Category Archive for Fashion
Hipster Helsinki travel guide: steampunk bar Hell-Sinki! Kallio district, coffee shops, modern design stores.
For those who love alternative subcultures… Helsinki is one “hell” of a travel destination!
In part one of my “Finlandia” journey, I took you to a mod furniture exhibit, and sauna / restaurant by the water. Now, I’ll show you around the coolest restaurants and shops in the hipster Kallio district. We’ll end up in a Steampunk bar that looks like an airship, complete with jets of steam.
(I’m wearing this Spider bomber coat. It’s one of my favorites, and currently on sale.)
But first, some quick happy news: La Carmina is nominated for the Best Blog Award!
I was wondering if you’d be willing to take 10 seconds to vote for me? Every bit of support counts, and you can vote once a day.
● Just click here to vote for La Carmina – I’m at the end of the check list. Thank you so much for believing in me, I really appreciate your kindness over the years!
Helsinki is one of the world’s most liberal and progressive cities — to the point where the pamphlets say, “We are not gay friendly. We are gay!”
My film team and I spent an afternoon in the Kallio district of Helsinki, where young artsy types tend to congregate.
Quite a few readers recommended Good Life Coffee, in the heart of Kallio. I was sold by their motto: “Avoid Bad Coffee.”
This coffeeshop chooses high grade beans, and takes a “no bull” approach to roasting and brewing (in their words). The result is simple, honest and delicious.
Good Life is a cozy spot for meeting up with friends, and flipping through design magazines. They also sell baked goods from local bakers; the restaurant / bar Sandro next door is also highly rated.
There’s a similar “Coffee Is Always a Good Idea” wood wall art available here.
If you’re digging my purse, you might like these Sanrio bags and platforms below:
A city with “hell” in its name has to have a dark subculture, right? At the rock shop Hell-Sinki, we found Scandinavian death metal soundtracks that would be perfect for a Viking invasion.
Then, it was time for a drink at the Steampunk bar, Steam Hellsinki.
The bar is a futuristic, fantasy vision of the Victorian era meets the Wild Wild West. Old fashioned steam technology is reimagined in creative ways, and displayed all throughout the space.
It’s amazing to see how Steampunk has spread all over the world. (Remember when we went to a steam punk coffee shop in Cape Town, South Africa?)
The decor at Steam Hell Sinki is on point. We saw Gothic types hanging out on the retro couches, beneath vintage bicycles and lamps.
The piece de resistance… is a giant zeppelin airship that doubles as a bar! Colored lights dance over the blimp, giving the impression of movement. Every so often, fog spews out from the hull.
Flowers, old pianos and vintage Victrolas add to the retro-fantasy Steampunk theme.
The resident dog is trained to put his paws up on the bar, upon command. Good boy.
Steam HellSinki has almost 100 types of gin available. The famous gin and tonics are garnished with berries and spices, and the special menu includes cocktails that come in teapots and cups.
We loved spending a relaxing evening under the chandeliers. Steampunk fans, don’t miss out on this “hell” of a bar.
No doubt, Finland is a world leader for interior design. I’m obsessed with Scandinavian and mid-century modern, so it was a joy to visit the Artek store. (They carry designs including the ones below).
If you’re as much of a design fangirl as I am, don’t miss out on the DesignMuseo (where I caught the Eero Aarnio retrospective) and nearby Design District Helsinki.
Helsinki has innovative interiors everywhere, including restaurants. I had lunch at the wonderfully named cafe, Why join the navy when you can be a pirate. Good question, arr.
I love eating clean, and feasted on the fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies, juices, and healthy wraps. Since we’re pirates, we ordered a round of local gin (try Fevertree or Napue), garnished with rosemary and cranberries, and mixed with local tonic.
(My Spider bomber coat is fit for the captain of a pirate ship.)
We had dinner with a view at Southpark Restaurant. You might be thinking “Omg they killed Kenny” — but this is not actually a theme restaurant based on the South Park cartoon. It’s a “ravintola” named because it is in the south end of Helsinki’s Sinebrychoff park.
Southpark has a wonderful atmosphere filled with light, and walls decorated with modern art. The hashtags say it all: #HellaGoodFood, #SoCalSoCool.
A lot of regulars come here, which give the room a neighborhood vibe. We loved how the owners personally took care of us, and came by the tables to chat with their guests.
All the cocktails get my top marks, especially the 1919 Sour. (They’re pictured with postcards of Tom of Finland, who pushed the boundaries of gay art in the mid 20th century.)
I know Californian food well, and Southpark nails it. The tacos were magnificent (and I’m picky), and their recipes fuse this style of cuisine with local catch and produce.
For a meal that’s fresh and full of color, and served by a friendly staff — come to Southpark, “Mmm-kay?”
Both share a passion for sustainability and organic production. In Nudge, you’ll find one-of-a-kind clothing made by Finnish designers, like this dreamy bird kimono.
All the designs come from independent creators: you’ll find natural cosmetics, eco-friendly accessories, and Finnish children’s items. (The bat necklace was calling out to me.)
Located in the same space is Rulla, where you can feast on hand-made healthy rice rolls with a Scandinavian twist. The options include salmon and shrimp with herbs, and side of tangy sauces.
Time to wind down at the hippest hotel in Helsinki, Scandic Paasi. The building overlooks the water, and is located next to a lovely park.
A picture is worth a thousand words… Scandic Paasi has outstanding modern design, in the lobby and spacious rooms.
We’re big fans of Scandic Hotels, which give great service and luxury at an affordable price point. (Remember our stay in Stockholm’s Grand Central by Scandic?)
The color-blocked bar was a mod dream. I encourage you to book a room Scandic Paasi if you’re going to Helsinki.
“Kiitos” (thank you in Finnish) to BorderlessMedia.tv for all the photography.
Helsinki is a city full of creativity — wouldn’t you agree?
● PS thank you for taking a few seconds to vote for me in the Best Blog Awards! It’ll make a huge difference in the final round (ending Jan 20), and I really appreciate your support over the years.
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I stayed at Tokyo’s Godzilla Hotel! Gracery Shinjuku, Japanese theme hotel review, Akihabara Washington.
Skreeeonk! Watch out, Tokyo. It looks like Godzilla is taking over the city once again.
Did you know you can stay at a Godzilla monster themed hotel: Hotel Gracery Shinjuku? Only in Japan, of course!
Let’s kick off 2017 with a roar. I’ll take you inside Gracery Shinjuku, a wonderfully idiosyncratic hotel in the best possible location. (Godzilla’s claw points over Kabuki-Cho, the host club and nightlife district where most of the Goth / alternative events take place.)
● You can book a discounted room at the Godzilla hotel here, using my special link.
On the terrace of the hotel is a towering Godzilla statue — it doesn’t get more epic than this. The monster even moves and roars, with flashing eyes!
Where is this bizarre Japanese hotel located? From Shinjuku station’s East Exit, walk towards Kabukicho and go down the street near Don Quixote. Look up — you’ll see the Hotel Gracery sign, and Godzilla atop a skyscraper!
It makes sense that he’s towering over Toho Cinemas, which releases all the Japanese Godzilla movies. (Address: 1-19-1 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Japan.)
The hotel has 30 storeys, which meant I had these soaring views of Shinjuku from my window. Gracery’s rooms are simple yet spacious, which provides great value (prices are around $100 a night). I spent over an hour soaking in the large bathtub, using the free red bath salts that I got when I checked in.
For fans of “dai kaiju”… There’s a Godzilla room that you can rent. Keep reading to see photos of the “monstrous” interior.
Hotel Gracery only opened in 2015, but already, it has become a Shinjuku landmark — thanks to the Godzilla perched menacingly over its ledge.
I’m wearing a Long Clothing Infinity Clip skirt. See more from this designer below:
If you’re a guest of the hotel, you can access the terrace where Godzilla lives… that is, if you dare.
Hotel Gracery’s convenient location makes it a perfect hangout. John and I invited our friends to join us for drinks and snacks at “Café Terrace Bonjour,” located on the eighth floor.
The cafe is guarded by a life-sized version of the monster, similar to this 1995 Godzilla statue that you can put in your home.
The relaxing lounge has an adjoining outdoor terrace, and large selection of snacks and cocktails. There’s even a Godzilla cake that you can bite into.
However, my friend Caro (who runs a Gothic baking blog) brought her own homemade spooky sweets for us to share. These are marshmallow ghost cookies are made with white chocolate and absinthe, in colors that match her green liquid lipstick.
Everyone grabbed a ghoul to eat. By the end of the evening, they had vanished into thin air.
(Many of us are wearing Killstar, Long Clothing and other Gothic styles that you can get on this site.)
In the evening, Godzilla awakens at the top of each hour (6pm, 7pm, etc). For a few minutes, he shakes his head and his eyes flash like lightning. The creature bares his pointed teeth and spits out fog — or rather, his secret weapon of “atomic breath.”
We did our own impression of the scary beast. I think Goths and Godzillas get along rather well together.
Beneath the behemoth, there are carvings of Godzilla from his films over the years. The monster’s design changes every time they release a movie, such as with the latest “Shin-Godzilla.”
Some of the depictions are more goofy-retro than frightening.
For those who aren’t familiar with “Gojira,” (ゴジラ), the monster first appeared in Ishirō Honda’s 1954 film, Godzilla (more info here). He’s a raging, gigantic prehistoric sea monster whose powers were awakened by nuclear radiation.
Japan’s Godzilla quickly became a legend, and his name is now known all over the world. To this date, he’s the star of over 20 films, as well as video games, manga and spin-offs featuring his allies, rivals and juniors.
John, Atsushi and I are fans of Godzilla, even though he’s destroyed Tokyo over and over. My skirt is a Long Clothing Infinity Clip design; find more from this label at:
For super-fans, Hotel Gracery has two special suites dedicated to Godzilla! One gives you the perfect view of Godzilla’s head, from your window.
The other, called “Godzilla Room,” lets you get immersed in the monster’s universe. Everything is decorated playfully, such as trick walls that reveal art in black light, and a mega-statue that greets you when you enter.
The suite’s windows have decals of his frenemies such as Mothra, who appears to be spreading his wings over Tokyo.
High five to Gracery Shinjuku, for the creative Godzilla room decoration. Would you be able to sleep with his scaly hand on the wall, looking like it’s about to grab you?
One of the walls is decorated with his movie posters, from the 1950s to today. I enjoyed seeing the concept evolution over time. (Photos by John S and me.)
SpaceGodzilla came down from the stars. Such a creative window design — from this angle, it looks like he’s about to tear this skyscraper out from the ground.
The Japanese love their home-grown monster, and even named this Godzilla road after him (leading from Meiji-doori to Hotel Gracery).
I always recommend that travelers stay in Shinjuku, since it’s close to everything. Hotel Gracery is in the best possible location: near Decabarz (the alternative Goth club), Golden Gai, host clubs, bizarre theme restaurants, cat cafes, and all types of delicious food. In the area underneath the hotel for example, there’s takoyaki, okonomiyaki, sushi, and Krispy Kreme.
Hotel Gracery did a spectacular job in executing the Godzilla theme. There’s impeccable attention to detail…
… and tributes to the “kaiju” all over the lobby, such as this mural leading up to the elevators.
Fans of Godzilla, King Ghidara and Mothra — you’ve got to check out this unique hotel.
While in Tokyo, I got to rest my head at yet another theme hotel, Washington Akihabara. (Japan’s Washington Hotels are under the same umbrella as Gracery.)
Located in the “otaku” district of Japan, this is the only hotel in the world with a room dedicated to train aficionados. One of the walls contains a glass case, filled with miniature re-constructions of railway stations. (Above, can you spot No Face?)
Washington Hotel is once again in a convenient location: a 1-minute walk from JR Akihabara Station. (Address: 1-8-3 Kanda Sakumacho, Chiyoda, Tokyo)
Train fans can reserve Room 1304, which has a huge train track with professional levers. You can borrow one of the hotel’s model trains, put it on the rails, and use the gears to make it whizz around at different speeds.
Above, you can see a blue and green train looping around on opposite tracks. The model set includes the city’s landmarks, including Tokyo Tower.
Once again, the rooms are clean and spacious, and excellent value (book a room for under $90 here). Hotel Washington also has a terrific included breakfast: I ate my fill of hiyayakko (chilled soft tofu), pickled vegetables, tamago and miso soup every day.
You can also find out more about Hotel Gracery Shinjuku and book a room here (you can request the Godzilla suite).
Have you watched any of the Godzilla movies? Would you stay in this eccentric theme hotel?
Coming up – a travel video and more posts from my JR Rail Pass trip through Japan. If you’re planning to come in the spring for cherry blossom season, it’s a great idea to get one of these unlimited passes, which let you ride the rails at a fraction of the cost.
It’s almost the holidays, and I’m winding down my travels for the year. While in Hong Kong this month, I snapped some photos in front of a cute Xmas tree and decorations.
I’ve had so many work trips this year that it’s been hard to catch up on blogging. There’s a lot from Asia to come (Hong Kong, Myanmar, Japan).
But before Christmas comes around, it feels right to release my final post from Brussels — one of my favorite destinations of 2016.
If you Brussels is a boring city — then I have a feeling this story will change your mind.
“Bruxelles” is currently one of the best places in Europe to be a young artist. There’s a huge number of new galleries and fairs here, which are open to emerging artists. These experimental attitudes and relatively low rents have resulted in a vibrant scene (remember the David Bowie mural I wrote about?)
Not convinced? Then let’s start with a visit to a fetish art exhibit!
Visit Belgium introduced us to Maison Particulière, and it turned out to be one of the best exhibits I’ve seen in a long time. (Address: Rue du Châtelain 49, 1050 Ixelles, Belgium)
This unconventional space is a private townhouse originally built in 1880. Nothing is for sale, but anyone can walk in and appreciate the works without fees. Maison Particuliere encourages you to pick up a book, curl up on one of the seats, and enjoy the displays for as long as you wish.
The exhibits are constantly changing, and pertain to a theme. With S&M birdhouses, silicone labias and Thai ladyboys… I’d say this “ta.bu” curation lives up to its name!
Everything — from Mapplethorpe nude photographs, to scandalous taxidermy — reflected on the idea of taboo.
“Banned, proscribed, prohibited, censored, feared, dreaded, transgressed, trespassed… Taboos are inherent to society and to mankind. No matter what they are, taboos are invariably rooted in the fear of danger.”
The idea of Taboo was expressed in an impressive range of mediums. Age, disease, sexuality, sadomasochism and other “repulsive” subjects are brought to the forefront for discussion.
Some of the works were unnerving, such as large-scale paintings that depicted the Holocaust.
Others took a funny, pop culture approach. Quite the surprise to come across giant hanging boobs, and a monkey fetus in a sack!
I came across works that commented on body modifications, such as this tattooed pig. Maison Particuliere did an incredible job at facing these social dangers head-on, and left me with a lot of food for thought.
Onward, to a very different yet equally impressive environment. The St. Gilles district is home to many top galleries, including Galerie Daniel Templon (Address: Rue Veydt 13A, 1060 Saint-Gilles, Belgium).
I was immediately captivated by the dream-world spun by Japan’s Chiharu Shiota. She covered the room in black cobwebs, hand-laced and knotted by hand. With this deceptively simple technique, she conjures up subconscious feelings: the past, dreams, anxieties.
Brussels is a magnet for the world’s most exciting contemporary artists. Perhaps you’ve heard of Chiharu Shiota from her massive display of keys, strung by red yarn, at the 2015 Venice Biennale.
She created this original installation in a single week. At the opening of “Sleeping is like Death”, her two assistants slept in hospital beds covered by dark spider webbing — uncanny, eerie, magnificent.
I explored more of Brussels’ art scene with my local friend, Jérémie Venganza of Super Dragon Punch!!, a synthbit Industrial band.
We walked next door to the Op Art exhibition, called “Let’s Move” at La Patinoire Royale.
(I’m wearing a coat by Alice’s Pig.)
We were dazzled by the eye-popping displays of kinetic art from 1955 to 1985. There were works from more than 30 artists, all of which tricked the mind into perceiving motion and dimensions. Once again, an offbeat and world-class collection — free for anyone to see.
Our last stop was “Pop Art in Belgium,” a temporary collection at the ING Art Center. It brought together famous works from stars of the movement (Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist) — and even had a funny photo booth in the basement.
After all that astonishing modern art, it was time for a drink. Jeremie took me to a Gothic / metal bar, Le Cerceuil or “The Coffin.”(Address: Rue des Harengs 10-12, 1000 Bruxelles)
Le Cercueil burst into the city center in 1974, after the popularity of horror movie, “The Exorcist.” The decor lives up to its morbid names: Skulls and bones and death, oh my!
Inside the dive-y basement, we sat on couches next to ribcages and monster paintings. Metallica and other metal bands blasted from the speakers.
Like a scene from The Rocky Horror Picture Show… the table are shaped like coffins, with skeletons inside!
The drink menu had a long list of gruesomely-named cocktails, like Sperm of the Devil and Piss of the Cadaver.
We had a fabulously spooky time at Le Cerceuil. Highly recommended for those who like to hang out in cemeteries.
Jeremie also recommended Floris Bar, nearby in the City Center. (Address: Impasse de la Fidélité 12, 1000 Bruxelles) I nicknamed it “Absinthe Heaven” because… well, this photo says it all.
Over 350 varieties of the Green Fairy, including Belle Epoque, Die Grune, Fee Verte, Tabu. The environment is a little touristy, but the spectacular selection of absinth — served French-style, with flames — makes it worth the trip.
Did I change your preconceptions of Brussels? I found out for myself that the modern art scene is edgy, and among the most vibrant in all of Europe. (Belgian photos by BorderlessMedia.)
PS – you can purchase this exact dress that I’m wearing on my Depop (browse all items here, and email email@example.com to buy directly from me). There’s also a similar velvet dress by Alice’s Pig available here, at a discount.
Got any Nightmare Before Xmas plans? Will you be traveling anywhere over the holiday season?
Park Hotel Tokyo: luxury art & culture hotel in Shiodome! Japanese artist project, decorated theme rooms.
As that Italo disco song goes: “Tokyo by night / City full of light. I will lead you through / Tokyo by night.”
That sums up the feeling of my stay at Park Hotel Tokyo, a modern skyscraper filled with Japanese design and culture. Every evening, I looked out from my Artist Room on the 31st floor — decorated floor-to-ceiling in wabisabi — at the neon twinkle of the Tokyo Tower.
As you’ll recall, I was traveling around Japan using a JRailPass, which gives me unlimited access to JR trains (including shinkansen, buses and some ferries). If you purchase a Japan Rail Pass like mine (for 1-3 weeks), I recommend beginning your trip in Tokyo. Spend at least 5-7 days here, and then activate your pass to start riding the rails.
I’m glad I stayed at Park Hotel in Shiodome (near Ginza), as the entire experience is designed to immerse you in Japanese art and culture. My Instagram lit up when I showed you the soaring views from my hotel room window.
(Find out more about Park Hotel, and book a stay.)
From the moment you step into the 25th floor lobby, Park Hotel lives up to its reputation for omotenashi, or Japanese-style hospitality. The kind staff anticipates all your needs, and everyone speaks fluent English.
(For my Japan travels, my stylist Stephanie Hoy at Sugar Skull Studio made my hair grey and green.)
In 2012, Park Hotel Tokyo initiated an “Artist in Hotel” project, which brings in local artists to decorate a room on the 31st floor.
To date, there are over a dozen art rooms on this floor, each inspired by some aspect of Japanese culture. The creative themes include Sumo, Zen, and Lucky Cat. Photographer John S and I got to take an inside look — read on for the details and to learn about each artist.
My black lace necklace is this exact choker by Shashi. With embroidered detailing and a lobster claw clasp, this choker is 90s Gothic perfection.
(Shop my look below, and click the arrows for more:)
At Park Hotel, the art immersion begins in the lobby. The artists who took part in the room project also have designs on display, and for sale.
There’s so much to see in the lobby lounge. I admired the glowing circular halo paintings by Nobuo Hashiba, and peeked into glass cases of contemporary design. At night, the tall atrium walls light up with colorful projections.
At this hotel, even the most unexpected spaces become canvases for creativity. Indoor smoking rooms are usually glum and bare-boned spaces. Fortunately, the funky artist Akihisa Hayashi (“Marron-chan”) stepped in, and turned the walls into a retro-sexy painting of a geisha, with golden clouds drifting out of her elegant pipe!
Look closely and you’ll see Tokyo landmarks along with flying sushi and ramen girls, Godzilla, a UFO, and cats.
Guests can book any of the Art Colours rooms on the 31st floor of Park Hotel Shiodome. I’m lounging in “Kabuki” by Yamaguchi Keisuke: he painted this horse and flowing circles while staying in this room for 16 days.
His inspiration is “Yanone,” a Kabuki performance that captures the beauty of ancient Japanese traditions. The arms and legs blur into curves, representing the expressive movements of the theater.
In another room, painter Nanami Ishihara took the concept of “Festival” as her theme. The party never stops: every inch of free space is covered in rainbow rabbits, elephants, deities and schoolgirls doing the “Bon odori” matsuri dance.
She even turns functional objects into playful art. In the closet, the air vent becomes the mouth of a dancing lion!
Yuka Ohtani lived in Akita prefecture (in the north of Japan), and the peaceful landscapes and lifestyle inspired her to create this room. The panels are framed with cedarwood from the region, with a view of the local moat and flowers in bloom.
She pays tribute to Akita with elegant details: a “cracked ice” pottery pattern on the ceiling, camellia flowers over faux sliding screens…
… and paintings of glowing lanterns from the Kanto festival, hidden in the closet.
(I couldn’t resist going inside and doing a Sadako impression!)
One of my personal favorites was the “12 signs of the Zodiac” room by Ryosuke Yasumoto, which was completed during his 11-day stay. His black and white animal illustrations flow through the walls, and emphasize the humorous side of the Asian folk tale.
I had fun finding all the animals in the room. Ryosuke Yasumoto takes full advantage of the three-dimensional space, mounting a cat sculpture on one wall and reflecting creatures in the mirror. (The cat was left out of the legendary race, but makes a comeback here.)
I stayed in the Wabi-Sabi room, which I recommend as it has a brilliant view of the Tokyo Tower. Artist Conami Hara created this work over four months, using silver foil to transform the walls into shimmering colors that will change over time. She painted driftwoods and ripples, inspired by the Zen stonen garden Ryoanji in Kyoto.
Castle by Kazuki Mizuguchi was constructed over 454 days. His transcendent vision depicts Edo Castle, which was lost in a fire, over a black background. The room entrance mimics a stone wall, and even the lampshades reflect the archtecture of the roof.
At night, a surprise appears: when you gaze in the direction of the Imperial Palace, the castle appears in a reflection on the glass.
The 25th floor harmonizes a functional lobby with natural surroundings of Japan. Looking up, the atrium soars up into a triangular prism of light.
Every morning, I came downstairs for the freshly prepared breakfast, with both continental and Japanese options. (I feasted on the gobo, hijiki, soft tofu and miso soup.)
Eggs, anyone? Next to the yogurt and fruit display, I came across these alien-like sculptures. (My Pokemon Go nail art is by Glam Nail Studio in Vancouver.)
Park Hotel’s mission is summed up in “Art”: Atrium, Restaurant, Travel, and of course the artist rooms project. They succeeded in bringing Japanese aesthetics to the forefront, and made my stay feel like a cultural integration.
Park Hotel is right by Shiodome and Shimbashi train stations, and a short walk to Ginza. The location gives easy access to the major districts of Tokyo, while letting you feel as if you’re in a peaceful hideaway, up in the clouds.
John S and I had a memorable drink at The Society, the first bar in Japan to be officially recognised by The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.
These connoisseurs stock hundreds of bottles of whiskey from around the world, each with poetic names that reference the taste or feeling. Such as: “Jingling Jalapenos,” “Hospitals on Guy Fawkes night,” and “BBQ in Pine-Clad Dunes.”
We took in the Blade Runner views from the windows, and sipped one of the bar’s finest Japanese single malt whiskeys. Prices are steep at The Society, but a tiny taste goes a long way.
I’ll miss my mornings in my Artist Room, drinking green tea and reading The Japan Times while curled up on this sill…
Which is your favorite of the Artist Rooms? Doesn’t this city view remind you of the movie “Lost in Translation”? (PS: check my Instagram Stories and Snapchat @lacarmina for cute daily updates from Asia right now.)