Fashion in Cambodia is changing. A month after Sovrin magazine, the Kingdom’s only fashion magazine owned and run by Cambodians, celebrated its first anniversary, Poppy McPherson met Souden Ly, its editor-in-chief, and marketing manager of Sovreign Retail Group, to track the growth of the industry.
Some Westerners here do not take special care of the way they dress, especially compared with Khmer colleagues. How do Cambodians see this, and what effect do you think it has on their fashion choices?
I’ve heard this a lot. For Cambodians, they want to be dressed up. Ladies want everything to match and fit to the body.
For example, you meet someone –she’s French, maybe she likes to wear something loose, easy wear. Those Cambodians might think, ‘’why does she wear things like this? But for me, I am too deep in fashion -7 years now - I don’t find it wrong. It’s the style of someone, it’s their own personality.
I hope that Cambodians can start to know themselves, who are they, their personalities and then they can learn their own style because now, they do not know who are. They need to know they are Cambodian.
How is fashion in Cambodia changing and do you think it moves at a different pace for women and men?
For men, slightly slow – everywhere in the world the woman is always the icon of fashion, they always move fast.
Here in Cambodia for the last 8 years, what people understand about fashion is the style that they learn from the dramas: the actors and actresses of Thailand and r Koreans. K-pop influence a lot in Cambodia right now. The girls like the tight, short dresses and the men like the skinny jeans.
Fashion is about illustrating the lifestyle of the people of that country. In the past everyday life was just going to work but now things have changed: they go out at night to the bar to drink, to meet, now they start to have shopping so people start to spend their time shopping.
Now we have magazines, people get more and more into reading so things are changing right now, people start to know how to dress up well. Even if it’s Thai, even if it’s Korean, or Asian – it’s Cambodians learning something about fashion.
Do you think Cambodia will establish its own fashion presence within Asia?
This is important in a country’s development. Cambodia is not Korea. Cambodia is not Japan. We are not French, we are not American. We are Cambodia. Cambodia has just started to emerge in the fashion industry in the past five years, everyone is learning.
I am sure that some day, when they are mature enough, we will learn the things that match with us, as Cambodians - we have a small body we are slim we are small we don’t have fair skin but we could look nice and better with this. We cannot, as Cambodians, try to wear something like Koreans - they are tall, they are fair, so they need to look at that.
Cambodians seem to be becoming increasingly brand-conscious - is that true?
Sovreign Retail Group brought one the first brands ever to this market. The people they came and said, ‘what is brand, for me?’ Your shoes are $25 – if I go and get them at Sorya or Russian market I can get for $3 or $4. But things are changing. Now they understand the quality, the service, the look of the place and learn what is a brand is.
Cambodia Fashion Week attracted some criticism that local designers were ignored in favour of international designers – do you think that was a fair assessment and how do you think it should change this year?
For me, these words, ‘Cambodia Fashion Week’ just sound ‘wow’, we just want to be part of it. But this is the point: lack of local awareness, lack of local contribution. It is just for some, it’s not for everyone. They should make this to be for Cambodians, for Cambodian fashion designers who have no way to do.
They want to go out to the public but they don’t know how. We are in Cambodia, don’t try to make Cambodia Fashion Week like New York Fashion Week. That’s not going to work at all. I met a lot of younger designers, Cambodians, and I said why don’t you present because designs are so dynamic, but they said: I don’t have any information about Fashion Week. Many artists are not really known by local people – although they are well known by expats. But Cambodians they think in Cambodia we have nothing.
What Sovrin is trying to do is preserve the cultural heritage of Cambodia, tell the people how to preserve Cambodian classical dance, trying to interview teachers, dancers – some things that other local magazines haven’t done. I’m not talking about gossip about celebrities but profile artists and their lives and why they are successful.
What is beauty here - chasing pale skin?
Cambodians they love to do make up. You cant imagine how much they love it – they spend hours just to do makeup for a party: wedding party in the evenings. Routines exist but what they do is just follow what they used to do in the past. New trends are not huge yet.
The younger generation, with the clothes, the makeup they try to be cute and love to be fair to look like Koreans. Actually for me they should be proud of what they have right now: they look perfect for me. I am trying to have most of the cover models be Cambodian but we will try to feature foreign models at least two or three times a year, and I’m looking for a black woman to put on the cover.
What’s your next step?
I’m trying my best to introduce the world to who we are: Cambodia. Because the world, what they heard about Cambodia the first thing is maybe Khmer Rouge or maybe Angkor Wat but there are more things about Cambodia they should know.
The people of Cambodia are very creative, I see that – but they lack the support and education from people who can direct their creativity. Next January, Sovrin will be bigger: 180 pages, and a taller size. We have a circulation of 5000 that are distributed around the country, even to far provinces that you dont think fashion exists. We cannot sell there but we want to show to the people there that in Cambodia we have such magazines. Let them proud: this is Cambodian.
To contact the reporter on this story: Poppy McPherson at firstname.lastname@example.org