As the name suggests, Garden of Desire is a place in which to set your heart free. It is also a window into the mind of Ly Piseth, the designer who came back to Cambodia in 2007 in order to restore his own soul. Along the way, he has tapped into a creative seam that expresses not just his own spirit but also the very essences of the natural world that surrounds him.
Piseth is a jewellery designer, who originally trained as an architect before moving on to design, including for the Philippe Starck Design Studio. He is the creative force behind Garden of Desire, a very special little shop that sits cool and quiet amid the hustle and bustle of The Passage in Siem Reap.
When Piseth first arrived in Cambodia, he worked as a designer for Artisans d’Angkor before deciding to set up his own studio and shop in 2008 so that he could fully explore his creative drives.
The result is a range of jewellery that charts Piseth’s own painful efforts to reconcile his memories of the Khmer Rouge period, his philosophical musings on people’s relationship with nature (if you’ve ever wondered whether a piece of jewellery can constitute an essay, wonder no more), reflections on modern Cambodian society, and Piseth’s appreciation for the world around him.
There is not a signature style as such, and his pieces include the delicate and elegant, the reasonably chunky and solid, and those based on semi-precious stones. However, they all share a deep balance and integrity that makes each piece something you just want to keep looking at. They are all beautiful by any standard, even if Piseth himself eschews the idea of searching for attractiveness for its own sake. “It is easy to make something pretty if you just follow trends. Creating something beautiful involves a deeper examination, and is not necessarily a reflection of what is ‘pretty’,” he said.
Looking at the range of jewellery that is a series of stars that look like they’ve been ripped apart and sewn carefully but imperfectly back together again gives an insight into the depth and artistry of Piseth’s work. As a Cambodian child of a Christian family, Piseth was always taught to pray and that his prayers would be answered. Lying under the stars in the years between 1975 and 1979, Piseth prayed and prayed as hard as he could that his family would survive the horror of the Khmer Rouge regime. None of them did.
“I couldn’t look at the stars for years after that,” he said. At 12 years of age, he was sent to France and brought up there. Coming back to Cambodia marked Piseth’s first step towards being able to find peace. He has sewn back the stars, the tears in his soul, carefully and slowly, so that he can look at them, and at life, again.