Want to travel the world? Be on TV? Write a book? La Carmina has done all that and more. After being accepted to Yale Law School at just 20 years old, La Carmina needed a creative outlet and began a style blog in September 2007. Since then, La Carmina has acquired an impressive resume a mere 7 years after her graduation from Columbia University. College Lifestyles had the chance to pick this multimedia guru’s brain, and find out how you can do all the cool things she does – for a living.
College Lifestyles (CL): Could you explain for our readers what exactly it is you do?
La Carmina (LC): I’m a travel and fashion TV host, journalist, and blogger at http://www.lacarmina/com/blog. My focus is on alternative and Gothic youth subcultures, in Japan and all over the world. I was born in Vancouver, Canada and studied at Columbia University and Yale Law, but I started a blog and it led me down a life-changing road. I’m now the author of 3 books — including Cute Yummy Time (Penguin) and Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo (Random House) — and a journalist for CNN, Huffington Post, AOL. My ”First Mate” and I started a TV fixing, hosting and coolhunting (CL Note: ie trendspotting) firm, called “La Carmina & The Pirates.” I also host my own web series for AOL / Huffington Post, and constantly travel for appearances and press trips (this year, I participated in a panel and sat front row at New York Fashion Week). Right now, my focus is on television presenting; my credits include The Today Show, Travel Channel, NHK Japan, Fuel/Discovery/National Geographic, Food Network, Pepsi, Sony, Norway TV, CNN. All my TV clips are here.
CL: How did you start each of these ventures?
LC: From the start, my blog focused on my passion: Japanese, alternative and subculture style. As fashion blogging blew up, I was fortunate to have opportunities to host TV shows, travel (New York, Italy, Hong Kong, Mexico, Japan), and write for major publishers and media organizations. My site organically led to these opportunities; Andrew Zimmern’s production company found me because I wrote a book about theme restaurants and blogged about bizarre Japanese cafes. They invited to be the guide on Bizarre Foods in Tokyo. After, I kept receiving television hosting and arranging offers, so I started a company with my First Mate Naomi, called La Carmina & The Pirates. We also do coolhunting, consulting, Tokyo tour guiding and other missions.
CL: What is a typical day like for you?
LC: Each day is different, depending on whether I’m on a TV shoot, traveling, or working on my site and Pirate jobs. If I’m on a travel TV shoot, it’s go-go-go from morning to night. There’s tons of advance planning, from getting filming permits to sorting out each step of the itinerary. On low-key days, I spend time with my Scottish Fold cat, Basil Farrow, and catch up on the deluge of emails that never seems to end.
CL: By the looks of it, you’re an extremely busy person – how do you manage your time?
LC: I believe in “working smart.” A lot of people work themselves to the ground for no reason or gain. I think it’s important to manage your time well, say no to the unessential tasks, and delegate. Fortunately, since my work is strongly personality-based, work and play are usually linked.
CL: How did you become interested in Japanese culture?
LC: Since my family is from Asia, we often traveled to Japan when I was young. In my early teens, I visited Harajuku and adored the vibrant street fashion and culture – Jrock, Gothic Lolita, Punk, Kawaii. This was the initial spark that led to where I am today. I continue to be fascinated by Japanese pop culture, such as the weird theme restaurants and cute bento boxes.
CL: How did last year’s 3/11 earthquake affect your work?
LC: Many of my friends were affected by the disaster, and I wanted to do something to help. I fundraised in LA, and released two design collaborations to benefit Japan: a HOPE benefit t-shirt with Like Atmosphere, and a panda bear necklace with Soho Hearts. Both are for sale here, with proceeds going to the earthquake and tsunami victims. These charity collections are meaningful to me because they’re an artistic response to the disaster; a way to raise awareness and rebuild. On the anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami (March 11), I also teamed up with two amazing Industrial dancers, tank9 and Mary Nine. We filmed a dance video in Seattle, for Ridley Scott’s “Japan in a Day” project — you can watch it here. Our footage captures the immense positivity and energy of youths teaming up for an important cause.
CL: Why do you think you’ve become so successful as an online presence, and how can CL readers do the same?
LC: Part of it is luck and good timing; I started La Carmina blog in 2007, when blogging was a relatively new phenomenon. I posted frequently, participated in social networks and built everything up gradually. I also feel that when an opportunity presents itself, you should try to take it as far as it can go — the sky’s the limit. I never dreamed I could have these amazing gigs in travel and TV, but now it’s my life.
CL: How did your undergraduate experience shape your career?
LC: I studied at Columbia University in New York City. I like to say I majored in “nightcrawling,” since I probably learned more from the city’s alt nightlife than the classroom! However, I loved my school’s Core Curriculum, and humanities courses in Japanese culture and philosophy. Going to Columbia and Yale Law let me explore my interests and figure out what I wanted to do.
CL: What advice do you have for aspiring writers/fashion designers/TV hosts?
LC: Prove that you’ve got the track-record (schooling, portfolio of successful projects). Show numbers and the results that you can
deliver. And only work with people who “get it.” You have something special to offer, a window into the world you inhabit — so make sure your clients appreciate and respect that. I think a college education always helps to broaden your mind, and get you where you want to be.
CL: What’s your favorite place you’ve been and why?
LC: I love Tokyo’s spooky scene. You’ll always find me and my friends at Goth Industrial and Fetish parties. I also spend too much time in the Japanese Lolita Jrock Punk second hand store, Closet Child.
CL: What’s your favorite part of the job? What’s the most difficult?
LC: Nothing makes me happier than hearing from readers, who say my blog brightened up their day, or inspired/ helped them in some way. Sometimes it’s challenging to work for yourself — you have to always juggle and chase new projects — but I love the freedom and flexibility it gives me.
CL: How do you manage your personal relationships when you travel so much?
LC: Skype and email makes it easy to keep in touch. And my Scottish Fold cat, Basil Farrow is endlessly forgiving.
CL: Goth-Loli style is beautiful but very dramatic. What is a good ’starter outfit’ for someone who wants to incorporate a little bit of this style in their wardrobe?
LC: There’s no rulebook that states you must own certain items or wear expensive Japanese brands to enter this lovely world. Instead, you can make Lolita a part of your life in many small ways. And the further you explore this wonderland, the more your confidence will grow. Start with tiny “tips of the hat” to Lolita fashion in your daily wear. For example, you might wear a big bow in your hair, or doll eyelashes, or a cute tutu skirt. My friends and I like to mix Loli influences into our clothes; we don’t believe you have to look like an Angelic Pretty model in order to genuinely enjoy the fashion.
CL: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
LC: “Don’t be a tuna head!” From the Maniac Mansion computer game.
CL: Is there anything important that you’d like to share with CL that I haven’t asked?
LC: It’s impossible to predict the path you’ll end up on, but a college education will always help you to get there. I’ve found that my writing and reporting has benefited from my studies, and that companies have been more keen to work with me because of my degrees. I didn’t end up in law, but found a path that I love, and that’s 100% me. And you can do the same! I hope you’ll stay tuned to my La Carmina blog, to see where my adventures take me next.
Sasha Graffagna is a New York University junior studying Journalism and Comparative Literature. She is currently on exchange at La Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan, Puerto Rico.