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La Carmina and Harajuku
Described by The New Yorker as “adorable, in a somewhat bizarre way”, La Carmina is a travel host, author, and writer for CNNGo, Lip Service as well as her own blog on Japanese Goth fashion and subcultures. La Carmina has appeared on various TV shows, and will be the Asian host for an educational travel series called Project Explorer.
With Harajuku has recently arrived from Japan, following in the footsteps of Gothic Lolita and Cos Play. Interested in learning more about this fashion, I spoke with the premiere Japanese Goth culture expert La Carmina to learn more.
As I understand, you were born in Canada, but could you tell me a bit more about your background?
I was born in Vancouver, Canada. My parents are from Hong Kong, and we visited relatives in Asia every year from the time I was a baby – so I’ve always had personal contact with Asian street fashion. I was especially captivated by the Japanese / Harajuku style I saw in the 1990s.
You also went on to study at Yale, could you tell me what you studied?
I went to law school for a variety of reasons. As a Canadian who graduated at age 20, I wanted to stay in the US and go straight into another program (rather than work a not-so-desirable job). In addition, there wasn’t any other masters/advanced program I was compelled to take. So I applied to law schools, and when I got into Yale, I couldn’t turn it down.
What saved you from pursuing a career in law?
I thought I might pursue entertainment law, but quickly realized that my heart lay in the creative aspect of the industry. I went with my gut, and took the risk of diving into an artistic career (writing, design, etc). It’s probably the best choice I’ve ever made — a few years ago, I couldn’t have imagined that I’d be in the invigorating place I am now.
Having been raised in Canada, traveling to Japan, and living in USA; do you see any differences in different goth scenes?
Japan’s Gothic fashion tends to be more elegant and modest (especially Goth Lolita). The fashion is often influenced from Rococo and Victorian court styles. The nightlife is out of this world — a Tim Burton carnival come to life!
Is it your writing/TV work which governs your movements; or is it on a whim?
My travels are entirely work-based. I haven’t been on a vacation in years… My work in writing and TV hosting is full of excitement, but it also carries responsibilities and deadlines. You only see the party side on my blog, but there’s a lot of unglamorous burrowing that goes on behind the scenes!
Could you tell me a bit more about your TV work and how it started?
Some of my TV appearances were related to my writing work — for example, I went on The Today Show to promote my book Cute Yummy Time. My blog, TV appearances and horror/glam videos on my YouTube channel caught the attention of various TV producers — including Andrew Zimmeran’s team at Travel Channel. Incredibly, I was flown to Tokyo to be on an episode of Bizarre Foods. This opportunity led to other TV hosting and arranging work with NHK Japan, CNN, Dutch Pepsi, Canal Plus and Sony Australia… and there are more in the works!
Could you describe what Harajuku is?
Harajuku is a neighborhood of Tokyo, situated between Shinjuku and Shibuya. It is ground zero for Gothic Lolita Punk street style in Japan. The famous Jingu Bridge, where cosplayers would hang out in flamboyant fashions, is right by the station. When you walk down Takeshita Doori and visit Laforet department store, you are certain to discover alternative boutiques and youths wearing mind-blowing styles.
What first interested you in Harajuku?
I first encountered Harajuku on one of my childhood trips to Tokyo. It was like no other place I’ve ever been — the punk hairstyles, candy-decora hairstyles… I felt inspired and exhilarated back then, and still do today.
How does Harajuku interact with traditional Japanese society?
Harajuku is not perceived as a “red light district” by any means. There are upscale and mass-market stores here as well, such as Forever 21 and H&M. You’ll find people from all walks of life shopping here; it’s a popular destination with something for everyone.
Has the Harajuku street style changed much since you first saw this?
Harajuku style was arguably at its height in the 1990s. Back then, the district was “pedestrian heaven” because traffic was closed off in the area. Cosplayers (who dress in flamboyant outfits or Visual Kei / anime styles) would congregate on the famous Jingu Bridge. The area was a gathering-place for punks and Goths, who established independent alternative clothing stores. Today, the big-box retailers and disposable fashion loom over the indie stores. However, Harajuku remains one of the best places in the world to see creative, experimental DIY fashion.
How do you see the Japanese Goth fashion developing now?
The Japanese Goth/cyber club scene remains a wonderland of creative, DIY experimental fashion. I think the more extreme looks are to be found in the nightlife underground, rather than in Harajuku now.
What are the Goth nightclubs like in Japan?
Tokyo and Osaka’s Goth / Industrial / alternative nightlife is the best in the world! My favorite Tokyo parties are Midnight Mess (the first Goth / Industrial party here), Tokyo Decadence (eccentric, cyber-dandy fashion), and Department H (the wildest fetish/BDSM scene you’ll find).
Could you talk about the clothing designs you have made?
I’ve done a few things in fashion design. Most recently, I did a La Carmina t-shirt collaboration with Akumu Ink, inspired by Japanese horror / Edward Gorey imagery. Both designs featured my Scottish Fold cat, Basil Farrow, and I love how they turned out. Cute meets spooky.
What future plans do you have?
More travel TV hosting and arranging (local production coordination) in Japan and all over the world… and more of everything — bigger and better and badder!
La Carmina, thank you.
You can discover more about La Carmina through her website (www.lacarmina.com) and the following social networks:
Facebook http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=10225211197 and