Originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, La Carmina holds degrees from Columbia University and Yale Law School. By the end of law school, she decided to pursue a more creative career. Her switch seems right to me, because she's already racked up many achievements in a short time.
Her popular fashion and alternative culture blog, La Carmina, has been featured in major publications like Womens Wear Daily and the Washington Post. She runs a coolhunting / trend consulting / TV hosting and arranging company: La Carmina & The Pirates, specializing in Cool Japan Jpop fashion and youth subcultures.
I see that you are originally from Vancouver. Where do you live and work now?
I still spend a lot of time in Vancouver, but my work in travel TV and writing takes me all over the world (for assignments, television shows, appearances and promotions). You’ll always find me in Japan, LA or NYC. However, this year, I’ll be touching ground in Italy, Asia, and certain parts of America for the first time.
How did someone from Vancouver develop a passion for Japanese Harajuku fashion? Did your parents travel to Japan a lot when you were growing up?
My parents are from Hong Kong, and we traveled to Asia every year from the moment I could crawl. We took trips to Tokyo, and I was mesmerized by the Visual Kei, Gothic Lolita and Punk styles I saw in Harajuku. The link between the alternative fashion, music and subcultures appealed to my teenage self. I continue to love and be part of this “spooky-cute” world.
Here's how La Carmina describes more of her favorite designers:"Twice a year, Gothic Lolita designers set up tables at Alamode Market (in Kawasaki) to sell their handmade crafts. When I visited in 2008, I saw lace-up, gloves and Rococo bonnets dotted with flowers."
What does Harajuku mean to you?
Harajuku is my favorite Tokyo neighborhood to find DIY design. Here, you’ll see youths with ripped-up leggings, jewelry made from candy, and stalls selling handmade studded eyepatches. To me, Harajuku means underground fashion, freedom and creativity.
Blablahospital handmade fashion
Please tell me about how handmade clothing fits into Harajuku fashion? Is there a particular style (Gothic Lolita, Sweet Lolita, Punk, Cosplay, Decora, Kawaii, etc.) where handmade is used most often? Or, is it found throughout all Harajuku styles?
Harajuku fashion has so many different style tribes, such as the ones you mention. Many young people mix the street styles together, or create their own -- so it’s an ever-changing circus. However, much of Harajuku fashion has cute (kawaii) and colorful elements.
In particular, Japanese Punk fashion relies heavily on DIY (do-it-yourself). While you can buy the clothing ready-made, many youths prefer to distress and deconstruct it themselves - things like safety pinned and patched t-shirts or accessories with eyeballs and skulls glued on.
At Tokyo's Design Festa close to 10,000 artists and indie designers converge for this international art exhibition.
Where is Harajuku fashion headed? Is it still as relevant as it once was?
Harajuku has gotten more commercial in the past 5-10 years, ever since “pedestrian heaven” closed and cosplayers stopped hanging out on Jingu Bridge. H&M and Forever 21 are now two of the most popular shopping destinations in Harajuku. However, there are still independent shops, such as the Yellow House and Takuya Angel's Cyber Rave handmade fashion. (Takuya is shown in his shop below.)
Outside of Harajuku, are there other Japanese designers specializing in handmade work whose work you admire?
I’m a fan of Dangerous Nude, an Osaka designer influenced by burlesque and ballerinas. Each corset and tutu is individualized. Her shop is wonderfully decorated (Dangerous Nude shop is pictured below).
How do you dress when you’re not working? Do you prefer Harajuku to more traditional forms of clothing or do you save it for when you visit Japan?
It depends on the type of work I’m doing. If I’m writing articles, I’m happy to wear pajamas. But if I’m hosting a TV show, and taking the cameras to my favorite Harajuku indie boutiques, then I’ll pile on the doll eyelashes. I enjoy customizing my clothing and wearing items in unexpected ways.
La Carmina taking a break while on assignment at the Shinjuku Temple wearing a handmade flower headband (gift from indie designer, MyVelcroe).
Please tell me about your fashion design collaborations.
Over the years, I’ve partnered with several clothing brands to create original designs. My input includes designing, modeling, and marketing the clothing.
I’m currently working on a charity t-shirt line for Like Atmosphere (Japanese brand), where every shirt is individually silk-screened. Proceeds from sales will go to Japan earthquake relief, which is at the top of my mind right now.
What’s your next Harajuku or fashion related project?
Coming up, I’ll release several design collaborations to benefit Japan, and will be hosting TV shows and attending events in Italy and elsewhere…. Stay tuned to La Carmina to see where my journey takes me next!