Category Archive for Art + Design

San Francisco Goth parties & gay nightlife. Wicked Grounds, Cat Club.

wicked ground san francisco fetish cafe

Yikes, I’m extremely back-logged with blog posts… but they’ll come hot and heavy from now on, I promise.

Let’s go back in time, to our Wicked Grounds drag performance party. Then I’ll run through the best Gothic, alternative and LGBT nightlife in San Francisco. Sounds good? Strike a pose, vogue, and let’s go-go-GOTH.

giant cupcake cake

You’ll recall that some of my best friends and I gathered in San Francisco over Memorial Day Weekend (you can read all our SF adventures to date).

We learned a big travel lesson: it’s extremely stressful to travel during this American public holiday, since the rest of the country is doing the same. Hotels were booked solid, traffic was choked up… It took far too many hours to pick up this birthday cake with a boot on it (don’t ask why) and drive the short distance to the venue.

goth drag queen makeup

Still, Die Schwarze Frau managed to get dolled up, and vamped in the alleyway before her big American debut.

human sized cage

We got to Wicked Grounds, the San Francisco kink cafe, and immediately felt at home. The space is a gathering-place for the alt community, and has regular events such as themed munches. Plus, they serve yummy food and drinks.

girl whipping boy

We took full advantage of the human-sized cage, and tested out the selection of floggers

tiger girl drawing

Die Schwarze Frau’s performance was tiger-fierce. She whirled around, screamed at skulls, stripped, and did drops to the ground. I’ll show you more photos from her Tokyo performance soon, and perhaps a video!

body drawing, sketching

To open the show, Naomiyaki did spooky live drawings on bodies, such as an overturned bottle of poison. (She also took most of the photos in this post.)

live drawing on human back

Naomi asked the audience to participate and made body-art the spot, based on this girl’s personality. Thanks to everyone who came to our event, and to Wicked Grounds for hosting us: we loved meeting you, and hope to be back soon!

dark shadows goth party, cat club

After, the shenanigans continued at Dark Shadows, a much-loved San Francisco Gothic night at Cat Club. Such a pleasure to meet many readers and friends at this event.

san francisco goth clubs, nightlife

We’re quite the motley crew to party with. Can you spot in this photo: a bear, blood, Covenant, unicorns, Frankenstein?

goth girls san francisco

The DJ played some of our favorite synth-Goth tracks, like Mylène Farmer’s Désenchantée. On the right: “Despite all my rage, I’m still just a… bat in a cage.”

sf goth party, events

If you aren’t ready to commit to a permanent tattoo, Goth body-art lets you be expressive for a night.

san francisco gothic nightclubs

Things with Trevor got a bit blurry…

japanese hakama, samurai skirt 袴

I’m wearing a hakama, or traditional Japanese skirt as seen on samurai. It’s a modern interpretation by J-Goth brand Despair.

muni san francisco metro subway

The MUNI (San Fran subway system) was an easy way for us to club-hop. We weren’t in town for Death Guild at DNA Lounge (every Monday), but we managed to see Bianca Del Rio at Trannyshack. Remember this post about how we met the RuPaul’s Drag Race winner?

can can dancers, Konservatory SF

I adore retro culture — can can dancers, top hats, burlesque — so we stopped by an Absinthe Party to honor Autumn, the designer behind San Francisco’s Dark Garden Corsetry.

autumn, designer dark garden corsetry

She was traveling to Paris to further study the art of corset-making. (Soon, I’ll do a post about the shops we visited in San Francisco, including vintage and Jpop boutiques).

Dark Garden Absinthe Party

We raised a glass of the green fairy, and bid her bon voyage.

bondage a go go, cat club

On another night, we went to Bondage-a-Go-Go, held every Wednesday night at Cat Club. BaGG has been running for 21 years, and is a fixture in the “kinky, fetish-y, gothy, nerdy, punky, leather-y” San Fran scene.

san francisco bondage fetish party

Photos aren’t allowed unless you have special permission, so be assured this is a safe and private space for play. That night, we saw dungeon demos by people in masks, and Go-Go dancers in cages.

castro gay district

The only San Francisco nightlife that didn’t live up to our expectations… was the Castro gay district. Long lines, unfriendly bouncers, and a slightly dingy atmosphere. Stick to the Goth / alt scene, and the lively T-shack drag shows, and you’ll have a grand time in this city.

lgbt san francisco clubs

Have you experienced San Francisco’s clubs and bars? How do they compare to the scene in other cities?

If we missed out on anything in this round-up, let us know in the comments! Coming up: coverage from New York, Cape Town, Taipei, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul…

The Hippest Hotel in New York! Paper Factory Hotel in Long Island City, Queens.

la carmina hair, la carmina blog

While in New York for my recent TV shoot, I stayed at the newly-opened The Paper Factory Hotel. It’s a 100-year-old industrial space that has been transformed into an artsy hotel, with a magnificent view from the rooftop.

Come, and let’s explore a Factory that would delight Andy Warhol…

gal stern leggings, israeli pattern tights

How amazing is the NYC skyline from the hotel’s rooftop? (All images by Ryan Edwardson Photography)

I’m wearing hand-printed pattern tights c/o Gal Stern, a talented textile designer from Israel. My shoes are from Shinjuku Lumine.

new york skyline famous buildings

The purple knit top is Candy Stripper, found at Closet Child. My blue animal print dress is from Siam Discovery Center in Bangkok.

new york rooftop, graffiti roof

What a joy to explore this rooftop area, covered in intriguing graffiti like the words “Memento Mori.” This building has so much history: a century ago, it was a paper factory.

paper factory hotel, long island city

Today, it’s a 122-room hotel that is uber-modern and comfy, while preserving the historic manufacturing vibe. Old machine parts have become works of art, placed all around.

foosball machine, hipster boutique hotel nyc

Foosball, anyone?

manhattan skyline, tall buildings

The Paper Factory Hotel is located in an unexpected place: Long Island City / Astoria in Queens. (Address: 37-06 36th Street, Long Island City, New York).

Sounds far? Not at all: the location is just across the East River from Manhattan, and meters from two subway stops. Ride the metro for 15 minutes, and you’re in midtown.

red british telephone booth

“Moshi moshi?” I loved playing around with the eclectic objects around the hotel. These included a British telephone booth, Thai rickshaw, Vespa, and vintage kid-sized automobiles.

japanese selfies, iphone selfie taking

These days, the main function of phones is for selfie-taking, rather than making calls…

paper factory hotel, astoria queens

The Paper Factory Hotel cleverly pays tribute to its former incarnation. I noticed elements like a polished concrete floor, inset with clippings from 19th-century Queens newspapers.

nyc art hotel, ny coolest hotels

Althought I lived in Manhattan for years while attending school, I never explored Long Island City. Today, it’s become an emerging hip neighborhood, with a relaxed industrial vibe.

cool hip hotel new york

The lobby has a cafe — you can tell I’m pleased with my giant cup of coffee. Within walking distance, there were plenty of affordable local cafes and pubs. (And this area is safe, so don’t worry about walking around at night.)

paper factory hotel review, lobby

The staff was lovely, and I hope I can be back for the summer opening of Mundo, a earthy Mediterranean restaurant. The downstairs area may also be converted into a club or gallery space.

vintage tv, whitewall magazine

The Paper Factory Hotel often hosts art exhibits and workshops. They’re right by the Noguchi museum, MoMA PS1, and the Museum of the Moving Image.

blue green hair, v-finger selfies

I’m 100% behind their mission to encourage creativity and collaboration. The website states: “We will help connect you with other like-minded individuals so that you might perhaps motivate each other and restore innovation to all aspects of life.”

arty design hotel room, paper factory

My room was enormous — what a nice change from the usual cramped Manhattan spaces!

fixing hair in front of mirror

It even had a kitchenette and stand-alone mirror. I’m wearing a Moi-meme-moitie cemetery dress (Sleeping Garden print by Mana’s brand), and Gal Stern Flashback tights. You can shop her handmade legwear collection through her website.

white hotel robe, lounging on bed

I hope you’ll keep this hotel in mind, when you’re next visiting NY. Their site has special deals and lets you book online.

la carmina fashion blog, pretty

Thanks to the Paper Factory Hotel for hosting me and my TV team. We were blown away by this view of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings!

la carmina portrait, new york city view

I had the best time shooting with photographer Ryan Edwardson, who is based in Toronto. He has a great eye for composition and capturing natural moments.

model photoshoot, new york rooftop

Here is a behind-the-scenes shot from our photoshoot on the rooftop.

girl drinking coffee, happy

Ryan caught my happy reaction to a sip of fresh coffee.

ryan edwardson photography, toronto photographer

He’s a world traveler and storyteller, and this comes across in his photography. If you’re looking for a Toronto photographer — whether for weddings, commercial projects, portraits — keep Ryan Edwardson in mind.

paper factory hotel room, interior decor
sleepy scottish fold cat

I still have more photos from this chic boutique hotel to show you. Until then, you can see previews (and cat, and current travels in South Africa and Asia) on my LaCarmina Instagram.

Have you been to New York, New York? What do you think of the Paper Factory, and the mood of these images?

PS: I’m on the cover of Kirameki Magazine, out July 15! Here’s a preview of my magazine cover – yes, I’m wearing Moi-meme-Moitie.


We stayed at San Francisco Zen Center! Buddhist temple guest rooms, garden, meditation classes.

san francisco zen center interior

Yukiro and I wanted our San Francisco journey to be rejuvenating. A time to regroup with friends and chill out. With these goals in mind, we did something I’ve dreamed about for a long time… and went on a mini-retreat at the San Francisco Zen Center.

Read on for the story of our Buddhist temple stay, and how these guest rooms are a hidden travel gem.

Shunryu Suzuki, soto zen buddhist priest

In 1959, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi arrived from Japan to be the head of the Soto Zen temple in San Francisco. He spoke English, and encouraged people from all walks of life to sit zazen with him. As a result, the Zen Center became a gathering spot for creatives in the Beat and hippie movements.

buddha statue, hand positions

Suzuki-san established the Beginner’s Mind Temple (Hosshin-ji) in 1969. We stayed at the current location of this “City Center” (308 Page St at Laguna). The SFZC also has locations in Tassajara and Green Gulch, for more isolated retreats and intensive practice.

buddhist colorful statue, rainbow buddha

The historic building carries a genuine, natural sense of calmness. The front hall is decorated with sparse but graceful elements, like this meditating Buddha.

sf zen center meditation room

A shadow of a monk on a scroll: so simple and beautiful. The door leads to the meditation hall, where all are welcome to take off their shoes and enter.

san francisco zen guest rooms, hotel

You can imagine what a joy it was, to make this our home! The Zen Center offers lovely guest rooms for $105-$162 a night, which includes a healthy breakfast with the residents, and lunch and dinner by donation. These accommodations aren’t listed in any hotel sites, and are an incredible value considering the location and experiences offered.

queer dharma, lgbt zen buddhism

As you can see from these posters, the SF Zen Center welcomes diversity. There is a regular “Queer Dharma” for LGBT practitioners, and their website states, “People of every race, nationality, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, and physical ability — all are welcome.”

We felt perfectly comfortable staying here: there are no curfews or restrictions. Our rooms had Wi-Fi Internet, along with Buddha statues, Yogi tea and lavender soap.

city center, zen meditation retreat

Plus, we felt great about supporting the Zen Center, and taking part in the Buddhist practice. All guests are welcome to attend classes, dharma talks, and ceremonies. You can see upcoming listings in their events calendar.

zen buddhist garden, fountain

Our favorite part of the San Francisco Zen Center was the courtyard garden.

I’m wearing a vintage Japanese robe (it’s been in my family for years), Liz Lisa dress, and white sandals c/o Y-R-U.

red kimono, buddhist gardening

Such relief to slow down, breathe and appreciate nature.

buddhist altar, flowers statue

The garden is filled with hidden Buddhas. Look closely, and altars will appear.

blue kimono girl, japanese buddhist

If you want to stay longer, SFZC offers a two-year Work Practice Apprenticeship program for Zen students, “to express, make accessible, and embody the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha.”

san francisco zen center garden trees

One of the foundations of Zen Buddhism is to live in the moment — something that people often forget, leading to stress and unhappiness. As Shunryu Suzuki Roshi wrote, “Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.”

close up fountain, water motion

He taught, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.”

wood buddha altar, SFZC

“What we call “I” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale.” Now that is food for thought…

praying buddha, zen bookstore

The City Center has a bookstore, where you find Buddhist works including Suzuki Roshi’s well-loved book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

san francisco zen city center building

The SFZC Zen Center is a very special place, and part of San Francisco history. I’m grateful we spent time here, as I’ve always wanted to do a temple stay. I hope you’ll also get the chance to visit, take a class, or rent a guestroom in this Buddhist monastery.

buddhist temple stay, retreat

Sending you loving-kindness. I’ll soon be exploring more Buddhist environments… stay tuned for the announcement of a major Asia trip.

japanese buddhist zen art

Are you familiar with Buddhist teachings? If you’re curious, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is a wonderful book for getting acquainted. After all, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…”

scottish fold cat x-ing sign

Or as my Scottish Fold Zen Master would say, “Mmm mmm mmm!” (I found him this cat crossing sign at a Pier 39 pet gifts store.)


San Fran: cable cars & Chinatown! Meet me in NY, June 13: Chara-con cosplay, avantgarde party.

rainbow wall, colorful mural

Let’s do the “San Francisco Disco”! I have many colorful posts to share with you, from my recent trip.

But first, let me announce my next destination… New York, NY. I’m here for a secret TV shoot, and want to celebrate Friday the 13th (of June) with you.

alice's pig, rose skirt crop top

On 6/13, hang out with me at Maid Cafe NY, for their very first cosplay event — Chara-Con! I’ll be the special judge of the “character contest,” with awards for Craftsmanship, Styling, and Crowd’s Choice. Winners will get tickets for New York Comic Con 2014, and giftcards from Cosplay Shopper. Applications can be found here, and will be accepted until June 12th.

Even if you don’t want to dress up, I hope you’ll come experience this unique maid cafe, and cheer on the cosplayers. No cover. See you there!

WHEN: Friday, June 13 from 6-8pm
WHERE: Maid Cafe NY, 150 Centre St, NYC
RSVP: Via their Facebook invite

king vulcanus levi, ny club kid personality

Later that evening, I’ll be hosting an underground party with nightlife royalty, King Vulcanus Levi. Join us at Friday Factory, a Vaudeville experience for the 21st Century. See avantgarde artists (including my friend Lauren from Tokyo!), musicians, dancers, tarot readers and more. Come have a drink with us, and enjoy Mediterranean snacks from much-loved Chef Fred Mero.

WHEN: Friday, June 13 from 10pm-2am
WHERE: La Rosetta, 243 W 14th St, NYC
ENTRY: A discounted $10 if you say “La Carmina” at the door, with a free drink and snacks

San Francisco castro, lgbt rainbow

Back to the Frisco-Disco. I’ve been to San Francisco about five times (it’s one of my favorite US cities), but this was Yukiro’s first visit. On Day One, we decided to take in SF’s most famous sights.

This blog is 99% about the alternative, bizarre, underground side of travel (like the drag queen mega-show) — but why not also see what cities are famous for? It would be rather obnoxious to go to Paris and avoid the Eiffel Tower, or visit Cairo and shun the Pyramids.

San Francisco fashion blogger outfit post

In any case, no matter what we do, we tackle it with our signature style.

I’m wearing a rose-print “Reality Trip” crop top and skirt, c/o Alice’s Pig — I adore their vintage, romantic designs. My white platform shoes are c/o YRU. Can’t get enough of their funky designs.

pier 39 carousel, kids riding

San Francisco Tourism gave us Muni (metro) passes that let us hop around easily. We rode to Embarcadero Station, and walked to Pier 39 (to save time, change to the light rail). This is a favorite waterfront attraction, filled with shops, seafood restaurants and a cute carousel.

merry go round, San Francisco wharf

Yes, we rode the merry-go-round. I conquered a zebra, and Yukiro straddled a seal.

asian kids on horses carousel ride

I first traveled to San Francisco when I was six years old. It’s a wonderful destination for everyone, from children to alternative club kids.

view of alcatraz, San Francisco pier 39

Many tourists take a ferry to the famous island prison, Alcatraz. We decided to only walk around the pier, and dine on the fresh seafood…

poster against shark's fin soup

… but not on shark fin soup, of course! Such a cruel and wasteful practice.

San Francisco aquarium of the bay

Since we had passes, we ducked into the Aquarium of the Bay to admire leopard sharks and other “under the sea” creatures. The sea otters were sleeping, but outside, we saw dozens of sea lions flopped on the marina dock.

blue jellyfish in tank

Yukiro was a bit creeped out by the jelly-fish. (We’ve been watching an anime about a rich cross-dressing boy and a dorm of otaku girls, called Princess Jellyfish – have you seen it?)

kissing a frog

What happens when an evil queen kisses a frog?

bourdin bear shaped bread

Onward to Ghirardelli Square at Fisherman’s Wharf. We ducked into the Boudin bakery, known for its turtle and bear-shaped breads. However, we did most of our shopping at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods (in Japan, it’s difficult and expensive to get dark grain, gluten free and other healthy specialty foods).

San Francisco fisherman's wharf, Musée Mécanique

We met a street performer, carrying a real bunny in a basket on his head. The Musée Mécanique at Pier 45 is always a hoot. It contains creepy, antique penny-arcade machines, like peep shows and fortune tellers.

San Francisco Chinatown streets, lanterns

You can’t miss two of the most colorful districts, Chinatown and North Beach (aka Little Italy, and home to the Beats’ City Lights Bookstore).

chinese lucky cats

We found fans, lucky cats and other Chinese kitsch.

san fran chinatown stores

Coming up, I’ll show you Japantown, Haight Ashbury and San Francisco’s best alternative-spooky stores.

cable car, san francisco tram

Also on the “SF Must Do” list: riding a cable car. It stops by a fantastic anime and manga store, Powell Gifts.

kids riding powell street cable car

I first did this when I was a kid (that’s me in the pink).

painted ladies, san francisco houses

Stroll around and admire the Painted Ladies, or colorful Victorian-Edwardian houses that are signature San Fran.

old first church, steampunk cross

How gorgeous is this steampunk-ish church cross?

san francisco architecture homes

Tip: wear good shoes, since you’ll be walking up and down steep hills. We passed by Lombard Street, the zig-zag road in Russian Hill.

baker beach golden gate bridge view

Finally, an obligatory shot of the Golden Gate Bridge. This view is from Baker Beach in Presidio.

steiner street full house

And let’s not forget Steiner Street, the residence of Full House! I half expected Uncle Jesse to sing us a song.

Did you enjoy our touristy-tour of San Francisco? Don’t worry, the next posts are about the alt stuff: skeleton shops, BDSM cafes and play parties.

Sending you a kiss (notice my shorter hair cut)? See you in New York City — please tell your friends about my Friday, June 13th events at Maid Cafe NY and La Rosetta (info at the top of this post). See you all soon!