Before marrying Prince Narithipong, Princess Ermine worked in high-end boutiques in London and Paris, where Princess Di was a regular customer.
The latest styles from France have arrived at Le Marais Boutique Hotel & Paris Fashion on Street 222, a retail outlet run by a couple from the Cambodian royal family.
Princess Ermine Norodom is the daughter of an Italian couple in France, and spent her formative years in London, working for iconic French fashion designer Joseph Ettedgu, known on the scene simply as “Joseph”.
Starting her career as a stock room girl, she rose to become a director of 10 shops in Paris, before pairing up with Cambodian Princess Sita as a business partner.
The princess was taking care of her shops in London, and prompted Ermine to visit Phnom Penh for the first time in October 2010. When she met Prince Narithipong, she said it was love at first sight.
Princess Ermine said her goal with Le Marais, named after the famous French fashion district, is to bring “something different” to Phnom Penh.
“Ladies in France dress very differently to women in New York City – they dress between high-fashion and the middle. This is the style of Paris. This is very important, for them to dress that way. The kids are very fashionable also,” she said.
“Cambodian ladies love fashion and now they are starting to find fashion. We choose some French brands which are thought to be famous. Here you can find brands like Les Petites, and Belair. They all have shops in Paris. You can see the same pants here that you see in Paris. Fashion is, well, it is about multiple brands in one shop.”
Over the years, Princess Ermine has worked with Karl Lagerfeld, Alaia, Jean Paul Gautier, Kenzo and others.
A famous saying of her longtime employer and mentor Joseph was “I dress people.” Princess Ermine follows a similar philosophy of making people look good.
One of the most famous people she made look good was a fellow blue-blood – the much-loved Diana, Princess of Wales.
“She was lovely. She always had to rush in and she had to rush out. We had to close the door because there were so many people around all the time. It was impossible for her,” she said.
Princess Ermine comes from a village in the north of France called Wallers, but she left for London at the age of 18.
Unable to speak English at first, she starting out washing windows before getting a job with Joseph, for whom she worked for 22 years – 12 in London and the rest in Paris.
“I learned everything with Joseph,” she said. Sadly, Joseph died of cancer in March last year.
Ermine and Narithipong were married by King Father Sihanouk at the Royal Palace in October, 2003. The princely couple has two children: a five-year-old daughter named Orfea and a three-year-old son called Teo. The clan moved from Paris to Phnom Penh in September, 2010.
After looking around, they found the location for Le Marais at a villa on the quiet Street 222 in February, and after considerable construction work, they opened it in mid-September this year.
“I like fashion. I like to meet the people. For us it is a chance to bring some experience from France.”
Princess Ermine and Prince Narithipong hire local Cambodians with no experience, and train them.
The boutique hotel has six rooms, ranging in price from $45 a night to $110 a night.
“Families would be comfortable with us; people who want to be quiet.”