It’s almost the holidays, and I’m winding down my travels for the year. While in Hong Kong this month, I snapped some photos in front of a cute Xmas tree and decorations.
I’ve had so many work trips this year that it’s been hard to catch up on blogging. There’s a lot from Asia to come (Hong Kong, Myanmar, Japan).
But before Christmas comes around, it feels right to release my final post from Brussels — one of my favorite destinations of 2016.
If you Brussels is a boring city — then I have a feeling this story will change your mind.
“Bruxelles” is currently one of the best places in Europe to be a young artist. There’s a huge number of new galleries and fairs here, which are open to emerging artists. These experimental attitudes and relatively low rents have resulted in a vibrant scene (remember the David Bowie mural I wrote about?)
Not convinced? Then let’s start with a visit to a fetish art exhibit!
Visit Belgium introduced us to Maison Particulière, and it turned out to be one of the best exhibits I’ve seen in a long time. (Address: Rue du Châtelain 49, 1050 Ixelles, Belgium)
This unconventional space is a private townhouse originally built in 1880. Nothing is for sale, but anyone can walk in and appreciate the works without fees. Maison Particuliere encourages you to pick up a book, curl up on one of the seats, and enjoy the displays for as long as you wish.
The exhibits are constantly changing, and pertain to a theme. With S&M birdhouses, silicone labias and Thai ladyboys… I’d say this “ta.bu” curation lives up to its name!
Everything — from Mapplethorpe nude photographs, to scandalous taxidermy — reflected on the idea of taboo.
“Banned, proscribed, prohibited, censored, feared, dreaded, transgressed, trespassed… Taboos are inherent to society and to mankind. No matter what they are, taboos are invariably rooted in the fear of danger.”
The idea of Taboo was expressed in an impressive range of mediums. Age, disease, sexuality, sadomasochism and other “repulsive” subjects are brought to the forefront for discussion.
Some of the works were unnerving, such as large-scale paintings that depicted the Holocaust.
Others took a funny, pop culture approach. Quite the surprise to come across giant hanging boobs, and a monkey fetus in a sack!
I came across works that commented on body modifications, such as this tattooed pig. Maison Particuliere did an incredible job at facing these social dangers head-on, and left me with a lot of food for thought.
Onward, to a very different yet equally impressive environment. The St. Gilles district is home to many top galleries, including Galerie Daniel Templon (Address: Rue Veydt 13A, 1060 Saint-Gilles, Belgium).
I was immediately captivated by the dream-world spun by Japan’s Chiharu Shiota. She covered the room in black cobwebs, hand-laced and knotted by hand. With this deceptively simple technique, she conjures up subconscious feelings: the past, dreams, anxieties.
Brussels is a magnet for the world’s most exciting contemporary artists. Perhaps you’ve heard of Chiharu Shiota from her massive display of keys, strung by red yarn, at the 2015 Venice Biennale.
She created this original installation in a single week. At the opening of “Sleeping is like Death”, her two assistants slept in hospital beds covered by dark spider webbing — uncanny, eerie, magnificent.
I explored more of Brussels’ art scene with my local friend, Jérémie Venganza of Super Dragon Punch!!, a synthbit Industrial band.
We walked next door to the Op Art exhibition, called “Let’s Move” at La Patinoire Royale.
(I’m wearing a coat by Alice’s Pig.)
We were dazzled by the eye-popping displays of kinetic art from 1955 to 1985. There were works from more than 30 artists, all of which tricked the mind into perceiving motion and dimensions. Once again, an offbeat and world-class collection — free for anyone to see.
Our last stop was “Pop Art in Belgium,” a temporary collection at the ING Art Center. It brought together famous works from stars of the movement (Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist) — and even had a funny photo booth in the basement.
After all that astonishing modern art, it was time for a drink. Jeremie took me to a Gothic / metal bar, Le Cerceuil or “The Coffin.”(Address: Rue des Harengs 10-12, 1000 Bruxelles)
Le Cercueil burst into the city center in 1974, after the popularity of horror movie, “The Exorcist.” The decor lives up to its morbid names: Skulls and bones and death, oh my!
Inside the dive-y basement, we sat on couches next to ribcages and monster paintings. Metallica and other metal bands blasted from the speakers.
Like a scene from The Rocky Horror Picture Show… the table are shaped like coffins, with skeletons inside!
The drink menu had a long list of gruesomely-named cocktails, like Sperm of the Devil and Piss of the Cadaver.
We had a fabulously spooky time at Le Cerceuil. Highly recommended for those who like to hang out in cemeteries.
Jeremie also recommended Floris Bar, nearby in the City Center. (Address: Impasse de la Fidélité 12, 1000 Bruxelles) I nicknamed it “Absinthe Heaven” because… well, this photo says it all.
Over 350 varieties of the Green Fairy, including Belle Epoque, Die Grune, Fee Verte, Tabu. The environment is a little touristy, but the spectacular selection of absinth — served French-style, with flames — makes it worth the trip.
Did I change your preconceptions of Brussels? I found out for myself that the modern art scene is edgy, and among the most vibrant in all of Europe. (Belgian photos by BorderlessMedia.)
PS – you can purchase this exact dress that I’m wearing on my Depop (browse all items here, and email firstname.lastname@example.org to buy directly from me). There’s also a similar velvet dress by Alice’s Pig available here, at a discount.
Got any Nightmare Before Xmas plans? Will you be traveling anywhere over the holiday season?
Park Hotel Tokyo: luxury art & culture hotel in Shiodome! Japanese artist project, decorated theme rooms.
As that Italo disco song goes: “Tokyo by night / City full of light. I will lead you through / Tokyo by night.”
That sums up the feeling of my stay at Park Hotel Tokyo, a modern skyscraper filled with Japanese design and culture. Every evening, I looked out from my Artist Room on the 31st floor — decorated floor-to-ceiling in wabisabi — at the neon twinkle of the Tokyo Tower.
As you’ll recall, I was traveling around Japan using a JRailPass, which gives me unlimited access to JR trains (including shinkansen, buses and some ferries). If you purchase a Japan Rail Pass like mine (for 1-3 weeks), I recommend beginning your trip in Tokyo. Spend at least 5-7 days here, and then activate your pass to start riding the rails.
I’m glad I stayed at Park Hotel in Shiodome (near Ginza), as the entire experience is designed to immerse you in Japanese art and culture. My Instagram lit up when I showed you the soaring views from my hotel room window.
(Find out more about Park Hotel, and book a stay.)
From the moment you step into the 25th floor lobby, Park Hotel lives up to its reputation for omotenashi, or Japanese-style hospitality. The kind staff anticipates all your needs, and everyone speaks fluent English.
(For my Japan travels, my stylist Stephanie Hoy at Sugar Skull Studio made my hair grey and green.)
In 2012, Park Hotel Tokyo initiated an “Artist in Hotel” project, which brings in local artists to decorate a room on the 31st floor.
To date, there are over a dozen art rooms on this floor, each inspired by some aspect of Japanese culture. The creative themes include Sumo, Zen, and Lucky Cat. Photographer John S and I got to take an inside look — read on for the details and to learn about each artist.
My black lace necklace is this exact choker by Shashi. With embroidered detailing and a lobster claw clasp, this choker is 90s Gothic perfection.
(Shop my look below, and click the arrows for more:)
At Park Hotel, the art immersion begins in the lobby. The artists who took part in the room project also have designs on display, and for sale.
There’s so much to see in the lobby lounge. I admired the glowing circular halo paintings by Nobuo Hashiba, and peeked into glass cases of contemporary design. At night, the tall atrium walls light up with colorful projections.
At this hotel, even the most unexpected spaces become canvases for creativity. Indoor smoking rooms are usually glum and bare-boned spaces. Fortunately, the funky artist Akihisa Hayashi (“Marron-chan”) stepped in, and turned the walls into a retro-sexy painting of a geisha, with golden clouds drifting out of her elegant pipe!
Look closely and you’ll see Tokyo landmarks along with flying sushi and ramen girls, Godzilla, a UFO, and cats.
Guests can book any of the Art Colours rooms on the 31st floor of Park Hotel Shiodome. I’m lounging in “Kabuki” by Yamaguchi Keisuke: he painted this horse and flowing circles while staying in this room for 16 days.
His inspiration is “Yanone,” a Kabuki performance that captures the beauty of ancient Japanese traditions. The arms and legs blur into curves, representing the expressive movements of the theater.
In another room, painter Nanami Ishihara took the concept of “Festival” as her theme. The party never stops: every inch of free space is covered in rainbow rabbits, elephants, deities and schoolgirls doing the “Bon odori” matsuri dance.
She even turns functional objects into playful art. In the closet, the air vent becomes the mouth of a dancing lion!
Yuka Ohtani lived in Akita prefecture (in the north of Japan), and the peaceful landscapes and lifestyle inspired her to create this room. The panels are framed with cedarwood from the region, with a view of the local moat and flowers in bloom.
She pays tribute to Akita with elegant details: a “cracked ice” pottery pattern on the ceiling, camellia flowers over faux sliding screens…
… and paintings of glowing lanterns from the Kanto festival, hidden in the closet.
(I couldn’t resist going inside and doing a Sadako impression!)
One of my personal favorites was the “12 signs of the Zodiac” room by Ryosuke Yasumoto, which was completed during his 11-day stay. His black and white animal illustrations flow through the walls, and emphasize the humorous side of the Asian folk tale.
I had fun finding all the animals in the room. Ryosuke Yasumoto takes full advantage of the three-dimensional space, mounting a cat sculpture on one wall and reflecting creatures in the mirror. (The cat was left out of the legendary race, but makes a comeback here.)
I stayed in the Wabi-Sabi room, which I recommend as it has a brilliant view of the Tokyo Tower. Artist Conami Hara created this work over four months, using silver foil to transform the walls into shimmering colors that will change over time. She painted driftwoods and ripples, inspired by the Zen stonen garden Ryoanji in Kyoto.
Castle by Kazuki Mizuguchi was constructed over 454 days. His transcendent vision depicts Edo Castle, which was lost in a fire, over a black background. The room entrance mimics a stone wall, and even the lampshades reflect the archtecture of the roof.
At night, a surprise appears: when you gaze in the direction of the Imperial Palace, the castle appears in a reflection on the glass.
The 25th floor harmonizes a functional lobby with natural surroundings of Japan. Looking up, the atrium soars up into a triangular prism of light.
Every morning, I came downstairs for the freshly prepared breakfast, with both continental and Japanese options. (I feasted on the gobo, hijiki, soft tofu and miso soup.)
Eggs, anyone? Next to the yogurt and fruit display, I came across these alien-like sculptures. (My Pokemon Go nail art is by Glam Nail Studio in Vancouver.)
Park Hotel’s mission is summed up in “Art”: Atrium, Restaurant, Travel, and of course the artist rooms project. They succeeded in bringing Japanese aesthetics to the forefront, and made my stay feel like a cultural integration.
Park Hotel is right by Shiodome and Shimbashi train stations, and a short walk to Ginza. The location gives easy access to the major districts of Tokyo, while letting you feel as if you’re in a peaceful hideaway, up in the clouds.
John S and I had a memorable drink at The Society, the first bar in Japan to be officially recognised by The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.
These connoisseurs stock hundreds of bottles of whiskey from around the world, each with poetic names that reference the taste or feeling. Such as: “Jingling Jalapenos,” “Hospitals on Guy Fawkes night,” and “BBQ in Pine-Clad Dunes.”
We took in the Blade Runner views from the windows, and sipped one of the bar’s finest Japanese single malt whiskeys. Prices are steep at The Society, but a tiny taste goes a long way.
I’ll miss my mornings in my Artist Room, drinking green tea and reading The Japan Times while curled up on this sill…
Which is your favorite of the Artist Rooms? Doesn’t this city view remind you of the movie “Lost in Translation”? (PS: check my Instagram Stories and Snapchat @lacarmina for cute daily updates from Asia right now.)
Bali’s spiritual culture & temples! Elephant Cave, Pura Saraswati Ubud, Tirta Empul Temple sacred springs.
It’s true what travel bloggers say about Southeast Asia: you’ll find the warmest, most generous and welcoming locals here.
So far, I’ve been to Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines (click these country names to see the stories). These were some of my favorite trips ever, and I’m excited to announce I’ll be adding one more to the list… Keep reading to see where I’m journeying!
In this spirit, I’ve decided to finally release Part 2 of my Bali, Indonesia temple tour (see part one here). I put on my Indian robes and pink-tinted glasses, and visited some of Bali’s most sacred spots — including the Pura Sawaswati water temple…
The Elephant Cave temple in Ubud…
… and Tirta Empul, where Hindu devotees bathe under a row of fountains, sourced from the sacred springs.
This month, I’ll be back in S.E. Asia… I’m thrilled to announce that I’m going to Myanmar (Burma) with Yukiro! HK Express, the airline I’ve worked with since its launch, has added a route to Yangon — a destination that was basically closed off to tourists until a few years ago.
I can’t wait to discover this Buddhist country, and hang out with monks and punks. That’s right: Yangon has an old school punk scene, with studded and Mohawked bands like Rebel Riot (above). They rock hard, but also run charities that help the local homeless and children. We’re excited to find out more about this subculture, and take part.
Also, you may have seen on my social media that I’m currently in Hong Kong, filming with Stakk Factory! I’m honored to be working with this new media site, which produces original videos about style tips, travel, food and more. We’ll be shooting nail art tutorials, fashion lookbooks and more that I can’t wait to share with you.
Now, back to my Ubud, Bali temple story. The locations are quite spread out, so I was glad to have Destination Services take me around on a custom tour.
They provided a car, driver and guide for the day, and brought me to all the temples on my wishlist. I’m a big fan of hiring local experts, as they’re versed in the history and culture, and can answer questions about anything you encounter.
Destination Services planned an efficient route that started early to avoided traffic. We got to the Goa Gajah Elephant Cave in Ubud before the crush of tourists (it’s about 30 km from Denpasar).
This has been a holy ground for both Buddhist and Hindu practitioners, for over a thousand years.
Water from these stone statues is used in religious ceremonies. Look closely, and you’ll see large fish swimming in the pond.
(Photos by my friends Cohica Travel, who offer a worldwide guide to sustainable and socially responsible travel.)
There are six of these female water-bearing fountains in total. An endless stream flows out of their pots.
And there it was, the famous entrance! I felt like I was being swallowed up by the iconic “Elephant Cave”. (The demon-like figure was once thought to be an elephant, hence the name.)
Blown away by these intricate Balinese stone carvings of creatures and nature motifs.
Inside the cave, there are three stone idols wrapped in cloth (known as a trimutri of Shiva-lingams). In the past, monks came to meditate inside these dark passages.
Hindu statues like this are found all over Bali. I often drove through intersections that had deities standing right n the middle. Such energy in the poses and expressions.
Outside the rock entrance, a fierce protector raises a sword against negative spirits.
Next, we went to the beautiful purification temple Tirta Empul (or Tampak Siring Temple) around 20 minutes north of Ubud. I could have spent hours taking in the details of the Balinese temple architecture.
The temple pond is considered to be holy, as it was supposedly created by the god Indra.
Bathers come here to purify themselves in the holy springs.
In addition to the purification baths, the Tirta Empul temple has areas for giving offerings and making prayers.
As with any cultural site, it’s important to be respectful to the pilgrims who come here as a spiritual journey. Tourists are welcome as long as they wear the sarongs provided (I didn’t need one because I was already covered), and don’t interrupt the bathers. Photos are allowed, but to be safe, check before taking images.
The inner courtyards are for worshippers only, in order to give them some peace and privacy from the tourists.
Our guide spoke about the mythological stories associated with the water temple.
I exited through this tiny gate guarded by a barong (lion-like protector spirit).
We drove past the famous Ubud rice paddies, or Tegalalang Rice Terrace. The distinctive layered steps are called subak, and make up a traditional Balinese irrigation system.
(There is a entrance fee to walk inside, so we didn’t stop.)
After a scenic twisting drive (past farms, collectives and yoga retreats), we stopped in Ubud city center for lunch and a walk around.
The main Ubud streets are jammed with traffic, and you’ll see a number of touristy gift shops. However, you’ll also see gorgeous puras and other artistic details like these.
Megan and Ryan of Cohica Travel showed me Pura Saraswati, a temple with a long dramatic path bordered by blooming lotus flowers.
The pond and flowering trees make this one of the region’s most beloved temples.
Pura Taman honors Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom and arts. She certainly looks over Ubud, which is considered the cultural capital of the island.
At night, there are dances and performances in this area that surrounds the water gardens.
The Hindu water temple is relatively new — built for the royal family in 1950, by artist and architect Gusti Nyoman Lempad.
Lempad was an accomplished stone carver, and brought these creatures to life.
Many travellers describe Bali as a place of peace and joy. It’s hard not to agree.
Spirituality is a huge part of the Balinese consciousness, and the ritual offerings are unique to the island. Religion is also expressed here an inclusive way (you’ll often see homes with statues of both Ganesha and Buddha).
I hope you are able to spend at least half a day in Ubud, seeing the temples and culture for yourself. Here are all Indonesia travel posts, including a video of traditional dances, to help you plan a trip to Bali.
Finally — I’m glad you found my Black Friday / Cyber Monday discount codes helpful, for finding the best shopping deals! I’ve just come across a new site, Woznow, which lets you easily search for fashion (by brand or category), and access sales in over 200 stores. For example, the site let me compare leather jackets, see how much they were discounted, and shop them with a tap.
Thanks, everyone, for supporting my fashion and travel adventures over the years! Here’s to finishing 2016 strong, and keeping the momentum going into the New Year.
It’s Black Friday — the best time of year to get discounted Gothic fashion. Case in point: all the Goth clothes at Dollskill are all 30% off now!
(And here are many more discount deals, all on one page. These include Killstar, Disturbia, Tripp NYC, Long Clothing, Morph8ne, Sourpuss, YRU, Demonia etc).
Since I’m often asked where I buy my clothes, I did a handy round-up of my favorite retailers. You might have noticed I’ve been wearing less Japanese and Lolita clothing these days. While I still love the style, I’m enjoying a more minimal Gothic look recently.
Above is one of my current favorites: Morph8ne, an independent designer based in Thailand. They produce dark dolly fashion, with unique details like ribbon corset lacing. In the above right photo, I’m wearing this exact sweater, which is now on sale.
Below are more discounted items from Morph8ne.
I’ve been wearing Long Clothing a lot on my travels. Their oversized streetwear is comfortable yet eye-catching (get it?).
Click to get the Long Clothing eyeball shirt that I’m wearing above.
Long Clothing did a fantastic collaboration with Grace Neutral (the hand-poke tattoo artist, model and body modification aficionado) — including this mandala shirt. I also have several pieces from their Long Clothing x Mishka clothing line.
I’ve selected my favorite designs below; toggle the arrows to browse:
Killstar needs no introduction. This leading “Nu Goth” brand is known for dark, occult designs that incorporate Satanic symbols and runes (like in my outfit).
Killstar recently released a Marilyn Manson collection, which rocks. They have a range of styles for both men and women: I’m coveting this Wednesday Addams dress, and pentagram harness. I’m also tempted to get Killstar’s coffin shaped wallet… And basically everything in the images below!
Some of my favorite wardrobe pieces are by Disturbia, who consistently produce edgy, Gothic designs.
Disturbia is also all about occult and wiccan symbology. Some of their designs pay homage to horror writer Lovecraft. Take, for example, this triangle seeing eye backpack, and skull sweatshirt with extra long sleeves.
And then, there is my beloved Miffy. Chinti and Parker did a beautiful collaboration with the cute bunny: their adult tops are made with luxury fabrics like cashmere.
Finally, don’t miss the Shopbop Thanksgiving sale: with the code “GOBIG16”, you get 15% off orders of over $200. The percentage rises if you purchase more, so come take a look.
I hope this helps answer the question of where I get my Goth Alternative clothes! It’s a great time to order items online, as there are tons of sales and you don’t have to battle the crowds.
I also compiled discount codes for all my favorite brands, all on one page. These include Killstar, Disturbia, Tripp NYC, Long Clothing, Morph8ne, Sourpuss, YRU, Demonia and many more alternative labels! There are also coupon and promo discounts for general clothing, makeup (Sephora, MAC etc), travel, hotels and home goods.
See ALL my promo / gift codes here — feel free to share! Just click on the link to the retailer, and it’ll automatically apply the best possible discounts.
For more shopping inspiration, I’ll share some photos I recently took in Shinjuku, Tokyo. In this district, the cuteness factor is always through the roof.
This was a big year for Pokemon. At the department store Studio Alta, Pikachu and his compadres had a pop up boutique. (Alta is located right across from Shinjuku East Exit.)
Pokemon Go fans went cray for these kawaii pins, keychains and other cute character goods.
My Pokemon Go ghost-character nail art fit in with these plush Pikachus.
How amazing is this adult skeleton onesie (available here)? Inside Studio Alta, you’ll find “spoopy” accessories any time of the year, like zombie eyeball knee highs.
Gyaru, decora and ganguro girls would go nuts for the rainbow striped and leopard print socks.
These plush toy frogs look like they’re into the fetish scene.
At Algonquins, a pumpkin-headed gentleman greeted visitors. The store carries Goth Punk Aristocrat and Lolita styles (I have a few Algonquins items for sale, email me if you can’t find the listings.)
Cut out heels are everything. (YRU has platform shoes with star and moon cutouts!)
Monsters, Inc? Beautiful faux fur, with a gloomy eye and vampire teeth.
Disney products are popular in various Tokyo stores. I encourage you to visit Studio Alta and walk around; there are always new, trendy items on the racks.
One of the boutiques had Junie Moon and Blythe dolls, in sweet Lolita doll garments.
Lots of Lolita, royal and pirate influences. Which of these outfits do you like best?
Don’t forget the basement / lower levels of Studio Alta. You can buy yuzu drinks from the 7-Eleven, and pick up a smiling bear or cat cake from Swimmer.
Love the creative decoration: chocolate cookie ears, raspberry bow ties. These Japanese animal desserts are too cute to eat!
Shinjuku is one of the best neighborhoods to find cute accessories and gifts. These kitty-faced bags are similar to this Lulu Guinness glittery cat coin purse.
At Odakaya, you can find special effects / movie makeup, latex, wigs, eyelashes, feathers, fabrics… It’s essentially like a drag queen’s closet.
Japanese makeup is always fun and slightly bizarre, such as these “color eyebrow” mascaras modeled by anime elves.
(Browse my favorite fashion with a click below — most items are heavily discounted right now.)
I leave you some Jrock and Visual Kei posters (you can find CDs and merchandise in Shinjuku). V-kei band Daizy Stripper is looking fresh as a daisy, for their 10th anniversary.