuine, engaging content, people will hop onboard your ship and stay for the ride.
It takes a great deal of work to constantly gather original material and photos, edit pictures, write and promote the posts. However, I probably spend far less time on the Internet than people would expect. If I stay focused, I can max my productivity. For example, I might spend three hours editing photos for two weeks’ worth of blog entries.
What are your future plans and where do you hope your career takes you?
La Carmina: I’m definitely continuing on the TV hosting path, especially in the travel and pop culture genres. In the past two months, I hosted and arranged TV shows in Tokyo (for Food Network and Fuel/Discovery/National Geographic). NHK Kawaii TV filmed an episode about me, and I’m hosting my own coolhunting travel show for Huffington Post / AOL. And I’m going to a sunny new destination this Halloween, courtesy of a tourism board, for a travel video. You’ll have to stay tuned to La Carmina Blog to see where I journey next! (http://www.lacarmina.com/blog)