San Francisco has some of the best vintage, avantgarde and Japanese streetwear boutiques in the USA. Are you keen on Lolita dresses? 1940s veiled hats? Cyber tribal bodysuits?
Then this San Fran shopping guide is for you — including photos from Japantown, and the Jpop department store New People World.
PS: I’m currently having a lovely time in paradise, aka Cebu in the Philippines. You can see outfit previews and more on my Instagram.
That day, I wore an off-shoulder dress, sent to me by Alice’s Pig — a London based label inspired by urban vintage. The morning light shows off the silhouette and 90s-style dark floral print.
It was an appropriate outfit for visiting Torso Vintages, purveyors of the finest and most flamboyant fashions from past decades. (Address: 290 Sutter Street, in the SF Financial District)
Trevor showed Yukiro and me around Torso’s lower floor racks. Everything here is a decadent work of art, made with the finest materials and lovingly displayed. Price tags are on the high side, but that’s to be expected of dressing gowns that seem to come from the court of St Petersburg.
I was speechless at the curiosities everywhere. On the staircase, I came across this white bird mask. In the back room, we got to peek at the most treasured designs, including a futuristic hat worn by Michael Jackson.
Torso is an institution in San Francisco — they’re simply the best at finding designs with old-time magic. Co-owner John (far left) has dressed quite a few celebrities in this store.
I couldn’t resist getting dolled up too. I fancied myself as an old heiress, draping myself in shawls and hats before a tea party.
Imaginative pieces from the days of Art Deco, brought back to life on the mannequins.
The clothes aren’t just for human peacocks. John can help you find something to match any personality or occasion. At Torso, you invest in something special that you will keep and re-wear for years, if not decades.
The pins, the colors, the scarves… this is a wearable museum. Torso is one of the most outstanding vintage stores I’ve seen in all of America — so get over here!
Another must-visit district is Haight Ashbury. Haight is pronounced “hate” but this street is all about peace, love… and funka-delic clothing.
Haight-Ashbury was the hippie hangout in the 1960s, and it still has that tie-dye trippy vibe. There were quite a few Tibetan boutiques with Buddhist altars. (It reminded me of the garden at the San Francisco Zen Center,) where we stayed.
Most of the stores on Haight Street are too hippie-dippie for my taste, but I adored Ceiba SF. The window had this tribal-fusion mannequin in white, and a tribute to the late HR Giger.
Inside, Ceiba is a wonderland of dark futuristic fashion, by labels like Gelareh and Mother of London. Leather, harnesses, alien forms, draped dystopic designs. Be still, my beating heart.
I’d recommend spending half a day shopping along Haight Street, starting at Whole Foods and Golden Gate park, and making your way down towards Bound Together, the anarchist collective bookstore. That’s San Fran in a nutshell! (Later, I’ll take you inside the Oddities SF store Loved to Death — it deserves its own post.)
The city has a large Japanese population, making it a center for Jpop culture and events, such as J-summit. Most of the action happens in — obviously — Japantown. Start at the Peace Plaza, crowed by this Peace Pagoda. There’s a Daiso next to it (the dollar store filled with kawaii goods).
The most popular shopping destination is New People World, an entertainment complex dedicated to Tokyo street fashion and culture. (Address: 1746 Post Street). You can find both modern and traditional garments here.
There are only a few boutiques in total, so don’t get your expectations up too high — this isn’t like shopping at Marui Shinjuku. Still, stores like MaruQ have a sweet selection of cute, gyaru and Lolita clothing.
Is that a red-haired Archie comics character in the back?
Not quite. This is Aymmy in the batty girls, a new brand starring model Ayumi Seto. It imagines her as a Jpop girl working in a 1950s Americana diner.
The shop has a mix of cute, colorful fashions. Some are Tokyo brands, some are local.
There are a lot of cute characters lying about, such as Rilakkuma the bear.
Perhaps I’m spoiled from shopping in Asia all the time… Nothing really caught my eye, especially upstairs. The prices were quite steep compared to Hong Kong and Japan, and I was able to browse through the entire building in 30 minutes.
However, if you live in North America, I know it can be hard to get your hands on kawaii clothing and toys unless you order online.
For this reason, I’m glad there is a department store like New People World, which makes Japanese items more readily available.
Don’t forget to stop by the little cafe at the front for tea. The sign says “Nothing replaces a mother’s love except perhaps a fine cup of tea.”
Finally, let’s mosey over to the Mission, around 16th and Valencia St. This is an artsy yet still grungy district, which was a punk haven in the 1970s.
Next to a secondhand store, we saw these rainbows and kissing unicorn-ladies.
This is Clarion Alley, an alleyway covered in murals (between Mission and Valencia / 17th and 18th Streets). The works are mostly trippy, and constantly changing. We passed by an artist who was painting dogs on a door.
Walk along Valencia and you’ll see lots of hipster interior design and clothing boutiques, as well as secondhand clothing at low prices.
I was enthralled by Paxton Gate, two shops filled with curiosities for both kids and adults. (Address: 766 and 824 Valencia St, SF).
Here, “buying a stuffed cat” has a whole different meaning…
Taxidermy piranhas, anyone? A nice house-warming gift for the Addams Family, perhaps.
Steampunk white mice, stuffed and standing! Now I’ve seen everything.
Skulls and bones and spooky objects — Paxton Gate rocks.
And don’t miss the Pirate Supply Store at 826 Valencia! It’s a treasure chest of pirate-y slogans and must-haves like… a jar of gangrene. The shop is actually the “business” front for the writing non-profit started by Dave Eggers.
I leave you with a snap of my Alice’s Pig skirt and crop top. For more of this outfit, check out my San Francisco travel posts. They include guides to alternative Goth nightlife, restaurants, and other sights.
Have you shopped in San Francisco? What other boutiques would you recommend, in Japan-Town or elsewhere?
One of the perks of travel writing: you get to stay in a lot of nice hotels. At this point, it takes a lot to knock my fishnets off.
But Hong Kong’s modern luxury hotel, The Upper House, left me speechless. I can’t stop thinking about the Zen interior design, and attention to “guest experience” that goes far beyond 5-stars.
And boy did we have fun, partying in our mega-suite overlooking the harbor! We hope you smile at our video about the Upper House, and Miffy-madness below.
The seamless service began as soon as Yukiro and I arrived at Hong Kong Airport. A driver welcomed us with a “La Carmina” sign, and drove us straight to the Upper House hotel in a luxury black car. Instead of having to wait in a check-in line, our “Guest Experience Manager” immediately took us up to our upgraded suite on the 41st floor. After he gave us a tour, we fell over on the floor, dazed by the unpretentious yet majestic treatment we had received!
Death rang the doorbell (aka John Skeleton). Outside, Hong Kong is humid, aggressive and stifling. But here, we felt like we were floating in a Zen cloud, far above the madness.
The bathroom is as large as an apartment in Japan (400 sq ft), and stocked with every amenity imaginable. Tweezers? Check. Eye cream? Check. The star of the show is the limestone free-standing bathtub, fronted by a curved, abstract sculpture made of sandstone.
The Upper House is located at Pacific Place in Admiralty — an ideal location, only a few stops from Central and Causeway Bay. The staff knows every guest by name, and greeted us as we entered and exited. Yukiro was easy to remember, with his rockabilly hair and fiery disposition!
An epic view requires an epic pose. My dress is a present from Nanette Lepore: it’s this exact Runaway Stripe design, which is great for traveling since it can be dressed up or down. The crochet top is by Liz Lisa.
The Upper House staff goes out of its way to make guests blissfully happy, and left these thoughtful gifts in our room. During our room orientation, Yukiro mentioned that he wanted to buy Chinese tea. The next day, there was a complimentary tea box in the room, along with a handwritten note!
The Upper House is under the Swire Hotels umbrella, and designed by young architect Andre Fu. He received international accolades for his work here, and deservedly so.
At first glance, the interiors are minimal. However, the longer you stay here, the more you’ll notice subtle elements that convey a warm and peaceful feeling. Such as symmetry, rounded shapes, and natural materials (ceramics, wood, sandstone).
Case in point: the elevator has no “Close” button, to encourage guest to slow down and breathe. Yukiro decided to push “Yes” on Death’s t-shirt instead.
The 6th floor has a secret garden with a grassy lawn. Guests can relax and join yoga classes in this oasis.
We couldn’t keep our 1230 square foot Upper Suite to ourselves. So we invited over a few friends…
Once again, an example of the glorious guest service: the manager heard we were having a get-together, so he sent up a bottle of champagne!
Have you noticed that at my parties, someone always ends up on the floor, getting kicked?
Soon, we had a fabulous mix of fashion bloggers, designers, models, photographers, illustrators, Instagram stars…
Hong Kong doesn’t really have an underground or alternative clubbing scene. The best parties tend to be private get-togethers, like ours.
Everyone enjoyed relaxing on the bespoke furniture. Each room has an iPod touch and stereo set-up, so Death plugged in and DJ-ed.
Erm… things got a bit crazy…
How spooky, the far left face! Our guests ate up everything in the complimentary Maxi Bar: free coconut water, juices, beer, sweets, cookies.
We put the big bathtub to good use. I think we fit about 10 people in there!
The lighting and design make the Upper House an ideal place for Instagramming.
Want to see our Italo Disco dancing and shenanigans? Check out our silly video.
The next day, we discovered Miffy in the comfy bed. She refused to move from the 400 thread count linen.
She worked off her hangover by taking a bath, while gazing at the skyline view.
Oh Miffeh… that’s enough beer for you! And don’t try to leave with that robe!
One of my favorite parts of the Upper House was this dark entry tunnel. As guests ascend, they enter into a serene mindset, leaving behind the bustle and noise of the city.
My Cream Skull top and pink dress with Goth crosses are from Hyoma, Izzue / I.T store.
Andre Fu designed the space to feel like a private residence, hence the absence of a check-in counter and other typical “hotel” elements. Tranquility is the key here…
… communicated thorugh subtle design elements. We didn’t notice this Zen sand arrangement by the escalators until a few days later.
A peaceful pool, to encourage reflection.
I particularly loved the choice of contemporary art. Light and shadow near the restaurant, a “cocoon” in the elevator, all integrated naturally into the design.
I’m still thinking of my breakfast at Cafe Gray Deluxe. Yukiro enjoyed berry pancakes with creme fraiche, while I had truffled eggs on a croissant. Everything is made fresh to order.
I wish I could have spent more time on the 49th floor Sky Lounge, which has a fireplace, snacks, and reading materials. How about this view of Wan Chai and the Peak?
This photo says it all: we didn’t want to leave the Upper House Hotel! The most basic rooms are $700 US a night, but the numerous perks and attentive service make it worth the value. The staff cares about your experience, and doesn’t nickle-and-dime you for extras. For a special occasion, this is a splurge that is truly memorable. At the very least, come for dinner with a view, at Cafe Gray Deluxe restaurant (we reviewed it in this post.)
Thanks to the Upper House for this unforgettable stay. I felt rejuvenated, and renewed my appreciation for my friends and Hong Kong. It does’t get better than that.
PS: Don’t forget to watch our funny video about how we enjoyed our suite!
Life has not been crawling at a snail’s pace lately: I’ve been overwhelmed with dream jobs and trips this year. Bear with me, as I put together coverage from my trips to Africa and Asia. In this post, I’ll give you a tour of Cape Town’s colorful art in the Woodstock district.
But first, announcing my next destinations. I’m going back to Hong Kong, and for the first time, I’ll be in Cebu and Shanghai! I’m working on a number of travel projects, including a partnership with a new hotel group. I’m also doing a major network TV shoot in Hong Kong, appearing on-camera as host and also arranging the production.
Finally, whenever my filmmakers and I have a moment to breathe, we’ll capture stories about Asia subcultures for you. If you have tips for places to visit, especially in Shanghai and Cebu, please leave me a comment. (Above, I’m in front of the Cat’s Living cat cafe in Hongdae, Seoul.)
Now, let’s flash-back to my first time in Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu described post-apartheid South Africa as a “Rainbow Nation.” His words describe Cape Town’s Woodstock district particularly well. This neighborhood has developed from an inner-city slum into a colorful art haven. Locals live next to design studios, and in homes decorated by international artists.
Juma Mkwela took my team and me on a Woodstock art walking tour. He came to South Africa from Zimbabwe, and was a victim of the 2008 xenophobic attacks. Juma turned this tragedy into an impetus for change: he now uses art to educate children, and inspire social development in disadvantaged areas.
Not long ago, Woodstock was run-down with crime and drugs. In 2011, a local artist called Freddy Sam launched a revival project, aiming to bring pride and color back into the community. Today, Woodstock is a trendy hub with homes painted by dozens of international artists, mainly with messages of peace and love.
Using giant walls and buildings as canvases, these artists — coming from countries like Canada, UK, and China — created art in a mix of creative styles. We spotted what looks like an evil Bart Simpson. (Photography by Melissa Rundle, Eric Bergemann and La Carmina.)
Many paid tribute to Africa, by depicting animals such as the ones we saw at Aquila Safari. An elephant eye stares out from this wall.
Pets are a popular motif. This dog painting integrates with the existing materials of exposed brick and cracked walls.
Some of the works are provocative. Argentinian artist JAZ made this “Not Eating” urban mural, showing a big cat devouring a man’s head.
Here’s another version by JAZ, with colors that match the rust of the pole in front. Juma told us that these murals revitalized the area, and created a sense of pride in the community.
The artists get permission to paint the walls, and work with residents to create a design. Many incorporate portraits of the homeowners, or elements that reflect their personalities. I suppose I’d live in this Victorian home with cute pastel elephants on the front.
Apartheid only ended in 1994, and locals still remember how it loomed over their lives. In the spirit of Nelson Mandela, many chose to paint messages of tolerance. One of my favorites is this “One Heart, One Love” mural by Boamistura, a group of five Madrid artists.
I’m dressed rather internationally: a rainbow lion t-shirt from Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, leggings from Hong Kong’s Izzue, a fuzzy jacket from Peace Now Japan, and a scarf from San Francisco’s Chinatown.
The “most fabulous” award goes to New York’s Cern, who made this purple marvel starring the homeowner’s deceased white cat. I like how he used the curve of the gate to make an elephant’s forehead and trunk.
Juma walked with us all around Woodstock, pointing out hidden works and talking about their inspiration. Colors and cute faces peeked out from alleyways.
Andy Warhol would give a thumb’s up to this wall of product labels.
The Woodstock art initiative has truly uplifted the district. Children help out with the painting, and locals say they’re proud of their decorated homes.
What a coincidence: this segmented rainbow lion statue perfectly matches my Thailand t-shirt! Just by walking around and interacting with the designs, I felt uplifted. I’m a big supporter of using art as a means for positive change.
I could sense that the murals were made with passion. Some had important messages of anti-poaching; this one reminds us that hundreds of rhinos are still killed each year for their horns.
Some works were black and white, and abstract. This intricate design is by Yumanizumu of Japan.
Others encourage you to pose and have fun. Help, I’m being attacked by giant bees!
Quite a few hint at the tumultuous history of Cape Town. Woodstock is next to District 6, where 60,000 people of all ethnicities lived together until they were relocated by force in the 1970s. Today, District Six is razed and empty.
I thought the most successful works were the ones that were vivid, had a connection to Africa, and made you think. Interesni Kazki’s “Zebra Suit” is a great example, and leaves the meaning open to your interpretation.
When Juma told us to look up, we all grinned and did the “Carleton dance.” It’s Will Smith, as the Fresh Prince of Bel Air!
Time to explore Woodstock Exchange or WEX, a modern building that incubates young artists and creative shops. The open space is very Portlandia-hipster, isn’t it?
Woodstock Exchange features public installations, like this swing. I’ll later take you inside the creative studios, where artists work and play.
I’m a fan of this sleeping dog statue by Frank van Reenen. Next door, there are multiple design and fashion boutiques, and art galleries.
We had a healthy lunch at Superette. I could eat their veggie sandwiches and protein-salad plates every day; everything is prepared with locally-source seasonal ingredients. For a drink, it’s hard to decide between the fresh lemonade, ginger kombucha, local roast coffee, and craft beers.
On a different day, we ate fresh seafood at Ocean Jewels in WEX. $4 US for a plate of grilled angelfish and sweet potatoes. Once again, I could have this daily!
Leave room for a drink at Lady Bonin’s Tea Parlour, described as a “Purveyor of Magical Infusions and Tasty Curiosi-Teas.” I tried brewed buchu, a South African woody plant that has traditional medicinal properties, and is drunk to help digestion.
Lady Bonin also serves gluten-free and sugar-free snacks. We tried the matcha, and rooibos with mocha.
Isn’t the street art in Woodstock incredible? Gotta love this blue fellow with Bam Bam hair. Thanks Cape Town Tourism and Juma for the inspiring tour.
I leave you with multicolored works by two Spanish artists. Okuda…
… and Remed. Without doubt, South Africa is a Rainbow Nation.
PS: Don’t forget, I will be in the Philippines (Cebu), China (Shanghai) and Hong Kong soon! Let me know your travel suggestions, and follow along my trips in real-time on my social networks (@lacarmina, linked in the right sidebar).
Ready for a double-dose of cuteness? My spooky friend John Skeleton has a special report for you — about the Hello Kitty cafe (My Melody & Kuromi pop-up) and One Piece exhibition in Hong Kong.
Quick, the “Sanrio Star Chef Institute” only runs until September 14 at Langham Place mall in Mongkok… so I hope you make it there on time.
If you miss it, you can instead visit the permanent Hello Kitty Secret Garden cafe (address: 19 Ormsby Street, Tai Hang near Causeway Bay). The “secret” seems to be arriving early, since this is a small cafe that is specially packed on the weekends. They don’t take advance reservations, and patrons often must line up for hours to get a table.
Back to John, who braved the Sunday crowds to visit the Sanrio pop-up. “If you’re looking for cute character goods in Hong Kong, Mong Kok is the place to go. The cuteness doesn’t just stop with plush dolls and accessories though.”
“Now at Langham Place, the kawaii invasion is in full swing, with a mini Sanrio village in the main atrium and Sanrio Star Dining taking over some of the stylish cafés in the upper floor.” (Address: 555 Shanghai Street, Mongkok, Kowloon, HK.)
As you can see from his photos, the mall is filled with your favorite Sanrio characters, past and present. The Twin Stars, popular in the 1980s, have made a comeback (probably because their retro-pastel color scheme fits with the current pastel-goth and fairy kei styling).
You know the 1990s revival is in full swing when you see Bad Badtz Maru, the angsty black penguin. For some reason, I always thought he was a crow.
Kiki and Lala seem to be teaching a molecular cocktail lesson. All the Sanrio mascots appear in a food context, since this is a theme cafe takeover.
As you ascend the elevators, the statues indicate there is cute food on the way. Panda cake rolls, anyone?
Hana Maru, the white seal from the Bad Badtz universe, seems to be directing the crowd into an orderly queue. Hong Kong locals adore Hello Kitty and friends, so this exhibition got an enormous attendance.
It’s interesting to note that the usual star of the show — Miss Hello Kitty — is not the main focus. In fact, Kuromi and My Melody are the major players since they have their own temporary cafe here.
These gates welcome you into the culinary institute of Kitty. Notice that her pink hair bow is topped with a chef’s hat, forming a vaguely phallic symbol.
The kid’s face on the far left says it all. This is fun, fun, fun.
Everyone can pose and take photos with the giant statues of Sanrio characters. The backdrops are designed for 3D interaction, so that you can pretend to ride an ice cream truck with Hello Kitty, or take the cone from her hand. (I went to a similar exhibition in Songshan Park, Taipei — photos coming up soon.)
Every section was packed with people, especially families. John and his friend ate lunch at one of the themed eateries, “a collaboration with ishiyaki+café, known for its Japanese stone pot (ishiyaki) dishes.”
He says, “While the food is normally worth the price, now you can find enjoy your favorite cuisine surrounded by My Melody and Kuromi.”
“My latte, wrap, and scrumptious dessert were graced with the image of the mischievous Kuromi…”
“… while My Melody was featured in the stone pot dish surrounded by fresh salmon sashimi.”
“If you plan to visit, make sure you arrive well in advance, as the wait time was five hours when I stopped by! If you’re willing to brave the queue, ishiyaki-café’s My Melody and Kuromi pop-up café is more than enough to satisfy your craving for food, sweets, and extreme levels of cuteness.”
Langham Place also has a Little Twin Stars Pop-up Café at the moment. How creative are these decorations? I’d be tempted to eat the pastel Twin Stars macaroons, Kuromi berry tart and Pom Pom Purin pannecotta.
Remember that this Sanrio food fiesta closes on September 14 in Hong Kong, so get there stat.
Mr Skeleton went to another quirky Hong Kong exhibition, this time starring your favorite Japanese anime pirates.
“Avast, One Piece lovers, and prepare to be boarded! One Piece Docks in Hong Kong’s Times Square!”
The Straw Hat Pirates seem to have left a souvenir on top of the Causeway Bay clock. Unfortunately, the One Piece ship has sailed, but you should still check out Times Square Mall for its ever-changing free exhibits. (Address: 1 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay)
My Pirate reports, “First appearing in 1997 in the pages of Weekly Shōnen Jump, Oda Eichirō’s beloved manga has spawned 74 volumes to date and has also become a hugely successful animated television series.”
“One Piece (ワンピース) is now a global phenomenon, and Hong Kongers are also in love with the story of Monkey D. Luffy and his quest to become the Pirate King.”
“I visited Times Square to relive these favorite moments with Luffy and his crew, and an 11-meter-tall replica of their pirate vessel! If you’re brave enough to face the lines (up to 90 minutes!), you can even board the vessel for a one-of-a-kind photo opportunity.”
“Inside Times Square there is more pirate mayhem to be found, including life-sized statues of One Piece’s most memorable characters, and massive displays of the many figurines available.”
This little boy seems more enraptured with the toys than the gargantuan Battle Frankies, a type of battleship.
“Don’t forget to check out the Marketplace, where you can find a wide range of One Piece goods.”
“And be sure to get your picture with everyone’s favorite anthropomorphic reindeer, Tony Tony Chopper.”
Photography is allowed — unlike in Japan, the attitude towards photo-taking is more relaxed in Hong Kong. Regardless, this statue seem to be crossing her arms to say “forbidden” (or “dah-meh”) in Japanese.
Hong Kong always has funny, kawaii exhibitions — most are free, and open to the public. When you visit HK, make an effort to find out what’s currently on (most take place at PMQ, Langham Place, Times Square, and Tsim Sha Tsui terminal).
We also posed for photos at a Batman display — I’ll put those up soon too.
Thanks to John Skeleton for the photos and guest post on my blog! Stay tuned for the news about where I’ll be next… hint, I’ll be in three very different cities.
Who is your favorite Sanrio character? Do you watch or read One Piece?