Travel and fashion blogger La Carmina takes you to the dark side
Vancouver writer and blogger La Carmina got her law degree before she completely gave herself over to the night. Specializing in oddities and alternative culture, she regularly exposes her followers to the underground—from Goth-themed restaurants and bunny-petting cafés, to Japan’s “kawaii” culture and the "bagelhead" forehead inflation trend.
As part of our series on great Canadian blogs, we asked La Carmina about how she built her media empire, the crazy opportunities her blog has presented her with and how she ended up living with Ronan Farrow's cat Basil.
When did you first discover underground culture? What do you love about it?
As a child, I remember having darker and more eccentric interests from my classmates. I felt uninspired by mainstream culture, but was fascinated by Goth, punk and retro lifestyles—from John Waters movies to New Order CDs. Starting in my teens, I began dressing in Japanese street styles, and identifying strongly with subcultures. I love how alternative tribes create their own universe, where you don’t have to abide by regular notions of what is beautiful or accepted. Why not modify your body in extreme ways, take part in fetish events or cross-dress in cosplay? By starting a positive conversation and dispelling misunderstandings, I hope my blog can open minds to these different walks of life.
You were accepted into Yale Law School at age 20 and graduated with your J.D. What made you switch careers?
Law school helped me enormously with writing, negotiations and other important business skills. However, I didn't feel creatively fulfilled—it wasn't the right career for me. I poked around on the Internet and found subculture forums and style blogs that shared my passions. I wanted to give blogging a try, so I started my La Carmina site as a hobby and it became an obsession. Eventually, my work grew to different platforms. Today, I remain excited to blog about my adventures and talk with readers.
You've used your blog and social media presence to create a career for yourself. How did you build your empire?
I was lucky to have started early (in late 2007) when there were far fewer blogs. Everything built up organically. It was impossible for me to have a plan in mind since, at the time, blogging was a Wild West. About a year after I launched my blog, I attracted the attention of a literary agent and she got me book contracts with Penguin and Random House. After my books came out, TV producers contacted me about appearing on documentary and travel shows, and the jobs kept growing from there. The Internet changes quickly, and I've learned to adapt while staying true to my core. Right now, I'm focusing more on TV presenting and producing, and on original stories that encourage people to travel and think outside the box.
What opportunities has your online presence brought you?
Thanks to blog partnerships, my film team and I got to travel to places we never expected to see—including the Maldives, Dubai, Israel, Cape Town, Budapest and Cebu. We have some exciting destinations coming up in 2015. Other highlights include taking Andrew Zimmern to a jail-medical-horror theme restaurant. He’s a sweetheart, and our “Bizarre Foods” TV episode remains one of the most popular in the series. I also had a great time appearing on Discovery Channel’s “Oddities”, and playing with monkey waiters for Food Network’s “World’s Weirdest Restaurants.” You can check out these TV segments online.
What response has your blog received?
I always keep my online presence positive. I try to present topics fairly, clear up misunderstandings and encourage an intelligent conversation. Sometimes, people react strongly to coverage, such as about eyeball tattoos or bagelhead forehead inflation. But for the most part, people are respectful and curious. My stories about bizarre pop culture—like bunny-petting cafés, costume bars, cute cooking schools—especially get a lot of shares and comments.
You travel a lot. Where do you call home in Canada?
I grew up in Vancouver and love it here. Although I visit about a couple of destinations a month for work, I return to Vancouver in between. My family is here, and there’s so much to love about the city: gorgeous beaches and mountains, a laid-back indie scene and the freshest sushi and seafood.
You live with a blogging cat named Basil Farrow, previously owned by Mia Farrow’s son Ronan. What’s Basil’s story?
Contrary to some rumours, I didn't cut off his ears! Basil is a Scottish Fold cat, and was born this way. He’s a special little yellow fellow, who is always curious and up for a cuddle. I had “shared custody” for a while, but now Basil Farrow lives with me. Readers love to see my cat’s cute videos and personality quirks, such as how he lies upside-down or sits like a Buddha. I regularly post photos of him on Instagram.
What do you do when you are not working?
I love, love, love to sleep! I recently moved into a “Maohaus”, an apartment that I decorated to suit both me and my cat. We spend a lot of time lounging on our Essentia organic mattress. You can peek into our home here.
You've published three books about food, including Cute Yummy Time. Where does your love of food intersect with your love of the underground?
Initially, I focused my blog on Tokyo street style. However, as my site grew, I expanded my content to other areas of J-pop culture like theme restaurants and cute food. These strange trends fascinated me, since they reflect the “kawaii” culture (think Hello Kitty or Totoro), and fantasy worlds that locals can escape into. My posts about food got a massive response, and led me to signing with a literary agent. We expanded them into book proposals, and ended up with two publishing deals. Cute Yummy Time shows you how to make cute-faced meals, and Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants is a guide to Japan’s weirdest eateries, like Princess and Butler cafés.
What’s your advice for aspiring bloggers?
Blogging has changed immensely over the years, and continues to transform rapidly. There aren’t any set rules for success, but it’s important to keep up with the building blocks (like SEO and online marketing), and put out the best possible content (posting at least once a week, with high-quality photos and words). I encourage bloggers to grow a presence on the latest social networks. I went from MySpace to Facebook to Instagram, and now everyone is talking about Snapchat. Most professionals have a diverse income from different areas related to blogging (such as e-books, consulting, selling products), so I encourage people to treat their blog as one part of a larger business, and grow it creatively. Finally, don’t trade what you love to do for the sake of a larger audience. I’d rather have a smaller, passionate readership and work on projects I believe in than partner with big brand names and go for the highest numbers.
Images courtesy of La Carmina