Miami, Florida: Pre-spring break travel tips! TeslaRents Tesla car rental, AC Dadeland Hotel review, Aoki Teppenyaki, Zoo.

giraffe feeding station zoo miami giraffes encounters feed

Meet my tall new Floridian friend… You could say we made a Miami Connection!

To put it lightly, travel is confusing these days. Rules are in constant flux, and prices / busy periods are difficult to predict. Thankfully, with a little research and planning, you can take a sunny getaway to Miami, Florida — while staying safe and avoiding South Beach partygoers.

Welcome to my guide to having fun in Miami, Florida by coming in early March, before the spring break high season!

(Wearing a dress by For Love & Lemons; see more below):


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These days, high fuel costs are on everyone’s minds. But I’ll share a travel tip for getting around in a Tesla from TeslaRents! Read on to see how I got to test-drive an electric car for the first time, thanks to their seamless online rental service.  

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And I’ll take you inside my cozy stay at AC Dadeland Hotel. a recently-opened AC property that had plenty of free parking — letting me avoid the high fees and traffic of tourist-ridden South Beach.

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Rules are always changing — but right now, to fly from Canada to the US, you must have a negative antigen test taken the day before your journey. I was pleased to discover the easy testing offered by Iridia Medical Clinic in Vancouver, BC

Booking an online appointment with them is simple and affordable. In addition, they offer a remote antigen option, which lets you get tested via telehealth! The kit (which I’m holding) has everything you need to do your own test via Zoom with an Iridia nurse. If the result is negative, you’ll immediately get an official document in your email to show at the airport. This way, if you need a test before a flight, you don’t need to stress about finding a foreign clinic or having delayed results. 

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Vancouver’s Iridia Medical has a variety of testing services for travel, business, or peace of mind (including PCR, rapid antigen, and molecular testing). They’re quick and reliable, and also offer mobile or on-site testing. I enjoyed their chic clinic space and friendly customer service.

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I went into the clinic for my nose swab (which only went in about an inch, so there was no discomfort). 20 minutes later, I had my antigen test results and was good to fly to Miami to hang with the animals.

I’d love for you to experience Iridia’s effortless service — so they’re giving you 10% off all testing! Just go to Iridia Medical Clinic‘s website and make a booking with promo code: LACARMINA

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When I landed in Miami, I “went electric” for the first time — and rented a Tesla from TeslaRents. I’d like to have an electric car in the future, and TeslaRents gave me the opportunity to test-drive a Model Y for the first time. (They also have Model X and 3 Teslas for rent in Boston, LA, Vegas, NY, Denver, and Portsmouth in addition to Miami.)

Traditional car rental pick ups and drop offs tend to be a pain (long lines, and much paperwork and hassle), but TeslaRents has made the fully-online process effortless. Book an electric car from their site, verify your info with easy steps, and then simply go to its parked location for a contactless pickup/drop-off.

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TeslaRents also does door-to-door delivery, which was an enormous timesaver for my short trip. TeslaRents drove the Model Y to my hotel at a specified, passed me the key-card, and I was ready to drive to the beach.

The driver texted me to let me know when they were on the way and had arrived. To return the Tesla, I simply parked it at my hotel, left the key inside, and texted them the location. In all my travels, a car rental had never been this easy.

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I loved being able to test-drive a Tesla for a few days, and try out the touch screen settings and one-pedal driving. As someone who is prone to getting lost, the navigation system made it easy to get around a new city (the AI voice told me in advance to get into certain lanes for highway merges and exits). 

The TeslaRents customer service was also outstanding: I got fast and friendly replies both by email and text. When I couldn’t figure something out, I received responses immediately from the team — something I’ve never gotten from a traditional car rental company. 

miami teslarents rent a tesla electric vehicle

It turned out that I didn’t have to charge my Tesla Model Y the entire time I had it (although the plug-in process is simple, and you must simply keep the charge above 20% before returning it). In this age of climate collapse and skyrocketing fuel costs, I was delighted to drive an electric car with zero emissions. Plus, there were no engine sounds, and the steering and safety measures were excellent.

TeslaRents is also committed to a zero-waste, paper free business approach, and gives back by donating to the Aashray Care Home for HIV Affected Children in Jaipur, India.

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The Model Y’s charcoal-colored exterior and sleek interiors matched my Gelish DIY manicure. My car was clean and well-maintained, and I was impressed by the customer service throughout the process.

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Renting a luxury EV from TeslaRents is a great way to treat yourself during a vacation, and try driving a Tesla. The rates are very reasonable (with a variety of model options), making this an excellent option for an occasion such as a wedding or prom. Do keep in mind the next time you’re looking for a car to rent in Miami and other major US cities!

miami ac dadeland interior lobby lounge

Flying to Miami in early March lets you avoid the spring break crowd that descends upon the beaches later that month. In addition, I suggest staying away from the major tourist areas (like South Beach) during the weekends, as the streets will get clogged and noisy. 

Instead, look for a hotel in a central yet peaceful location, such as the recently-opened AC Dadeland Hotel. The chic property is right next to Dadeland Mall: in fact, there’s a walkway that connects you right to the restaurants and shops. 

(Serpent fishnet tights from Sock Dreams. Dress by For Love & Lemons; click below for more dresses):


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Since the AC Dadeland is located in the less-touristed South Miami, the rooms are large and quiet — and there’s plenty of free parking. (In South Beach, hotel parking rates are $40-50 US per day!)  

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I was fond of AC Dadeland’s modern minimalist aesthetic, such as this artistic arrangement in the lobby. All of the furnishings are new, and the hotel will soon open a rooftop terrace with a swimming pool. 

ac dadeland hotel rooms review breakfast

The rooms had plenty of space and were clutter-free. Every morning, I went for the free breakfast at the second floor lounge. The European tapas-style spread included a variety of cheeses, fresh-baked egg tarts, yogurts, and fruit. You could also order eggs any style, and bring food upstairs in a takeout box.

ac dadeland miami florida lounge bar

Speaking of modern… AC Dadeland has teamed up with the robots! The hotel is now offering a contactless robot food delivery service for guests. Place an order, and a robot will pick it up and bring it to you. You can track its progress in real-time, and open the lid with a unique PIN. (Don’t forget to say thank you very much, Mr. Roboto.)

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While I didn’t meet the robots, I enjoyed a relaxed dinner and drinks at AC Lounge. Loved the small plates such as nachos, and hand-crafted cocktails (try the signature AC gin and tonic, and smokey Manhattan).

I encourage you to stay at Miami’s new AC Dadeland for new and comfortable accommodations, and perks like free parking and easy access to shops and dining. 

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The hotel is near the airport and a number of top attractions — including Zoo Miami. It only took about 15 minutes to drive there and say hello to the pink elephant at the entrance.  

Zoo Miami is a leader in many conservation initiatives, and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) — meaning they meet the highest standards for animal health and welfare.  

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Case in point… this Tiger King, who reigns over what looks like a southeast Asian temple!

Since Miami has warm weather year-round, animals from India, Africa, Australia, and other hot places are comfortable here.

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On the left: a close-up of the tiger’s cat-itude. On the right: I saw large green iguanas all around Miami, including at the zoo. They can reach up to five feet in length. 

tree kangaroo, koala miami zoo australian animals

In the Australia section, I said hello to a tree kangaroo and an adorable koala. Zoo Miami also contains environments dedicated to the Mission Everglades, Asia, Africa, and the Amazon and Beyond. 

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The living spaces are spacious and well-designed. The chimps and orangutans seemed to be having fun swinging around the wood playgrounds. 

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Zoo Miami is the only tropical zoo in the continental US. There are over 3000 animals on nearly 750 acres, so give yourself enough time to walk around everywhere — or arrive early to rent a safari cycle. Once again, early March is a great time to visit, as temperatures won’t be overly hot.

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Zoo Miami also offers interactive animal feedings and encounters (check the website for times, prices, and details). The “parrots feeding” enclosure lets you feed the beautiful Australian rainbow lorikeets for $5.

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I was a little too excited to take the ramp to the Giraffe Feeding Station — and say hello to these “tall bois”!

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The giraffes are very polite. You can buy a “big salad” of lettuce, and they’ll eat the leaves right from your hands.

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What a treat to be able to see African safari animals up close, including elephants and zebras.

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And don’t forget to meet the more “alternative” creatures, such as this floofy-tailed anteater. Cheers to Zoo Miami for a fun outdoor day activity. 

aoki teppenyaki izakaya grill restaurant miami ac dadeland mall

After a long day of exploring, I was ready to eat. Fortunately, the AC Dadeland hotel is connected to Dadeland Mall, which is home to Aoki Teppanyaki and Izakaya.

I miss Japan so much… and stepping inside Aoki made me feel like I was back. The red gates and glowing lanterns hint at the Japanese cuisine on the menu, which is based on tradition but presented with a modern and playful touch.

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What a treat to be greeted by owner Kevin Aoki himself! He showed me his vintage motorcycles and other collectibles from his worldwide travels. The red torii Shinto gates are inspired by Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari temple, which we both love to visit. 

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I sat at a family-style teppanyaki (iron plate grill) table, and enjoyed an umami-filled dinner with a show. The chefs dress like samurai in black uniforms and headbands, and cook the dishes with dramatic flourishes — such as drumming the ingredient containers, throwing and spinning eggs, and lighting up the grill with a flash of fire!

In my Instagram video from Aoki Grill, you can see how chef Alain prepares the infamous vegetable egg rice followed by shrimp, scallops, lobster and salmon. I also devoured the signature deluxe spicy roll, and Japanese whisky-based cocktails like a ginger old fashioned with absinthe rinse. 

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Miami’s Aoki Teppenyaki also has a high-ceilinged wood bar area that made me feel as if I were back in Japan. It houses an enormous exclusive collection of whisky, each carefully chosen by Kevin Aoki himself. He poured us a flight of Aoki Collection Barrel Select bourbons, which included a bottle featuring him and his younger sibling, DJ Steve Aoki, on the Brothers label.

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While many come for the famous teppenyaki (your choice of seafood, vegetables, and meat grilled with flair), Aoki also serves sushi omakase, and countryside Japanese comfort foods inspired by Kevin’s visits to his grandfather’s hometown in Wakayama. What better way to end the evening than at Miami’s Aoki Teppanyaki and Izakaya (they have a location in Waikiki, Hawaii too).

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With a bit of planning and clever choices (such as a well-located hotel, and a TeslaRents electric car rental), you can make an enjoyable getaway to Miami in March — and completely avoid the spring break shenanigans. I encourage you to travel now that we have a reprieve, as things can quickly get restricted again in unexpected ways… you never know what The Collapse will bring next. 

Have you planned any trips for 2022? More to come from Miami (check out my @LaCarmina Instagram for previews)… as well as a few new destinations in the next months!


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Kaws: What Party! Street art sculptures exhibit at Brooklyn Museum. Fotografiska New York, Tom of Finland photos.

kaws what party entrance brooklyn museum new york

Party on, Kaws! Very glad I took a leap and went to NYC last summer. Travel is increasingly difficult to plan these days…

I spent my time in New York outdoors and at museums (I’m playing it safe, and keeping masked and distanced). One of my favorite memories: seeing the pop-perfect street art exhibit “Kaws: What Party” at  Brooklyn Museum.

kaws passing through crying companion statue

You may recognize Kaws’ skull-headed and X-eyed Companion: the cute character features prominently in his artwork and merchandise. In this 2021 exhibition, his newest figures have distraught poses and emotions, which reflect our era of disease and collapse.

Read on for my review of Kaws: What Party, as well as a tour of the Fotografiska NY, which has become one of my favorite museums in Manhattan.

Outfit credits: Botanic mini-dress by For Love and Lemons, shoes Anthony Wang,

exterior brooklyn museum ny yo sign building

The Brooklyn Museum greeted me with a “Yo”! It’s easy to arrive by subway from Manhattan; the museum is at the corner of Prospect Park, near the Botanic Gardens. Look for an enormous Beaux-Arts building built in 1895, which holds 1.5 million works of art.

(PS: You can find my sunglasses and other clothing from my wardrobe for sale, on my @lacarmina Depop shop.)

kaws two wooden companions friends arm in arm

The Brooklyn Museum contains both ancient and modern works, and has rotating exhibits starring leading contemporary artists — like Kaws. In the lobby, guests are greeted by a giant wood statue of two Companions, posing arm-in-arm. (Masks and timed entry tickets are required.)

(My off-the-shoulders dress is by For Love and Lemons. More dresses from this designer below:)


flayed companion kaws exhibition art

Also known as Brian Donnelly, Kaws is a Brooklyn-based artist famous for his cheeky twists on cartoon icons and pop culture.

His cute characters include Companion (left), a Mickey Mouse type figure with X-ed out eyes and skull-and-crossbones features. On the right, he also created Chum (a spin on Michelin Man) and BFF (who looks like Sesame Street’s furry Elmo).

kaws red chum michelin man what party exhibit bklyn

The Brooklyn Museum’s enormous galleries were perfect for showcasing Kaws’ bright and bulbous characters. Many spaces seemed set up for Instagram, reflecting the theme of blurred lines between art, consumption and appropriation.

(Photos by Joey Wong)


Kaws: What Party includes the artist’s works in all sizes and media, including life-sized sculptures, from the 1990s to today. Here is Gone Companion Grey, carrying BFF Pink.

Kaws’ cute yet subversive characters are (not surprisingly) immensely popular in Japan and Hong Kong, where they feature in a variety of vinyl figures, fashion, and other collectibles.

kaws simpsons painting canvas nigo

Kaws decapitates The Simpsons, mixes up the XX-eyed heads and seats them back on their iconic couch. Fine art, mass culture, or a bit of both?

He puts similar spins on The Smurfs, Peanuts, SpongeBob, Star Wars, Pinocchio, Astroboy, and Sesame Street.

kaws the simpsons heads paintings art cartoon

Kaws works with bright flat colors and simple shapes, which are unexpectedly resonant. Pretty much anyone can recognize these Simpsons characters from the top of their heads alone. (I added my long purple hair to the mix.)

kaws separated street pop art installation 2021 brooklyn

Kaws (Brian Donnelly) produced poignant new works for his What Party retrospective at Brooklyn Museum. The crying “Separated” statue reflects our days spent in isolation, while “Tide” shows Companion struggling to stay afloat in a dark ocean.

kaws urge paintings hands contemporary artist

The uncertainty of 2020 inspired “Urge,” which shows Chum with hands all over his face. The 10-canvas piece is colorful and humorous, yet communicates the fear of touching and spreading disease.

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It’ll be interesting to see how lockdown and instability will inspire works from a generation of artists, like Kaws.

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No hugs or touching. No eyes for him, no mouth for me!

(My Botanic floral embroidered nude dress is For Love and Lemons, see more below:)


kaws star wars darth vader figurines statues

Kaws has collaborated on a number of vinyl toys and other collectibles. Quite fitting that his Star Wars figurines are a hit (as the film series has perhaps the most successful merchandising ever). Darth Vader and Stormtroopers get the Companion treatment, with strong attention to detail and textures.

kaws blue bff cookie monster statue sculpture sesame street sofa

On the left, his Gang sofa is a collaboration with Brazilian artist, Estudio Campana. Many kids grow up sitting on the couch watching Sesame Street, so why not sit on stuffed toys of Ernie, Bert, and more?

On the right, Blue BFF has a wooly texture and looks like Elmo from the children’s show.

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Kaws started out as a graffiti artist, tagging his name around Brooklyn and NY. What Party includes some of his earliest works such as manipulated poster ads, as well as pencil sketches of his kawaii characters.

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Kaws is sometimes described as a pop artist. Is this a snap from the museum’s art exhibition, or the gift store catalog? And is there a difference?

kaws what party brian donnelly sculptures statues retrospective

The “Flayed Open Companion” comments on whether there is anything substantial beneath the glossy surface. (Looks like there are some guts and sinew involved.)

kaws snoopy peanuts art cartoon

Snoopy and other Peanuts characters get deconstructed. Uniqlo released a popular clothing and plush toys line with Kaws, which again breaks apart the hierarches of art and commerce.

For Love & Lemons Botanic Strapless Dress in Nude Floral

The pink entryway matched my Botanic Strapless Dress in Nude Floral dress, by For Love and Lemons. More designs below:


kaws pinocchio wood sculpture x eyes

Although I was glad to travel again, there remain so many fears and ups-and-downs, with no end in sight. Kaws’ sculptures reflect the zeitgeist; quite a few are slouched or bawling.

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The Michelin-esque Chum is usually depicted running, or in poses that convey energy.

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Now, the party is over. Chum is bright red and bows his head in a stoic posture, reflecting the disillusionment and stand-still of our times.

rare largest kaws sculptures two friends companions

I particularly loved Kaws’ Godzilla-sized works. The exhibit included video of a 121-foot-long inflatable Companion, who floated on his back through Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour in 2019.

kaws the nature of the need cut off mickey mouse arms hands

When Mickey Mouse faces disarmament… This one is called “The Nature of Need.” (Kaws once worked as a cartoon background illustrator for shows like Daria and Doug.)

kaws famous art show gallery studio brian donnelly

The Kaws show has now closed, but there are other exciting exhibits on the horizon at Brooklyn Museum.

kaws paintings gift shop store brooklyn museum

In addition to contemporary art, you can easily spend a day here seeing African, Asian, Islamic, classical and other works from various centuries.

kaws character sketches gift shop collectibles limited edition figurines

Many Kaws vinyls have become rare collectibles. Above are concept drawings, and a Holiday Space silver figure.

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Kaws scaled new heights by sending an astronaut Companion to space (well, the stratosphere) in a sounding balloon. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

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Follow me to Brooklyn Museum for encounters with art that will leave you feeling inspired.

(The bright yellow Oy/Yo sculpture by artist Deborah Kass stands at the entrance, and is oh-so NY.)

tom of finland photographs exhibit fotografiska new york city

And now… follow me to the Fotografiska NYC, one of best photography museums on the planet. The ever-changing installations focus on boundary pushing photographers from diverse countries and backgrounds.

I was keen to see “Tom of Finland: The Darkroom” — a collection of portraits that served as reference images for his iconic homoerotic drawings.

During the mid-century, Tom of Finland (aka Touko Laaksonen) risked imprisonment for his art, as homosexuality was considered criminal. He courageously took photos of gay men in uniforms, rubber and fetish gear, staring defiantly at the camera.

tom finland gay men photos mural art

Perhaps you’ve seen his racy and highly masculinized drawings, which he had to hide during most of his lifetime.

As the Fotografiska puts it, “Tom’s depictions of queer culture thoroughly challenged contemporary society, and solidified his place as one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.”

miles aldridge fashion photography exhibit show

Each floor of the museum highlights a different photographer. This one was dedicated to “Miles Aldridge: Virgin Mary, Supermarkets, Popcorn” — displaying his vivid, cinematic photos from the past 20 years.

miles aldridge virgin mary suparmarkets popcorn

Miles is known for his stylized portraits, often with celebrities as the models. He shoots exclusively in film, and is a talented colorist with a knack for bringing out acidic hues.

fashion models photographs miles aldridge

Miles’ imagery often hints at a sinister underbelly to the flawless facade of domestic bliss.

Yijun Liao couple boyfriend photographs relationship

On each floor of the Fotografiska New York, you’ll discover a photographer with a distinct and thought-provoking point of view. Pixy Liao: Your Gaze Belongs to Me was a personal favorite.

The Chinese artist challenges our ingrained notions of gender and gaze, in a series of self-portraits with her submissive Japanese boyfriend. (This one is called “Start your day with a good breakfast together” — how can you say no to that!)

Pixy Liao your gaze belongs to me photo show

In the exhibit, Pixy Liao (aka Yijun Liao) shares photos from her ongoing project called “Experimental Relationship.” She stares at the lens, and portrays herself in dominant roles next to her younger male partner. The images are a warm, playful and often surreal subversion of gender expectations. 

chinese artist pixy liao fotografiska nyc china photographer

Pixy Liao’s films are equal parts entertaining and provocative. She created a “breast spray” bottle, inspired by a woman who robbed a store by shooting breastmilk into the cashier’s eyes.

pixy liao japanese boyfriend Experimental Relationship

Pixy explains, “When the breast is shooting out milk, it is both feeding and attacking, which are almost opposite behaviors. My boyfriend is enjoying/accepting/enduring the milk coming out.”

chinese women artists fotografiska museum

In her words: “What will happen if man & woman exchange their roles of sex & roles of power? Because my boyfriend is Japanese, and I am Chinese, this project also describes a love and hate relationship.”

pixy liao male female gaze gender relations photos

“I am interested in the mundane life, in finding things and making fun of it, liberating it from what it is.” Hail Pixy Liao!

Hassan Hajjaj elevator fotografiska ny

At the Fotografiska NY, even the elevator is an opportunity for expression. The funky wallpaper and seats are an extension of Hassan Hajjaj’s exhibition.

moroccan fashion photography fotografiska photographer

The British-Moroccan photographer Hassan Hajjaj has been called “the Andy Warhol of Marrakesh.” He shoots vibrant portraits in a mash-up of street style, couture, kitsch, and urban culture.

vogue the arab issue morocco photographer Hassan Hajjaj

“Vogue: The Arab Issue” features Marrakesh locals wearing traditional Moroccan clothes, but in eccentric patterns and color combinations, along with faux designer label insignia. The result is a joyful celebration of personal expression.

Hassan Hajjaj VOGUE, The Arab Issue at Fotografiska New York

Hassan’s works come to life thanks to the staging, which includes picture frames made from Moroccan canned goods, and an energetic soundtrack.

Adrienne Raquel onyx strippers photos

Each floor’s design captures a different feeling. Adrienne Raquel’s Onyx takes an intimate look at exotic dancers, documenting sisterhood, self-transformation and strength in a world that is typically stigmatized.

Adrienne Raquel houston strip club dancers fotografiska

The dark lighting and booming dance music makes you feel as if you’re inside Houston’s Club Onyx, where she shot these photos. Raquel’s photos reveal the fantastical glamour of the industry, as well as candid moments with the women both on and off the stage.

fotografiska nyc tickets review museum tour

Every time I visit the Fotografiska NY, I discover new photographers that leave a powerful impression. If you’d like to see more, check out my article about my 2019 visit to the museum, as well as this review of the Fotografiska in Sweden.

kaws companion along the way huge sculpture

Victory-fingers for art museums in New York. A last look at my outfit that day — wearing Anthony Wang platform sandals, and a dress by For Love and Lemons (click for more below):


kaws brian donnelly art show brooklyn retrospective

PS: My latest travel article has dropped on Fodor’s Travel, with more to come. Read about 15 monuments around the world that hail the sun, including ancient sites in Egypt, Cambodia, Thailand, India, and Mexico that I’ve visited. Thank you for reading!

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Finally… if you’re in the mood for a devilish dinner… The Satanic Chef (Adam Dodge Ostrofsky) published an impressive Satanic cookbook called “Devil’s Food!” It’s filled with creative recipes with a dark twist — from Dracula Red Velvet pancakes to long pig ribs. With full color photos, and stories about his work with The Satanic Temple, and more — find the book here.

I’m wearing a fuzzy pastel blue crop top by Fashion Chingu — They have an enormous selection of stylish clothing inspired by Kpop stars and K-idols! I’ll be featuring more of their fab designs soon. (And dreaming of going back to Seoul sooner rather than later…)