Category Archive for Fashion
Finding Miffy stores in Amsterdam! Shopping at De Winkel van Nijntje, Mr Maria lamp studio, bunny chocolates.
I’ve got Miffy mania! My favorite mascot, the minimalist bunny, is a Dutch creation. Naturally, when I was in Amsterdam, I sought out everything related to her.
My friends and I visited her De Winkel van Nijntje store, and swung by Mr Maria’s lamp studio (they create the glorious Miffy lamps, as well as other cute creatures). We bit off her chocolate bunny ears, and even took her to a castle in the form of a balloon.
Enjoy this travel guide to all things Miffy in the Netherlands!
(PS – if you aren’t anywhere near Amsterdam, don’t worry. Miffy is taking over the world… she has a new animated TV series, and just released a product line available at Walmart in stores and online. Above are some toy figures from this collection, plus books, bags, stationery, a rainbow lamp and and more that she sent me! You can find out more on the Miffy and Friends US Facebook.)
Now, let’s follow the white rabbit through Amsterdam.
Because of her “kawaii” round look, many people mistakenly assume Miffy is Japanese. In fact, Dutch artist Dick Bruna released his first bunny book in 1955, 20 years before Sanrio’s Hello Kitty.
I loved Miffy as a child, and continue to be… a tad obsessed. Her minimal look and narrative leave tons of room to the imagination, and make her adaptable to numerous products. (You might recall that I have a lot of her designs in my apartment decor.)
If you’re a Miffy fan in Amsterdam, you must head straight to her largest store. It’s called De Winkel van Nijntje, which translates to “The store of Miffy” (Nijntje means “little rabbit,” and is her name in Dutch). I snuck up behind her giant window display, where she wears the traditional clothing of her homeland.
(Address: Scheldestraat 61, 1078 GH Amsterdam, Netherlands)
This is heaven… A wall of Miffy stuffed toys in every size, color, material and costume! From Santa Claus to steampunk, she seems to have an outfit for every occasion.
(If you aren’t in Amsterdam, you can still shop for her character goods with a click below):
At the counter, there was a warm tribute to Dick Bruna, who passed away on February 16 of this year. The kind-hearted illustrator is loved for his storybooks and unmistakable designs.
I’m most drawn to Miffy in her most minimal form, such as the all-white statuettes above. I ended up taking home at postcard with only the outline of her bunny ears, drawn with Bruna’s brush. (You can see it in my bedroom, on top of my books).
Behold, a massive Miffy! I must go over and squish it.
When you push the numbers on her feet, she talks (not sure how, since her mouth is an unmoving X!)
A lot of Miffy items are designed for babies and children, which makes De Winkel Van Nijntje a great shop for families to visit. There are items for every stage of life: I saw teething rings, bibs and nightlights.
But no matter how old you are, you can enjoy a hang-out session with the Dutch bunny!
My local friend Leyla, who runs LeylaFashion blog and @leylafashion YouTube, grew up with Nijntje and now has a young son. She picked up some interior decor in this shop, for Danny’s room renovation.
Above, watch Leyla’s vlog about our visit to De Winkel van Nijntje store in Amsterdam, as well as Mr Maria’s studio, and the Miffy chocolate shop.
I was pleased with the large selection of items in this store, which encompassed all types of products in different price ranges.
On the right, there are collectible Miffy statues from the 60th anniversary Art Parade. Artists made their own interpretation of the bunny: one turned her into a duck, one spraypainted her gold, and another put her in Goth vampire piercings!
It all began with a storybook about a little white bunny. All of the Miffy books ever written and illustrated by Dick Bruna can be found here, in different languages. They’re charming and timeless, with universal lessons about family, loss, friendship and strength.
That’s the Tao of Miffy: she reflects who we are, in any stage of life.
Thanks to Arina Dresviannikova for the photos in this post. I was keen to visit De Winkel van Nijntje for ages, and it was even more fun to do so with friends.
On another day, I crossed off another bucket-list item: meeting the Mr. Maria studio team in Amsterdam! I’ve been friends with the lighting designers for years, but never got a chance to meet them in real life until now.
Mr. Maria famously created the Miffy lamp, which I have in my living room. (You can see it in the window above, along with their upcoming Miffy cushions and bean-bag chairs).
Dutch designers Jannes Hak and Lennart Bosker welcomed us with heart (literally — they just released this Lia white heart-shaped lamp!) They showed us around their inspiring Mr. Maria studio, and then we sat down for a coffee and chat.
Although their lights are often found in children’s bedrooms, these two are alternative spirits like us. Mr Maria established their design studio with a go-getting, DIY attitude — they used to make Miffy lamps late into the night, while blasting Rammstein!
To this day, the studio is a space for joyful experimentation. Lennart and Jannes showed us 3D printed prototypes of potential new designs (they are now producing more home interior design objects, in addition to lamps). They sometimes make one-offs for special occasions: playfulness and modern, simple creativity are truly at the core of this brand.
Kawaii minimalism is the connection between all their designs. With only white rounded shapes and a few black strokes, they convey pure happiness. (Above is their Kokeshi Japanese doll lamp; you can see the full Mr Maria collection here.)
Although the team is constantly pushing forward with new concepts, the X-mouthed bunny remains the star of the show. “Miffy is like the Buddha,” said Jannes. It’s true; she sits in silent repose, and is everything and nothing all at once.
In the bottom corner, you can see another similarly Zen-like character: Brown, the bear from Line friends. I have this lamp in my apartment too; they really do feel like calm, glowing Buddhist statues.
Above are a few experimentations: a cut-out 3D paper design, and a Snuffy prototype (Miffy’s dog).
Mr Maria lives up to their motto, “making people smile.” It was an absolute joy to visit their studio and see the creative energy in action.
I’m excited for the release of their next products: sleepy Miffy beanbag chairs and oversize cushions! Here’s your first glance at what is coming soon.
(My bag is from Hong Kong, and no longer available… but you can get my dress and tights directly from me, on my shop.)
The sweetest family ever sits on one of their shelves: Snuffy the dog, Smiley face, Anana the elephant, Line’s Brown, Kokeshi, Nanuk the bear, and Miffy in small and large. Which one is your favorite?
After, my friends and I went on a hunt for Miffy chocolates! We walked over to chocolate shop T Goede Soet (Address: Keizersgracht 95, Amsterdam, Netherlands).
T Goede Soet is a specialty chocolate shop, and always carries a number of hand-made Miffy sweets. I had a hard time deciding between the white chocolate lollipops, dark chocolate bunnies (I guess they represent her brown bunny friend Melanie). Each was only 1 Euro each. There’s also a larger bunny chocolate that comes in a box, which is a nice gift.
The chocolates are locally made and well-designed — and absolutely delicious. I felt bad biting Miffy’s ears and head off, but it was worth it.
Finally, you can find lots of Miffy products at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. The shopping center there (which anyone can access) has several gift stores — and I found this funny bunny balloon floating above a display.
I cut Miffy loose, and took her with me on an outing with Leyla and her mom. (Above — this is a trick photograph. We’re actually standing up behind a board, designed to look like a bed).
We took a day-trip to Kasteel de Haar, the largest and most luxurious castle in The Netherlands. Once you see the moat and draw-bridge entrance, marked with coats of arms, you know you’re in for a grandiose experience.
(Address: Kasteellaan 1, 3455 RR Utrecht, Netherlands. To get here, I rode the subway to Vleuten station.)
Naughty Miffy kept trying to blow away from us! I was afraid she’d get spiked on gates of De Haar Castle.
We took Miffy for a walk in the splendid gardens, which include a pond and labyrinth made from hedges. Every year, the castle hosts a Renaissance fair that Leyla attends.
(I am wearing this exact Iron Fist silver and black dress.)
The castle was always owned by the van de Haar family, and this building dates back to 1391.
In the last 19th century, Etienne Gustave van de Haar married the fabulously rich Baroness Hélène de Rothschild. They hired Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers, who set about in rebuilding the castle in a neo-Gothic style.
The finished castle has 200 rooms and 30 bathrooms, and was inhabited off-and-on by the couples’ descendents until becoming a museum today.
The staff of volunteers did a terrific job at telling us tales of de Haar castle. The Baroness loved pink, and insisted on decorating her room in pastel hues — much to the dismay of the architect. We also learned that the family was afraid of ghosts, so the architect attached spikes to the ceilings to keep them at bay! (Thankfully, our Miffy balloon didn’t pop on one of them.)
We were in awe at the castle interior, decorated with ornate woodcarvings and chandeliers. The maximalist rooms are filled with rare art from the Rothschild collections, including rare Flemish tapestries and European church relics.
The wealthy couple traveled to Asia (quite a feat in those days), and came back with Chinese and Japanese antiquities including a palanquin (carrier coach) that belonged to the Shogun’s wife.
Oh Miffy, you’re so fine! If you’re as mad for the Dutch bunny as we are, you’ve also got to check out the Miffy museum in Utrecht (I visited with Leyla last year).
Thanks iAmsterdam for making this dreamy trip possible.
If you’re going to Amsterdam, I hope you get to check out these Miffy attractions in her homeland. Do you have a favorite cute character, like I do?
I leave you with a display of Nijntje souvenirs at Schiphol Airport (you can also shop for her cute items below). And take a minute to watch Leyla’s fun vlog about our Miffy escapades!
Weird Travels in Austin! The Highball themed karaoke rooms, Floppy Disk Repair bar, hippest local restaurants.
“Come and play with us… forever, and ever, and ever.” When you encounter the creepy twins from The Shining…. you know you’re in for a wild ride.
In my first post from Austin, I explored Goth and alternative attractions in the city with my friends. Now, we’ll keep on “keeping Austin weird” — with themed karaoke rooms, hip restaurants, and a secret bar disguised as a Floppy Disk repair company!
Beam me up: Austin is an ideal travel destination for pop culture and film lovers. At Alamo Drafthouse. we loved the carpet straight out of the Stanley Kubrick horror film, and UFOs circling above.
The Drafthouse is a theater and event space with several locations in Austin; we’re at the South Lamar venue.
At the Alamo Drafthouse, visitors can enjoy movies along with dinner and drinks. The theater puts care into their programming, projecting classic and cult films in addition to quality new releases.
Outfit details: I’m wearing a Disturbia top, Morph8ne skirt from Attitude Clothing, and We Love Colors magenta fishnets. My Japanese Yosuke gladiator shoes are similar to these cut-out boots. See more from these Gothic brands below:
We also loved the creepy animal tribute to Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist: Chaos Reigns (an experimental horror movie with S & M themes). Sarah matched her tattoo with the taxidermy crow, then posed as Danny from The Shining.
Right next door is The Highball, an amazing karaoke parlor with 7 themed rooms! I got a fright in the haunted house one, when the eyes of the painting turned to look at me.
(Highball address: 1120 S Lamar Blvd Austin, TX 78704)
The karaoke rooms are brilliantly designed by Space Warp Design, in a variety of creative themes. We were fans of the 1980s glam parlor, featuring Jem and the Holograms pink stars, and a Rubik’s Cube table. And how cool is this Twin Peaks red room?
Enter the swirling vortex of The Fifth Dimension… Ooo….
In addition to karaoke, The Highball puts on regular events like Cards Against Humanity and Geeks Who Drink quiz nights. They also bring in live bands to play the stage, and have annual celebrations like “Highballoween” for Halloween.
I grew up playing Nintendo, so I felt at home in this 8-bit wonderland. Love how they made the light into a question block.
As you can see, The Highball’s rooms are spacious and easily fit large groups (you can make reservations through their site). Unlike most karaoke joints, they offer excellent food and drinks — including creative seasonal cocktails, and unusual beers.
We joined the gallery of freaks in the Circus Room, which had a cute two-headed goat in a cage.
However, the room we eventually chose… was The Inferno! Devil horns and pentagrams are everywhere, in this black metal Satanic-themed karaoke room.
The karaoke room looks like an altar to Satan, with upside-down cross stained glass windows.
We belted out songs that fit the theme of the room, such as Pet Shop Boys “It’s a Sin,” and Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams.”
“In league with Satan.” So much fun to sing lyrics from a screen, in between two coiled serpents.
And… there is a pentagram scratched into the floor. A prime spot for black magic rituals.
(More about what I’m wearing below:)
I love the designers’ attention to detail. Note the church-like wooden pews, and Leviathan Cross carved into the sides.
The Highball’s modern karaoke system is digital: you choose songs on a touch-screen. It’s easy to search, select and queue tracks (and they have thousands of options, in all genres). There are two microphones for duets, and even a magic voice synthesizer for the tone-deaf.
You know you’re having fun.. when there’s a demonic possession back bend over a pentacle!
With friendly staff and the coolest rooms ever, The Highball karaoke was one of our favorite activities in Austin. I hope you’ll get to book a room, for a devilishly good time.
Austin’s weird factor is right up my alley. I heard of a secret password-protected speakeasy bar, disguised as a Floppy Disk Repair Co. It became my mission to get access and see what low-tech wonders lurked inside.
The company’s website offers no clues: it states that they are a “full service floppy disk repair company” that fixes “all brands and makes and formats.” I read online that visitors need to know the keypad password, which changes weekly and is difficult to find (it’s not listed online, for example, and the bartenders next door don’t necessarily give it out).
I brought some of my dad’s old floppies in a retro case, and showed them to the bouncer… and that got us immediately through the door! (But this may not work for everyone.)
The Floppy Disk Repair Co’s interior is satisfyingly creepy. The speakeasy was formerly called the “Red-headed Stepchild,” again for mysterious reasons (I couldn’t figure out who this mascot in a bowtie is supposed to be). This creepster leers at the guests, next to red lights that read “Mmm…your hair smells pretty.”
(Address: 119 E 5th St, Austin, TX 78701, USA)
The “cocktails for redheads” continue the psycho theme, with names like “Silence of the Lambs” and “My Trix are not for your kids.” Despite the name, I adored “Gary’s spicy fire crotch margarita” — tequila, serrano peppers and ginger beer, served in red-tipped glassware.
Hmm, a stitched-up teddy bear with missing eyes, and doll head lights. Nothing bizarre to see here.
The friendly bartenders even repaired my Kao discs with stickers! The Floppy Disk Repair Co. is one hip speakeasy, with creative drinks and plenty of creep factor. Let me know if you manage to crack the code to get through the doors.
Another must-visit spot for cocktails is Hotel San José. Bunkhouse founder and designer Liz Lambert revamped a motor lodge from the 1930s into a hip hotel, right in the happening SoCo (South Congress) district. How picture-perfect is the hotel’s pool, framed by black bamboo and with mid-century hairpin-leg lounge chairs?
(Address: 1316 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX)
The 40-room boutique property maintains its 1930s charm, and the public spaces have been re-imagined in beautiful ways. The entrance looks like a secret garden, with granite pathways, and a lilypad pool that was being enjoyed by a great-tailed grackle bird.
The Hotel San Jose lounge lets you sit outside and enjoy the courtyard, while having drinks and light fare. The drink list includes micheladas and refreshing cocktails: I had the sake with ginger brew, lime and crystallized ginger. Lauren had the champassion: champagne, passion fruit, and raspberries. And we destroyed the cheese plate, a perfect mix of local cheeses, fruit, olives and honey.
Right next door, Liz Lambert’s Bunkhouse group has another property: Austin Motel, whose motto is to “Let Love In!” (Address: 1220 South Congress Avenue)
Once again, the designers paid tribute to the history of the motel, which was established in 1938. They kept original elements like the neon sign, while updating the 41 rooms and 1950s-style outdoor pool, with plenty of mid-century modern touches.
We couldn’t resist taking photos in the unique lobby, which is a hybrid of a check-in area and Americana general store. We sat in the colorful 50s seats, and browsed the playful local designs for sale. (How cool are the gold table and pelt rugs?)
Next door, we grabbed a drink at Fine Foods: which opened in April as part of Austin Motel. In this retro-styled bar, the friendly Rob mixes old-fashioned punches and cocktails, with names like The Dean and Playboy’s Punch.
(I brought along my midi tote by Strathberry. See more about my bag below, with a click:)
I cooled off with a “Cold Fashioned” – a frozen Old Fashioned with rye, citrus and bitters. Health food fans would rejoice over the “Green Belt” — an original mix of gin, lime, Chartreuse, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, and chlorophyll “pond scum!”
Now that we were thoroughly hydrated, it was time to explore South Congress. This Austin street is filled with eclectic stores, selling everything from succulents in dinosaur planters to water bottles “activated by crystals.”
If you love flamboyant fashion, you’ve got to stop by Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds. The store has an enormous selection of costumes, vintage clothing, masks, wigs and other fabulous glitz.
At 8000 square feet, this shop is overwhelming. The racks are divided into categories, to make browsing easier. There are sections for “around the world,” steampunk, the 1970s, you get the drift.
Lucy in Disguise carries both old and new items, and they offer clothing or costume rentals at very reasonable rates. You can be Wonder Woman or Pikachu for the day.
Onward to Uncommon Objects. The name pretty much sums it up: this is a store full of oddities.
Uncommon Objects started as an antique shop, and has expanded to carry every kind of old-fashioned, kitschy, creepy tchotchke that you can think of. Walking through, it feels like a museum – yet everything displayed is available to buy.
Dead insects, anatomical models, animal skulls, yes please.
After shopping on South Congress, we had worked up a big appetite. We swung over to Café No Sé, an all-day cafe also located on SoCo Avenue. (Address: 1603 S Congress, Austin, TX 78704)
By now, you might be noticing that Austin is an inspiring city for interior design. At Cafe No Se, the whitewashed wood walls are accented by reclaimed wood furniture and vintage bookshelves. This airy, cozy space is ideal for brunch with a group of friends.
Café No Sé offers a seasonal breakfast, brunch and all-day menu, as well as “All Day Rosé”. There were plenty of healthy options on the New American menu: we highly recommend the hummus with kamut tabbouleh and grilled laffa bread. We also enjoyed the bigeye tuna poke with brown rice, seasoned with pickled jalapeño and grapefruit, and topped with shrimp chips.
Everything comes with plenty of greens, and a colorful presentation. Cafe No Se serves brunch favorites with a twist, such as beet and horseradish cured gravlax on a bagel, juicy burgers, and ricotta gnudi (dumplings pasta) with charred corn, tomato and herbs.
Now, how can we visit Texas without feasting on tacos? Near our hotel Archer in Domain Northside, there lies the first Austin location of Velvet Taco (they have a few restaurants in other parts of the state, as well as Chicago.
(Address: 11501 Rock Rose Ave, Austin TX)
When we saw the spacious patio (which just opened up) and funky, cheerful decor, we knew we were in for a treat.
Velvet Taco’s mission is to deliver a new take on tacos. They experiment with exotic and unexpected flavors — on the menu, there are some with paneer, with shrimp and grits, and even red curry coconut queso. Each order consists of one taco, so diners can mix-and-match. Above, you can see we tried a bit of everything, including a breakfast version with Barbacoa brisket, and a fish taco wrapped in lettuce.
Eating tacos is a delicious but messy endeavor, especially when topped with hot sauce. Thankfully, the restaurant has plenty of napkins and a decadent restroom for washing up.
The Marie Antoinette mural encouraged us to eat cake… and we did, a red velvet slice with cream cheese frosting. We washed everything down with unlimited ice tea, in flavors like vanilla creamsicle and passionfruit green.
Our final meal was a memorable one, at Hillside Farmacy. I saw lots of positive reviews about this eatery, which offers a thoughtfully-sourced menu, and is located in a restored antique pharmacy.
(Address: 1209 E 11th St, Austin, TX 78702)
In the 1920s, this was Hillside Drugstore: operated by Doc Young, Austin’s first African American pharmacist. Today, the restaurant pays homage to the building’s history — with original furnishings, and a glass case lined with apothecary bottles. The current name, “Farmacy,” is also a nod to the farm-to-table approach.
Hillside Farmacy is well-loved by locals for its raw bar and throwback cocktails. I tried a “Country Doctor,” a homemade fountain soda with ginger, fresh apple, cinnamon and applejack. I also had a “kombooza” or kombucha with rum, a refreshing twist on the standard Dark and Stormy.
Hillside Farmacy’s menu is ingredient-driven, with close attention to locally sourced or foraged products. Austin’s history shines through in Southern starters like the Pimento Cheese, an addictive spread served with celery and crunchy bread. (How sweet are the salt and pepper shakers, which look like medicinal tonic bottles?)
Our server recommended the pasta alla checca, as Texan heirloom tomatoes were especially in season. It was the perfect showcase of farm-fresh ingredients straight from Austin, and also comes in vegan and gluten-free variations. The crisp salads were outstanding, and the campfire chocolate mousse (vanilla marshmallow, dark chocolate, sea salt and graham crackers) was oozy, nostalgic perfection.
Hats off to Texas — until the next time I return. I hope you enjoyed my alt travel perspective on the city! Is there anything you’d add to my Austin travel guide?
PS: don’t miss out on my current India and Malaysia stories in real-time, on @lacarmina Instagram.
Away x Minions luggage: kawaii cute suitcases! Alex Streeter Gothic earrings, LaForet mall Harajuku.
Bello! Banana? In this post, I’ll go over some of my current favorites… and then we’ll talk about Japanese fashion at LaForet department store in Harajuku!
First up, let me introduce you to the cutest luggage collaboration ever: Away x Minions. I’m excited to have these adorable travel buddies with me, on my next trips around the globe.
Bee-do-bee-do… As you most likely know, the Minions are the short, eager, bumbling servants of evil masters throughout time (as seen in the Despicable Me movie series).
I love how Away distilled the essence of a Minion in this cheerful, minimal design. When you see the bright yellow case and eye-goggle tag, you can instantly picture a one-eyed Minion tottering behind me!
Away sent me a large-sized suitcase and a carry-on. Both are made from polycarbonate shell, which is lightweight and bends under pressure, but never breaks. (Quite like the resilient Minions from the movies.)
The new Away x Minions collection comes in four sizes. You can also purchase the accessories separately: they have stickers featuring the characters, and a leather tag shaped like their signature eye goggles.
“You used to call me on my banana-phone… Poopaye!”
The Minions roll easily alongside you, with a retractable handle and Hinomoto wheels that rotate 360°.
Inside, there’s plenty of room to store bananas. All of Away’s suitcases feature an interior compression system, secure zippered compartments, and a removable laundry bag.
I’m always on the lookout for fun, beautiful luggage that can withstand my constant travels. Away has been on my radar for some time: they produce first-class designer luggage, direct to consumer, meaning that they can keep prices on the economy side.
The larger carry-on is made to fit the regulations of US airlines. And there’s a tech element: a built-in battery that can charge any USB device, and zippers that fit into a TSA-approved combination lock.
Ready to take over the world with these Minions? Away’s Despicable Me 3 collab is only out for a short time, and I have a feeling they’ll be snatched up fast.
As you know from my outfits throughout the years, I like to change up my styling. I had my ears pierced during elementary school, but stopped wearing anything in them around college. However, the piercing hole remains intact — so I decided to play around with earrings again.
Of course, I clicked straight to my favorite jewelry designer: Alex Streeter! (Above, I’m wearing his radiator silver cuff from the Space collection, Ouroboros ring from the Creatures set, and these silver elongated spike heart earrings that suit me perfectly).
Based in NYC and renown as the creator of the Angel Heart Ring, Alex’s designs are favored by rock stars worldwide (including Marilyn Manson and J-rock legends). He started out in the 1960s in San Francisco, carving jewellery from redwood bark and selling it on the streets. In 1971, he set up shop as a silversmith in downtown NYC.
Today, Alex Streeter is an icon — and the go-to designer for those who love Gothic, sci-fi and edgy high-end accessories. Above, I’m wearing his UFO spaceship studs.
Alex and his daughter Lily (who works with him) are inspirations: they dress in rock-Goth fashion, and travel to Japan every year (he has a rabid fan following there).
Perhaps you’ve seen his famous pentagram ring on the fingers of celebrities. Alex’s jewelry is all made to order, beautifully crafted in sterling silver (he also works with bronze, brass, pewter and gold). You can also contact him through his site to request a unique, customized design.
A serpent slithering down my earlobe, with a pentagram in his mouth… I think it’s clear why Alex Streeter jewellery is my absolute favorite! He is a master, and I’ll be treasuring these signature pieces. Stay tuned to see more photos soon — there are more serpentine designs by Alex that I’m excited to show you.
(PS: my hair color and cut are by Stephanie Hoy at Sugar Skull Salon in Gastown, Vancouver.)
Now, let’s teleport to Japan — and take a walk inside Laforet in Harajuku. I’ve been doing dispatches from this mall since 2008 — see past posts in my Tokyo Gothic Lolita shopping guide.
Although I’ve been less impressed with the selection recently (more on that below), La Foret remains one of the top Tokyo destinations to find young, alternative fashion. You’ll always see chattering groups of teenage girls at the entrance, much like the anime schoolgirls in “seifuku” sailor uniforms on the poster.
Laforet has multiple levels, each with a variety of clothing and brands. The experimental street style tends to be in the basement floors. I’m also quite fond of the first floor, which hosts rotating pop-ups. Japanese up-coming designers tend to be featured, such as these colorful Erico earring and accessories.
There’s been a lot of talk about Harajuku changing for the worse. I’d say there is truth to this, as more and more big box stores have set up shop (H&M, Forever 21, etc).
Nonetheless, you can still find underground and club-influenced designs in this neighborhood.
Case in point: Abilletage has established a new location inside Laforet department store. This antique / Gothic / Steampunk brand is run independently, and produces gorgeous custom-tailored corsets. (Remember I visited Abilletage during my NHK Kawaii TV shoot?)
Abilletage is an example of a local designer that keeps the Harajuku spirit going. Everyone there is closely connected to the subculture, and the original designs are handmade or produced in small batches (such as these corset-lace and floral motif tights).
I hope you’ll look for this boutique when you visit Harajuku. Also check out the Abilletage Shinjuku location, which has an elegant Victorian tea salon.
Laforet’s B1 and B2 levels are filled with stores that fall on the spectrum of Goth, Lolita, Punk or Street style. The mannequins in the center of the stairwell are always dressed up to the nines, in EGL fashion.
These days, I’m drawn more to minimalist scary-kawaii fashion, such as this Frapbois oversize top.
At first glance, the clothes look similar to Western “Nu Goth.” However, they tend to have a Japanese cute twist to them: notice how the skull is made up of cute teddy bears in black and white.
Cute meets psycho at Lurem, a shop with a deranged bunny mascot. I always enjoy discovering Japanese indie brands in Laforet.
As you can see, the youth / street styles can vary widely. These satiny oversized tops are screaming with Bunnicula and anime pumpkin lady prints.
Contrast this with the flowing, gauzy, romantic dolly dresses next door. Perfect for a shironuri look (all-white face paint, makeup and clothing).
J-Rock and Visual Kei bands still lurk in the basement of Laforet. There are often meet-and-greets, signings and other events here, with long line-ups of fans waiting to meet their music idols.
At AnkoRock, influences from punk, rock, and dark subcultures come together in a refreshing way.
I can’t say the same for the Gothic and Lolita dresses I saw, which felt like they hadn’t evolved over the past years, unfortunately. (More about this below).
Yangon’s top travel attractions! Sule pagoda, Circular Railway, Kalaywa Buddhist monastery lunch, Le Planteur.
Ready for more decadent adventures with Yukiro?
I’ve been saving this final dispatch from Myanmar, since it was the most eye-opening destination we’ve visited together. We’ll give you a run-down of the best attractions in Yangon. The city has lots of fascinating sights, including the golden Karaweik Palace…
… and the lunch procession of Buddhist nuns and monks at Kalaywa Tawyakyaung Monastery.
We’ll also take you to Yangon Circular Rail. It goes all around the city in a loop, which lets you glimpse slices of life in Burma.
But first, the epic news… Yukiro and I are going to India and Malaysia!
This dream trip has been brewing for some time, and it’s finally happening. We’ll be visiting Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi and North India — including New Delhi, Agra (Taj Mahal), Jaipur and Varanasi (Indian Golden Triangle, and holy city where the Ganges river flows).
Can’t wait to reunite with this queen again. Be sure to follow @lacarmina Instagram and Snapchat to see snippets from our Indian epic. And if you have travel tips, we are all ears.
To get you in the mood, let’s flash back to Burma. Yukiro and I were endlessly inspired by the local culture we encountered.
We fully embraced the Southeast Asian elegant fashion and languorous poses. We drew inspiration from the “longyi” skirts and “thanaka” yellow sun-protection paste, worn by both local men and women. (All photos by Sniper Chau.)
Many travelers know little about Burma / Myanmar (you may call it either, according to leader Aung San Suu Kyi) — other than that it’s the most Buddhist country on the planet. We wanted to learn more about the Theravada traditions, so our ParkRoyal hotel driver took us to Kalaywa Monastery, located about 20 minutes from downtown.
(Address: Naga Hlainggu Hillock, Yangon / Rangoon)
Aim to arrive around 10:30-11:30am, so that you can witness the Buddhist lunch procession. About a thousand monks and nuns line up, and walk through this food station run by volunteers. They gracefully receive hot food, vegetarian dishes and fresh fruit in their metal alms bowls.
For most of the Burmese population, Buddhism is an important part of their daily practice. These volunteers work together to prepare and serve the food, in the true spirit of loving-kindness.
In Burma, there are approximately 500,000 male monks, and 75,000 nuns. Lay-people often become “temporary” monks as well, such as by dedicating a month or so to living the monastic lifestyle.
Once they received their alms, the young practitioners walked over to the separate dining halls, where they sat and waited until everyone had been served.
They spend their lives in the kyaung (temple-monastery), where they devote every day to study and practice.
The Theravada Buddhist line of bhikkhuni (nuns) died out in Burma, so the women created a new type of lineage. These “thilashin” take vows, shave their heads and wear the pink robes — sometimes from a very young age.
(Many smiled gently at me, perhaps because of my matching pink hair and fashion!)
Over 1000 Buddhists live at Kalaywa Monastery. The community gladly supports their education and basic needs.
All over Myanmar, you’ll often see red-robed monks making their rounds for alms in the mornings. Even the poorest community members will prepare a dish of food, and dole out a serving into the bowl of each Buddhist that passes by.
Almsgiving is not a form of begging, but the local tradition that lets laypeople give respect to Buddhist monks and nuns, and support their spiritual journey.
When everyone was seated in the long benches, the monks clasped their hands together and chanted. Finally, it was time to break open the fruit and eat from the alms bowls, using their fingers.
We noticed a few cats walking around the tables! True to Buddhist spirit of compassion, these young men made sure the kitties had something to eat.
We encourage you to visit Kalaywa Monastery to learn more about the Burmese Buddhist tradition. If you walk around the grounds, you’ll see some beautiful flowers and gardens as well.
Visiting Karaweik Palace is another way to experience Burma’s culture. Located on Kandawgyi Lake in central Yangon, this golden floating restaurant is based on the design of the Pyigyimon royal barge.
Only customers are allowed inside, so we stopped for tea and pandan leaf-flavored ice cream. (It’s also possible to order Burmese food, and there is an international buffet as well).
We enjoyed cooling off in Karaweik Palace’s golden hall, and watching an energetic puppet show on the stage.
The restaurant hosts a Royal Culture Show every evening, with all types of Burmese performances. Yukiro could easily be mistaken for one of the dancers!
We listened to traditional songs performed by this singer and instrumentalist, who is strumming the Saung-gauk (Burmese arched harp).
Near the entrance of Karaweik restaurant, this stylish woman did a thanaka demonstration. She showed us how to grind bark to make the yellow-white cosmetic paste, which is worn to soften the skin and protect it from sun damage.
Karaweik Hall is a bit touristy, but it’s a fun spot to take photos and learn about Burmese culture.
My ponytail reveals my cobweb undercut, or shaved and dyed hair tattoo! My hairstyle and color are by Stephanie Hoy at Sugar Skull Studio in Vancouver, as always.
As Seinfeld might say: What’s the deal with these “quacky” gold-headed ducks? Are they dragon boats, or rubber duckies?
In fact, they represent a mythical bird in Burmese folklore with a melodious cry, called the karaweik.
The golden barge gave us perfect views of Shwedagon Pagoda, Kandawgyi lake (with a tall fountain) and park.
Another top attraction is — surprisingly enough — riding the rails. Yangon Circular Railway is similar to the Yamanote in Tokyo: a local commuter rail that forms a loop around the city.
Operated by Myanmar Railways, the line stretches 29 miles and has 39 stops. We went to Yangon Central Railway Station to check it out. (Address: Kun Chan Rd, Yangon, Myanmar)
Yangon’s Circle Rail is extremely popular among the locals. There are about 200 coaches, which carry 100,000 to 150,000 commuters daily.
Yukiro and I enjoy seeing daily life, wherever we travel. Yangon’s central station had a Complaint Center… but there was nobody there to complain to! (Now that’s something to complain about.)
Many tourists ride the circular loop, which takes about three hours to complete. It’s a way to glimpse different parts of Yangon, and see what day-to-day life is like for the people who live here.
We decided the train journey would be a bit too hot and time-consuming… so we ended up simply visiting the Circular Train station.
As you can see, there’s no AC. The seats fill up quickly, so arrive early if you want to nab one.
Such cute and classic trains rolling through, with a choo-choo.
Yangon Circular Railway was first built during colonial times by the British. Today, the tracks have been modernized and expanded, and there are even ads on the front of the cars.
Each train ticket costs the equivalent of 15 cents! Ticket prices are kept low because of ministry subsidies, so this public transportation system is accessible to everyone.
Hello, boys of Burma…
(If you want to hop on this train with them, here’s info about getting tickets, timetables and more.)
Only in Myanmar, you’ll see people wearing thanaka (sometimes in intricate designs) on their faces.
The future of the railway is optimistic. Japan is currently working with Yangon city development to improve and expand public transport.
Yangon is a very safe city, and we rarely ran into touts or beggars. At the station, everyone we encountered was respectful.
Baby on board. (Images by Sniper Chau.)
Even if you don’t end up taking the three-hour ride, Yangon’s Circular Railway is worth checking out!
Another must-see is Maha Bandula Park, which features a fountain pond and sits next to Sule Pagoda. The park dates back to the late 19th century, and is currently named after General Maha Bandula who fought the British in the First Anglo-Burmese War.
During colonial times, the centerpiece of the park was a statue of Queen Victoria. After 1948, the queen was replaced by Independence Monument, an obelisk that commemorates Burmese independence from the British. (You can see it behind us.)
It’s impossible to miss Sule Pagoda, a glimmering golden dome in the center of Yangon’s downtown.
This spiritual site supposedly enshrines a hair of the Buddha. (It’s located at the junction of Sule Pagoda Road and Maha Bandula Road.)
Sule Pagoda was the focal point of many political demonstrations over the years. Protesters gathered here during the 1988 uprisings and 2007 Saffron Revolution, both of which faced violent pushback from the military government that was then in power.
Today, it’s a peaceful Buddhist temple where city-dwellers can meditate.
Sule Pagoda is about the size of a small block — much smaller than Shwedagon Pagoda, which we visited too. You’ll see Buddha statues and golden architecture in both places, but if you only have time to visit one, go to the magnificent Shwe Dagon.
Buddhists can place offerings in a miniature golden ship, which has the mythical karaweik bird at the front. With a system of pulleys, the boat sails up to the stupa.
This Burmese child seemed as earnest as her mother in her reflections.
Finally, you can’t leave Yangon without a fine meal. We headed towards Inya Lake, a popular recreational and romantic area. On the way, look out for Aung San Suu Kyi’s compound, where she spent years under house arrest. (We spotted the outside gate, which has a portrait of her father on the top.)
This photo illustrates the fun of driving in Myanmar. You’ll see “boys in the back” of trucks, lounging about. And when the vehicle needs to change lanes, everyone participates in the turn signal!
Yukiro and I were having dinner at the highly-rated Le Planteur. As soon as we saw this glorious French colonial manor, lit by lanterns, we knew we were in for a special meal.
Address: 80 University Avenue, Bahan Township, Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)
Le Planteur is all about beautiful service and thoughtful touches — such as this table by the water, covered in fresh rose petals.
We explored the grounds, blooming with lush foliage and secret lounge areas. Many come here for cocktails and light bites.
How beautiful is the waterfront of Inya Lake? In the distance, there’s a rowboat illuminated in lights.
Inside, we were excited to see a high-tech wine dispenser wall! With a touch of a card, you could fill your glass with varietals from around the world.
Le Planteur pays tribute to the French colonial days. The manor is filled with glamorous private lounges, perfect for large gatherings.
The decor ranges from 19th century style red couches to a chandelier made from white feathers, framed by peek-a-boo vintage photography.
Founder Boris Granges was born in Switzerland, and brought his fine dining expertise to Myanmar. You may order a-la-carte, but I recommend Le Planteur’s degustation menu, which lets you taste the chef’s selection of the day. (It can also be customized if you are vegetarian.)
We started with delightful amuse-bouches of tuna, and ordered a second round of the freshly-baked brown bread rolls.
The French cuisine is five stars perfection. Le Planteur uses the freshest ingredients, with a focus on subtle vegetable flavors. Every dish is beautifully executed and presented. On the right, this is my favorite dessert of the year so far: a black chocolate dome with passion fruit heart and tonka bean biscuit.
Le Planteur is the place to be for an exquisite meal in Myanmar. (Be sure to browse the artisan shop at the entrance too.)
(For other restaurant suggestions, including homestyle Thai and Burmese food, check out this post.)
Did you enjoy our Yangon city guide? Here are all my Myanmar posts in one place — we hope to be back soon, to hang out with our new punk and Goth friends. But now, a new journey to South Asia awaits…
We’ll be exploring India and Malaysia! Add @lacarmina Instagram and Snapchat for the first peek.