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Fashion Week in turmoil

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Night in white: Models at the second anniversary party of F Magazine in June 2012. Photograph: F Magazine

The people behind Cambodia Fashion Week (CFW) have revealed that the event has been postponed yet again - this time to September, almost a year after its initial set date.

But while organisers scramble to secure funds and rally their troops, designers have started making alternative plans to show their collections.

Originally set for November 2012, the fashion event was first postponed to December, and then again to March – due to the mourning period after the death of King Father Norodom Sihanouk and then the funeral arrangements, organisers say.

With the third postponement of CFW, comes questions about if and when the largest event in Cambodia’s fledgling fashion industry calender will ever happen.

Last week, the main investor fired Edge, a Phnom Penh-based consultancy that has been responsible for organising CFW since April last year. The decision came after organisers struggled to raise funds and months of internal dispute over how the event should be done, according to Cambodia Fashion Council and CFW head Sophia Ismail.

Ismail had intended CFW to be a “business hub” that would help forge long-term relationships between emerging Cambodian designers, international buyers, and the local garment industry, she said. Last year’s event, a first for Cambodia, was heavily criticised for focusing on foreigners, to the exclusion of emerging local designers.

But of the $160 000 Ismail said she would have needed to make a large-scale CFW a reality, she could only raise half. Part of that came from Coca Cola, who gave $20 000 for fabric made of recycled plastic bottles to give to young Cambodian designers to create collections.

While the investor and remaining members of the Cambodian Fashion Council try to form a new executive team this week in order to make the event happen, designers and models have been left angry over the confusion and, in some cases, loss of investment. Some prepared collections that were never shown, including less established local designers who created lines for the CFW alone.  

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Many designers are now looking for alternative ways to show their work.  

The Khmer-language fashion magazine Sovrin will host a show in April. Unlike last year editor Souden Ly plans to open up the event to “more local small brands” next to five international labels like Mango and Eclipse, which were the only labels showing last year. Also in contrast to last year, the event will be open to the public.

F Magazine, which publishes in English and Khmer, is planning the  Phnom Penh Designers Week for June, with three days, 15 models, and a total of nine designers.

The list of designers will be published next week, but the Plantation hotel has been confirmed as the venue, according to Soap Ke, the magazine’s owner and editor.

A June show date could interfere with Fashion Week, if it goes ahead in September, as some designers will not have different collections ready for both events.  

 “I don’t want to challenge Fashion Week,” Ke said.

“I just want to do something. I won’t move my show. Everything is planned and I have moved it already. I have a responsibility towards the people that are part of it and my staff.” Nobody wants to risk a break-up of the small fashion scene - despite differing opinions on the CFW and individual shows planned in the meantime.

“Cambodia is such a small country – why would anyone want to have two fashion weeks?” said Ke.

Ismail said she wasn’t too ambitious in her plans of a large-scale CFW but it was “maybe too early” for the country to hold that kind of event. She had wanted to let the CFW happen on small scale in March, she said.

Meanwhile the main investor and Fashion Council members are trying to find new executives to organise the CFW in September. It is rumoured that Romyda Keth, one of the most famous Cambodia-based designers and owner of the label Ambre, will represent the CFW to the public in the near future. An Ambre staff member declined to comment until a decision is reached next week.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julius Thiemann at ppp.lifestyle@gmail.com

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