On first impressions, Siem Reap might not seem like a shoppers’ haven, but there are options here and, believe me, it’s better than a few years ago when female expats had to be physically restrained from mugging arriving planes of visitors in the hope of getting their hands on trousers they could pull up past their knees. And don’t even get me started on the knickers thing, or we’ll be here all day.
One of the most exciting things about Cambodia today however is how it has drawn in so many creatives who find expressive space in the freedom that Cambodia offers. Which means that though they’re not without their charms, you are not obliged to wear Thai fisherman’s pants to advertise to your soul that you’re no longer home. You can also do so in clothing that you can wear anywhere in the world, even home, without prompting everyone wonder if you’re about to forever stop shaving your armpits.
Cambodia’s artistic attractions aren’t limited to the absence of bureaucratic distractions, of course. The vibrancy of Cambodia’s countryside, and of Cambodian smiles, the astonishing intricacy and exuberance of Angkorian sculpture and architecture, the smells, the food, the music, the laughter and the tears, and the simple ebb and flow of daily life, all contribute to the mix that moves, drives and inspires artists and designers, and we’re the lucky ones that get to admire, and buy, the results.
In Siem Reap, we have world-class designers such as Eric Raisina, whose work has been shown during International Fashion Weeks in Paris, New York, Manila, Bangkok and Phnom Penh. His stunning designs, chiefly using silks that he manufactures and dyes in-house and including his fabled “silk fur”, can be found at the FCC Complex.
While you’re there, check out Jasmine Boutique whose range of sensual, ultra-feminine and simply gorgeous clothes may be just the right thing for an upcoming event at home. Next door you’ll find Wanderlust with its collection of youthful, sexy and stylish designs that have been making a splash all over the world, including an appearance in Le Monde this week.
Wanderlust can also be found on Alley West back in town, where you’ll also find Wild Poppy, whose cool, soft easy-to-wear range is perfect for here and home. Wild Poppy also has an outlet on Sivatha Boulevard opposite, though just north of, the Hotel de la Paix.
For those with an off-the-wall bent, Poetry on Alley West is a creative maelstrom, where you’ll find everything from jewellery made with cutlery or corks, witty postcards and philosophical accessories. You’ll also find clothes by Don Protasio, whose arresting, neo-punk designs will certainly knock you out of your reverie. His fabrics are fabulous too.
On the other side of Pub Street, there is also Three Seasons on The Lane, a blend of three different outlets each with its own distinct identity. KeoK’jay is the creation of a young American designer, Rachel Faller, who has created a clothing social enterprise in order to support women living with HIV/AIDS and her loosely retro designs are directly inspired by young women in Cambodia today. Elsewhere is a label that was born in Phnom Penh and stands for classic, stylish designs that will never date (ed: I can attest to that; I have a stack of circa 2004-era clothes from there still in my wardrobe).
The latest to open, beside Old Market, is Old Forest which showcases the designs of a young Japanese cooperative that are European inspired but exquisitely fine-tuned with an Asian eye. Prepare to swoon over the intensely delicate, hand-printed fabrics. And even if you’re not into clothes, the home furnishings are liable to induce lustful deliriums.
Old Forest is the, slight, exception to the rule above as not all of the designers involved in the cooperative are based in Cambodia — some of their designers are here, some back in Japan. However, all of the others are based here, and all of their clothes are made here too — unlike the fisherman’s pants — so by buying them you contribute directly to the economy, which means you’ll not only look good, but can feel good too. Cambodia’s own designers are also slowly emerging though to find them you still need to go to Phnom Penh, where you’ll also come across another crop of foreign-born but Cambodia-grown designers whose work is seriously worth checking out.
By Nicky Sullivan
Last updated on 26th April, 2015.