When they say looks are deceiving, it is indeed true with Carmen. This Hong Konger lady with colourful hair and funky Japanese dress sense was from Yale Law School who pursued entertainment law. She grew up in Vancouver, Canada but always dress like she's in Japan. She believes that fashion is a way of self expression and that that fashion is about freedom and has been wearing alternative and Gothic fashions since she was a teenager.
Describing her style as “Tokyo Gothic Lolita Rococo Punk, Marie Antoinette meets Queen Victoria meets Tim Burton, she launched her own fashion company, LA CARMINA. The designs are “inspired by everything coming out of Japan from its cute pop icons to its terrifying horror movies.”
Holding many designation titles on her belt, Carmen, or La Carmina as she is more lovingly known to her fans, is a
Japan Goth fashion blogger. TV host. Author of 3 Jpop books. CNNGo writer. On top of this, she has also:
- Co-hosted Canal Plus France 90 minute documentary about Tokyo subcultures, with Antoine de Caunes of Eurotrash.
- Co-hosted the Tokyo episode of Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre World, which airs on Travel Channel and in 75 countries (details here.) See CNN coverage and blog posts about La Carmina's TV gig.
- Been on the subject of NHK Japan 20-minute documentary (for Japanese national TV station). La Carmina taught Harlem students how to make healthy, cute bentos. It was a success -- the children loved it and ate vegetables that they'd never tried before!
- Been a guest on The Today Show to promote new book Cute Yummy Time.
She does all the writing and web/graphic design for her popular Gothic lolita/Japanese fashion & pop culture blog, which has been featured in The New Yorker, Washington Post, WWD, Time Out NY, LA Times, Village Voice and other major publications. As a writer who writes about Japanese pop culture and food, she is currently represented by NYC literary agency Levine Greenberg, home to Chuck Klosterman and The Onion. Her first book, The Cosmos in a Carrot (Parallax Press, Nov 06), is a Zen reflection on food.
Carmen's life revolves around wild Tokyo subcultures and style, especially the morbid-meets-adorable Gothic Lolita.
Now, we welcome you to the quirky world of La Carmina... Enjoy.
What is LaCarmina.com all about?
LaCarmina.com is a chronicle of my adventures in the flamboyant world of J-rock, Harajuku fashion and pop culture. You’ll find daily outfit posts, kawaii DIY tutorials, cute cooking videos, cyber/industrial nightlife reports, Gothic Lolita shopping guides and everything related to Tokyo decadence.
Who is La Carmina actually – without the make-up and her blog? Tell us more about your background. I am interested know more about you personally.
I don’t feel La Carmina is a “persona”; if you ask my friends, they’ll tell you that what you see is what you get. My life is pretty much as it is on the blog -- except I keep the content PG-13, so you don’t get to see the darkest, naughtiest bits!
As for my background -- I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. My family’s from Hong Kong, so I’ve been all over Asia and spent significant time in Tokyo. I’m a graduate of Columbia University and Yale Law; I started the blog in September 2007, but I’ve been publishing books and columns since I was 19.
What brought upon a career change from a straight-laced lawyer to a Gothic cute blogger?
One of the biggest misperceptions about me is that I was a serious “normal person” who underwent a Gregor Samsa-like metamorphosis. When I was in high school, my hair and outfits were MORE ridiculous then they are today. I joke that I majored in “nightcrawling” because when I was in college, I devoted most of my energy to NYC Goth clubbing. I went to law school because I thought it was an excellent opportunity to learn -- and it was; it gave me the confidence to pursue this current path.
You write for CNN. How did this happen? And what do you actually do for CNN?
I write several articles a week about Asian pop culture for www.CNNGo.com -- an Asia lifestyle/travel website launched by CNN. It’s the perfect gig. I pitch my own story ideas and basically write about what I love: J-horror films, purikura, Asian vintage shops. My press mentions include The New Yorker, Washington Post, WWD, Time Out New York, LA Times.
You even have a blog about your earless cat. What happened to its ears?!
They fell off. Or a vampire ate them. Or… Basil Farrow is a Scottish Fold cat, hence the tiny flop ears! He used to live with Mia and Ronan Farrow, hence the last name. There are a zillion photos of him on his blog and videos on YouTube.
You co-hosted the Bizarre World TV show with Andrew Zimmern. How was he? Is he really funny in person?
Andrew Zimmern was a great guy, full of energy and curiosity, on and off camera. I showed him Tokyo’s weirdest theme restaurants, including prison, bunny maid and schoolboy cosplay cafes! The episode airs this May on Travel Channel; you can see behind-the-scenes photos on my blog.
Did the food taste really as bizarre as it declares itself to be?
Eating red slush out of a mannequin’s head with a syringe… was rather bizarre.
How do you like hosting?
Love it to death. I always make videos with my spooky friends on YouTube, and had great TV experiences with NHK Japan, Travel Channel, the Today Show and other channels. I’d love to do more hosting, but as MYSELF -- not some grinning cookie-cutter host reading from cue cards. A gig like Anthony Bourdain’s would be ideal.
You are also an author who does her own creative work. How did this interest for photography, illustration and writing come about?
I’ve posted “early works” from my childhood on my blog -- which show that I always loved writing stories and drawing cute characters such as Hello Kitty. Basically, I’m doing the exact same things I did when I was five years old.
What are your books inspired by?
Japanese pop culture kitsch. My book Cute Yummy Time (Perigee/Penguin USA) is inspired by kawaii character bentos; there are 70 recipes that turn basic meals into cutie-face characters. Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo (Mark Batty/Random House) dives into the bizarre world of Japanese theme cafes, where ninjas attack and vampire waiters bite.
In your own definition, what makes a woman modern and smart?
Take risks; speak up; pave your own path and don’t worry about what others think. If you aren’t scaring the pants off anyone, you’re probably doing something wrong.
What, to you, is being financially independent? Do you think you are financially savvy and smart? Why?
I can’t stand it when people (girls especially) assume that someone will always “take care of them,” so they can sit on their butts and look pretty. No! I think it’s really important to make your own way -- not just for practical reasons, but because you reap a sense of purpose and self-worth. If you give education and entrepreneurship a try, you’ll be rewarded in a thousand unexpected ways.
What does the phrase “My Fat Pocket” remind you of?
My fat cat. I’m going to poke his stomach now!