Alternative Art in New Orleans: Goth cute fantasy paintings! Royal Street galleries, French Quarter.
New Orleans, you’re my kind of place! The photo above says it all — NOLA is full of eccentric characters, flamboyant costumes, and live jazz in the streets.
I dove into the “American Horror Story” side of the city, and felt the magic from the very first day. Together, let’s explore the alternative art scene, including the galleries on Royal Street and a “kawaii” portrait painting.
What I wore in New Orleans…
– Deconstructed top/jacket from my friend Ako, creator of Japanese punk label Blablahospital.
– Black crop top like this one, a versatile garment that can be worn under layers.
– Checkered skirt from Alice’s Pig. Winter is the perfect time to rock a long plaid blue skirt.
Shop this look:
New Orleans has been on my “Goth bucket list” ever since I was a teenager. Thanks to the CVB, I got to visit the American South for the first time.
Louisiana was colonized by both the Spanish and French, which gives the architecture a feeling found nowhere else. I couldn’t resist taking photos of the curving iron railings, balconies and doors.
As long as you avoid Bourbon Street, there’s a ton to love about the French Quarter. I recommending strolling along and near Royal Street. This part of the Quarter feels far more authentic — you’ll come across gems like antique shops, art galleries, street performers, and these horse head posts.
Can you tell the difference between the street artists, locals, and tourists? Molly, my travel companion and photographer, remarked: “I loved that you could see a performance artist for a dollar on the street, in front of housed galleries where pieces sold for thousands.”
– My dark purple purse is this one by Paule Ka (click to buy)
- Tip: wear good shoes, since NOLA has cobbled streets and is a walking city. My studded ankle boots are by Japanese brand Yosuke; Jeffrey Campbell’s boots look just like mine.
That morning, Molly and I had an appointment at Lisa Victoria Gallery (616 Royal Street). The masked figures on the door were a sign we were at the right place.
We stepped into the most charming little courtyard. The focal point is a lion fountain, strung with Mardi Gras beads.
K Thayer’s paintings resonated with me because they’re haunting, ethereal, and have a touch of Japanese “kawaii.” He says his art is influenced by everything from Mardi Gras, to the films of David Lynch and Art Deco.
One of Kevin’s signatures: big-eyed, long-lashed, doll-like portraits.
Kevin invited me to sit down for a live painting. We chatted while he worked, and the whole process felt easy. In only 30 minutes, the image came together.
What do you think? So cool how Kevin Thayer captured my new blue-purple-red hair color and vampire bangs (my stylist is Stephanie Hoy at Vancouver’s Stratosphere Hair).
Kevin started with a colorful background wash, and painted the layers on top, letting them flow together. He adds the final touches, and “more purple!”
What a cool experience, and I got to take home personalized canvas from a New Orleans artist.
After, Kevin took us to some of his favorite galleries in the French Quarter. Oh, these genteel iron balconies! I imagined Madame Lalaurie and the Coven witches peering over me.
AFA Gallery is dedicated to dark, fantastical art. (809 Royal Street New Orleans, LA).
I talked to the gallery owners, and was glad to learn that New Orleans has a dedicated community of artists. The local art market is not just about selling wares to tourists.
AFA represents artists with dark inclinations, like these cute-melancholy paintings by Kathie Olivas…
… and a giant metal octopus sculpture.
We continued our walk. What a treat, to feel sunshine in December! New Orleans is a fantastic place to escape during the winter, and it’s a quick and inexpensive flight within the USA.
The French Quarter has a “frat party” reputation, but as you can see from our journey, you can avoid this touristy scene altogether.
Such charming architecture. We stopped to take photos at the distinctive front gate of the Corn Stalk Hotel.
This elegant, Victorian-style house is supposedly haunted, as many places in the Quarter seem to be. (My wood sunglasses are from Moat House. Other outfit details above.)
Can’t get over the Southern elegance of the gardens and fountains.
Onward to La Madama Bazarre gallery (910 Royal Street, NOLA). American Horror Story fans, you might recognize the above work from AHS Freak Show.
Molly and I wanted to take home everything in the gallery. La Madama Bazarre often has special exhibits, with themes like “The Opulence of Darkness,” where “beauty and strangeness abound in equal doses.”
Owner Jennifer poses with “SideShow Sirens of the Swamp,” a series of music boxes featuring voodoo queen Marie Laveau, a two-headed person and other oddities. (And yes, that’s a coffin case on the right.)
Kevin Thayer’s art is a natural fit for this gallery, and several of his pieces hang on the walls. What a wonderful space they have created, to showcase morbid, lowbrow and outsider art.
We continued down the road to the fabulous Fifi Mahony’s (934 Royal Street). Masks, wigs and glitter aren’t reserved only for Mardi Gras.
The shop supports local alternative events, like Goth Con, a Hedwig and the Angry Inch performance, and its own Wig Show. Kevin’s lightning-girl sits above the counter.
In the back room, the salon offers makeovers. You can be as flamboyant as you want to be, in New Orleans. Nobody will bat an eye if you walk down the street looking like Cher.
Now, let’s visit two outdoor art markets. Every day, locals with permits display their works at Jackson Square. Molly reflects, “One of my favorite aspects about Jackson Square was the mix of artists working from their own experiences and those selling more traditional images of Mardi Gras. I got a sense of a strong artist community that respects and supports its members.”
We had a chat with Eden Gass (left), whose illustrations took on a different focus after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Molly says, “I was struck by the authenticity and personal nature of her paintings. I loved her raw, honest approach to her canvas and her warm demeanor.”
Just a typical day in NOLA here — artists stopping to greet each other, decked in bows and feathers.
We also loved the Frenchman Art Market, which opens up in the evenings. Here, local and regional artisans sell handmade jewelry and crafts.
I’ll leave you with some more night-time scenes. Antieau Gallery had a tribute to James Brown in the back.
Quite a few galleries have a spooky aesthetic, like this “Phantom Limb” installation.
At night, Fifi Mahony’s wigs have a ghostly feeling, peering out the window.
I walked by impressive displays of antique furniture.
The Corn Stalk hotel has an upside down keyhole to confuse vampires and ghosts, and hopefully prevent them from entering.
I think it’s obvious why New Orleans is one of the spookiest cities in the world! Did you know that the city had such an edgy art scene?
Thanks to Molly for the photography. Next, we’ll show you how we kissed a Sphinx, and ate alligator wings…
Shop my outfit of the day below:
I’m leaping in the air because our Cape Town video is out!
In this latest episode of my travel show – published on Business Insider Travel — I encounter lions, drag queens, penguins…
…street art, and color everywhere. (Above, I’m posing with the rainbow homes of the Bo-Kaap district – outfit details and more here.)
Please take a few minutes to watch our episode above and on Business Insider.
It was hard to edit all the fantastic footage into a short video. I could go on for hours about why I love this city — but I’ll boil it down to 10 things I love about Cape Town.
1. South African Wine Tastings
South Africa’s wines have been getting attention in recent years, especially those from the Stellenbosch region. I’m no wine expert, but I can tell you that these are some of the best I’ve tasted (and I’ve tasted a lot).
Our driver took us about an hour outside of Cape Town to Steenberg, a modern vineyard and farm. The staff poured us a selection of white and reds, including the smooth and complex Magna Carta. I wish I had a glass of it in my hand, as I’m typing this!
Outside, we ran into Pumbaa the warthog! This rotund creature really looks like the African pig in the Disney movie, The Lion King. Of course, filmmaker Melissa had to sing Hakuna Matata and pet his bristles.
Somehow, the Asian peace-sign pose is appropriate here. Pumbaa was the only animal who didn’t bite her during our journey. (Remember she got nipped by a peacock, penguin and dassie… and I got pecked by an ostrich.)
2. Cape Town Wine Bars
Another glass? Yes please. I got tipsy at Publik, a laid-back bar that serves local wines along with cheese, rye with quince, and smoked free-range meats. If you usually dislike a certain varietal, they might surprise you with a delicious version that makes you think twice. The goblets and high counters make this an easygoing experience — there’s no snobbery here.
3. Jazz Safari with Local Musicians
I love getting to know locals wherever I go. One night, we joined a Jazz Safari tour that took us inside the homes of local musicians. We ate dinner together, and then listened to a private home performance.
Musician Hilton Schilder’s wife prepared us a hearty curry with rice, and it was one of the best meals I had in Cape Town (along with Faldela Tolker’s Cape Malay cooking). Hilton plays multiple instruments, and performed experimental pieces on piano, guitar and this African mouth bow. I enjoyed hearing about his inspiration, such as how he composed a 15 minute song called “Rebirth” by visualizing a keyboard on the ceiling, as he was lying in bed recovering from an illness.
Next, our guide Michael drove us to one of the townships. We saw some metal shacks on the outskirts, but most of the residents lived in small houses. Not nearly as ominous as you might imagine.
TA Blaques performed energetic compositions on trumpet, with his friend on guitar. Cape Jazz is a local style that mixes Western and African influences, with plenty of improv. We tapped our feet along as they played a mix of “Pata Pata” and “In the Jungle.” What a memorable night.
4. Beefcakes Gay Bar & Drag Queen Show
Now, for a very different type of nightlife… What is the gay scene like in Cape Town? I must say, pink and fabulous! The gay bar Beefcakes has a double meaning: it serves burgers, and the waiters are all beefed-up studs!
Beefcakes has frequent “boogie nights” that bring in LGBT and alternative performers. The bar is a favorite destination for girls nights too. We saw a bachelorette doing a “body shot” off a waiter’s six pack.
But that evening, all eyes were on drag queen Champagne le Roux. She took the stage, and made snide but light-hearted comments about people in the audience. At one point, my cutesy lion backpack was the subject of her interrogation.
After some song-and-dance numbers, it was time for “Bitchy Bingo.” Champagne ordered a “ball boy” to come on stage and pick out bingo numbers.
Our friend Vicky won! She had to go onstage to dance with the queen, and then got awarded prizes like a Beefcakes calendar and a bottle of warm beer.
5. African Cuisine
Speaking of meat, Cape Town Tourism organized some outstanding meals for us. At Africa Cafe, I tried pap for the first time — a mushy, gluey staple carb made from ground maize. The menu offered African exotic meats, including springbok, impala, crocodile, and warthog (alas, poor Pumbaa!).
6. Drinking Cap Classique
Alcohol is a big part of my Top 10 list, isn’t it? At Hallelujah, I tasted a selection of Cap Classique “champagne,” a bubbly wine from South Africa. It was apparently a favorite of Marie Antoinette and European royalty.
Hallelujah also serves outstanding Asian street food at like prawns with hot steamed buns and coleslaw. Melt-in-your mouth dishes designed for sharing, inspired by dim sum and Asia comfort foods. I didn’t realize Cape Town had such hip restaurants and bars.
7. The House of Machines
A lot of locals recommended a bar called The House of Machines. Once we got there, we saw what all the buzz was about. This space is a mix of motorcycles, men’s fashion, art and cocktails.
They make a mean dark and stormy cocktail, and the music (indie rock, dance, local) is spot on. The next time I’m in Cape Town, I’ll be heading straight here.
8. Handmade Local Fashion
Missibaba is a women-run leather studio that stays true to its Cape Town origins. Many of the accessories take inspiration from African art, such as purses with tribal patterns.
A devotee of “slow fashion,” Missbaba employs local craftswomen who make almost all of the designs by hand.
Lead designer Chloe Townsend is passionate about “slow fashion” and supporting South African women. Her workshop employs craftswomen from an underprivileged township, and she donates a portion of proceeds to local empowerment programs.
9. Young Design Studios
Remember my trip to Woodstock Exchange, a modern art hub? You can’t leave Cape Town without exploring the cool studios inside.
I interviewed designer Atang Tshikare of Zabalazaa about his urban illustrations, which he custom-creates on skateboards and other surfaces.
He shares a space with Jasper Eales, a product designer who won awards for his eco-friendly design solutions, like a clever surfboard storage rack.
10. Powerful Political Art
Cape Town has a tumultuous history that is often contemplated in its local art. Ralph Ziman’s photos symbolize the devastation caused by arms trading. He photographed street vendors holding AK-47 guns, created out of African beads and wire.
His team showed us “Resistance”, a 100-meter long installation of a broken gun made from wheat paste. The weapon is wrapped in world currencies, symbolizing the international complicity in the arms trade.
I leave you with this smiling warthog from the vineyard. He seems to be humming Hakuna Matata.
Did this post open your eyes to South Africa’s wines, LGBT nightlife and restaurants? Please let us know your feedback on the video, and where you’d like us to see us travel next!
I’m glad you enjoyed the first half of my Year in Review! In this post, we’ll look back at the last six months of 2014, which took me to eight different countries for various work collaborations.
We’ll begin with this magic moment, in front of the glowing orange Tokyo Tower. I’ve lost count of how many times I have been to Japan, but each time, I fall in love with the country once again.
This year, I began working with Odigo.travel — a startup that lets travelers plan “exceptional journeys” to Japan, by creating trips and getting offbeat tips from insiders like me.
In June, Odigo flew me to Tokyo to give a speech in front of hundreds at PechaKucha. I spoke about my bizarre journey from blogging to TV presenting, writing and traveling worldwide. << Curious about my presentation? Watch my Pecha Kucha speech.
I’m excited for the official launch of Odigo early next year, and invite you to get a sneak peek here. Odigo lets you discover the coolest attractions in Japan — such as the adorable owl cafe — and put together a customized trip with all the addresses, maps, hours and info in one place. You can also contribute your own write-ups and images; take a look at Odigo, and I hope you’ll enjoy using the site.
As part of my mission to find Asia hotspots, I flew to Taipei for the first time. Here’s a Nanette Lepore outfit post from Taiwan’s Humble House boutique hotel.
Taipei’s cheeky, modern art scene impressed me. Looks like the resident caveman (at Le Meridien) is trying to apologize to me. Perhaps he tried to steal my cat… << All the photos and outfit details here.
Did you think “kawaii” cute culture was found only in Japan? In fact, Hello Kitty is possibly even more popular in Taiwan. She has a theme cafe in Taipei, and Sanrio had an interactive exhibition while I was there. (I haven’t blogged about this yet — I know, I’m always backlogged — but you can peer inside the Hong Kong Hello Kitty cafe.)
I keep busy with a variety of different projects. I was in Hong Kong for a big TV shoot with Pro Sieben (German television). Can’t say much about this yet, but I’ll show you the photos and clip when they air next spring.
I wrote a number of articles for magazines this year, like Sunday Times Travel UK. I also have my own column in each issue of Hong Kong Express Airways’ in-flight magazine (scans above).
As I mentioned in the last post, my focus is now on coverage I find meaningful — hence the stories about travel and underground culture worldwide. I’d feel empty if I followed the typical fashion blog format: outfit photos, consumption-oriented roundups, and little else of substance.
Nonetheless, I’m still passionate about style when I can express it on my own terms. I love to support designers who do things differently: slow fashion, alternative styles, eco materials, vintage. Moat House’s sunglasses are a perfect example, and I was honored to model their frames on a life-size poster in Paris.
I returned to Hong Kong, which remains one of my favorite cities thanks to my friends and relatives here. I organized an influencers dinner for Odigo, and took Yukiro around to my favorite boutiques and restaurants.
Things got Miffy-crazy in our Hong Kong penthouse, at the Upper House Hotel… You’ve got to see this epic blog and video, if you missed it!
My Pirates and I went to the new art center: PMQ in Central. At the time, there was an exhibition of 1600 panda bear statues. A powerful (and cute) way to get word out on the WWF, and their work in protecting endangered animals.
Oh, and the delicious food we ate in HK! Above was one of the best meals of the year, a melt-in-your-mouth sashimi salad by Harlan Goldstein at Sushi To. << Check out all my Hong Kong restaurant reviews.
My Asia journey didn’t end there. I went to Seoul for the first time in over a decade, and it’s changed so much. Fortunately, my friends Eat Your Kimchi gave me pointers on where to see the best of K-pop culture. << Wander inside the EYK YouTube studio.
… and got beamed up into the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. Now that’s what I call space disco architecture!
This year, I realized more than ever: you only live once, and opportunities may never come again. So when Cape Town Tourism invited my film team and me to go to South Africa, we had to say yes — even though it was happening during an insane travel period. We weathered a sleepless schedule, trans-continental flights, lost luggage, and other fiascoes along the way.
But as soon as we stepped out onto the colorful streets of the Bo Kaap, I knew we made the right choice. We had so many wonderful moments on this trip — jazz in townships, Stellenbosch wines, street art, hanging out with local artists.
I also went on my first safari, and it was as magnificent as I imagined. We took photos of elephants, rhinos, zebras and this pride of lions.
Perhaps you’ve been wondering: who is “we”? Or rather, who goes on these trips with me? Since my jobs require high-quality photos and videos, I’m not a solo traveler.
For the most part, these comrades are Eric and Melissa, my close friends and seasoned filmmakers. With each project, we aim to improve the quality of everything we produce. I hope you’ve been enjoying the recent visuals and stories — we’ll keep on upping the ante in 2015.
In the late summer, I was honored to be the cover model for Kirameki Magazine, wearing a Moi-meme-Moitie dress. << See all the photos and credits from this shoot.
Also, fun fact: I found out I’m a direct descendant of 16th century Chinese military leader, Yuan Chonghuan (袁崇焕)! His story is rather heavy metal… In the Ming Dynasty, Yuen was a revered commander who twice defeated the Mongol army, but was later betrayed and killed via Death by a Thousand Cuts. His enemies in Beijing rushed to buy and eat his body parts, but his loyal friend She managed to rescue the head. For the past 300 years, She’s descendants have been guarding my ancestor’s decapitated head. I’m not sure where it is today, but my family still has an ancestral plot of land in Dongguan, his southern Chinese hometown…
After a bit of sunshine in Vancouver, I was back on the plane to a new Asian destination… Cebu in the Philippines! The streets were a jumble of colorful jeepneys.
… and we did a showcase of their gorgeous Pacific Cebu Resort (travel video to be released soon).
Jet lag, what’s that? The small annoyances are all worth it, when you get to experience a near-perfect day like this one. << Look back at my boating and beach adventure in Lapu Lapu.
We flew a few hours north, and wound up in what seemed like completely different universe: Shanghai, China. Here’s the glowing Bund, which captures how fast the city’s developed in recent years.
I went to the mainland a few times when I was growing up, and it never looked anything like this. I still have more to show you about Shanghai’s young design scene, hip restaurants, and French Quarter. << For now, here’s an outfit post from Cachet Boutique Hotel.
Before the end of the year, I made two final trips: to New Orleans, and San Francisco for a TV shoot with ABC Nightline. I haven’t had a chance to post about these adventures yet, but here’s a preview at my new hair color (a blue-purple-magenta ombre by Stephanie Hoy). You can look forward to these stories and several new travel videos, beginning in January.
Middle East, Africa, Asia… what’s next? I hope you’ll continue to join my journey in 2015, since I have big plans up my kimono-sleeves! Check out @lacarmina on Instagram for day-to-day images, and to hear announcements like reader meet-ups.
Thanks for being with me on my journey — I read all messages and comments, and am grateful for all the love you give. It’s amazing to connect with like-minded people who believe in what I do. See you next year. Let’s make it the best one yet!
It’s almost the end of 2014! So much has happened this year, especially behind-the-scenes. New friends, wild times, and a renewed focus on the type of work that (I feel) truly matters.
In 2015, I’m committed to keep focusing on this bigger picture. So you’ll keep on seeing first-hand stories about alternative beauty, innovators pushing boundaries, underground travel and subcultures all around the globe. I think my work makes the biggest difference when it encourages people to challenge preconceptions (about topics like body modifications or drag queens), and express themselves as they wish to be — without fear.
In terms of meeting these goals, 2014 was a Very Metal Year indeed. Let’s get retrospective, and highlight some of my favorite destinations and stories from the first six months. I also have some bonus material from Jordan, which I never got around to posting until now. (Above, I’m with Tel Aviv fashion blogger Korin Avraham.)
At the start of the year, my travel filmmakers and I went to Israel, by invitation of the tourism board. We’ve been eager to come here for a long time. I’m fascinated by ancient destinations that have a surprisingly modern and creative culture.
Talk about reversing expectations: I imagined a Moses-like landscape of sand dunes. But from my hotel room at the Dan Tel Aviv, I had a perfect view of the beach. I sat by the window and watched the waves glowing at sunset.
One of the highlights was going on a Tel Aviv style tour (see all the photos in part 1 and part 2). Galit (right) took us to meet designers whose work perfectly matched my interests, such as upcycled vintage and unicorn wedding dresses. It felt like going shopping with a friend, and I still stay in touch with all the designers she introduced.
Since some of you requested a summary of outfits from 2014, here are a few more photos of what I wore in Israel. (Details of what I’m wearing here).
One of my favorite days of all of 2014 was exploring Jerusalem. I did a very special photo diary about our day in the Holy City, and why I feel travel is so important.
Perhaps you’re wondering… whatever happened to our Israel video? Around the time we completed it, the country was unfortunately experiencing conflict. My editors felt it would be most respectful to wait until later to run this upbeat travel episode. Hopefully, we can share it with you soon — stay tuned.
I take thousands of photos in each trip, and not all the stories make it onto this site. It seems wrong to deprive you of Miffy-ness, so here’s an outfit photo from our Jordan journey with Ya’lla Tours.
Our private driver took us to Pella, one of the country’s most impressive archaeological sites. These ancient ruins date back 8000 years, and were part of the Decapolis (the 10 centers of Greco-Roman civilization in this region).
One of the benefits of traveling with Ya’lla: we had our own driver and guide, who told us about the history as we journeyed. In Jordan, there wouldn’t have been any easy way to get around on our own, especially with the ruin sites located far apart.
On this 3-day road trip, we crossed through Amman. Through the window, I saw Roman columns, sunsets, children running towards us from Bedouin villages… and a whole lot of rocks.
The tour included unique experiences, like a cooking class at Petra Kitchen in Wadi Musa. The friendly chefs came by each table, shook their heads in mock-frustration, and demonstrated how the vegetables were supposed to be cut (ours were too big, or misshaped)…
We learned how to prepare a number of Jordanian dishes, including baba ghanoush and fattoush. At the end, all the Petra Kitchen students sat together and shared the meal. I love activities like this, which let you put your hands into the local food culture, and would come back again.
The next day was a dream come true: visiting the lost city of Petra. << All the photos here.
Here’s the Treasury of Petra, which you may recognize as the site of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I never expected I’d be able to visit places like this.
The next months were also spent traveling, but on more familiar terrain. I stopped by LA to attend Oscars parties. My Mickey Mouse two-buns hairstyle got quite a bit of attention.
Then I went to Toronto for meetings, and caught up with friends in the Goth alternative scene. I finally got to see Amy’s Arms perform at Lee’s Palace, where Scott Pilgrim had an epic battle or two.
The girls and I did a photoshoot wearing Gloomth, the Gothic Lolita Victorian label by my friend Taeden. (All photos from this shoot here).
Growing up, I was fascinated with 1960s hippie culture and took university classes about Buddhism. It was a joy to stay at the San Francisco Zen Center, especially after hearing so much about it. I particularly loved the courtyard with a fountain and hidden Buddha statues.
My friends and I had a reunion in San Francisco, and held a performance event at Wicked Grounds. Thanks to everyone who came out to meet us! If you’re visiting the city soon, you might enjoy my San Francisco Goth clubbing and bar guide.
Off to another much-loved US destination: New York City. Even though I lived here for years (while in school), I discover new places each time. This time, I did a shoot at the Paper Factory Hotel. I couldn’t help but smile as I gazed at the Manhattan skyline, from the graffiti-marked rooftop.
I was in NYC for a secret filming project, which will all make sense soon (fingers crossed that I can spill the beans in early 2015!)
For one lively scene, I judged a cosplay competition at Maid Cafe NY << Check out the impressive handmade costumes, and see who won the contest.
I also hosted an alternative club night with King Vulcanus Levi and NYC friends. He crowned me with one of his feathered creations. << Peek into the madness.
That’s already a lot for one post, so I’ll end this here. Next, I’ll summarize the second half of the year, where I went all around Asia and to Africa for the first time…
How do you feel when you look back upon 2014? What are you aiming to achieve in 2015?