Feb 24 2013
One of the joys of Southeast Asia is when the familiar jumps out at you from an unexpected source. Riding around Phnom Penh, I’ve realised how many celebrities are (unwittingly) lending their endorsement to hair and beauty salons, tailors and restaurants. Once noticed, it’s difficult not to get slightly obsessed about collecting examples. A consequence of cheap printing and bandwagon jumping, these signs don’t have the artistic merit of the retro handpainted signs they are replacing, but they will raise a smile, or an eyebrow.
In a country where copyright is usually interpreted as “my right to copy”, it’s no surprise that celebrity images are widely used and abused. Those same people’s work can be found at knock-down prices on knock-off DVDs and CDs in numerous markets and shops, so why not stick them on your shop sign?
Often, the choice of ‘endorser’ is a tribute from the business owner to their favourite pop idol or movie star. Given Cambodia’s access to You Tube and Hollywood films, it makes sense to see Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and Leonardo di Caprio beaming down from billboards, with hair, make-up or clothes worth aspiring to.
More curious, however, is the selection of Brian McFadden from ’90s boy band Westlife, who’s been adorning one particular riverside sign for many years. Then again, his portrait is more up to date than the fabulously 1980s artwork next to him.
Some entrepreneurs have gone a step further. Not content with just slapping the object of fandom on a sign, they’ve named the whole operation after them and really worked that theme. Rambo Restaurant promotes a certain Mr Stallone’s machismo to the benefit of their business and his reputation, while Chuck Norris Dim Sum is an homage to the bearded wonder and serves tasty steamed dumplings at the same time.
Although images of monks and temples are more often used to summarise the country, a collection of shop signs tells the story of modern, aspiring Cambodia. Please note, however, these signs are no guarantee that you will actually walk out of the place with J-Lo locks or anything resembling Anne Hathaway’s frock.
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