An upscale boutique, opened last month, hopes its top-shelf line of lingerie will appeal to women looking for something beyond average undergarments
Promesses, an upscale lingerie shop, which opened last month, hopes that
its seductive wares will find a steady market in the capital.
Phnom Penh's fashion elite may have already discovered designer bags and rhinestone belts, but the latest emerging style trend is harder to spot.
Upscale lingerie store Promesses opened in mid-April and word is spreading fast about its shimmery bras and lacy panties. Some say launching the small boutique on Street 282 has meant a wealth of new luxury options for local ladies. For others, it marks a revolution in the way underwear is perceived.
Hung with chandeliers and located beneath a boutique specialising in pret-a-porter, Promesses offers imported undergarments from designer companies like Aubade and Raphaela Magica. The items are pricy; most pieces start at US$50. But according to the store's owner, Cambodian women are ready for an upgrade.
"When you speak to the girls here about what's missing, lingerie comes up almost automatically," said Soreasmey Ke Bin, a Phnom Penh resident who was raised in France. "The quality's low, the design old-fashioned. Many say there are no shops for expats or even locals."
Ultimately, the 32-year-old entrepreneur felt it was time to answer their call. With the help of his Avanti trading company, which he co-founded last January to introduce new products to Cambodians, he started consulting top underwear brands in France and Thailand.
"The quality is better, the cloth is better," he said. "The difference is self-evident."
The problem, though, at least from a business standpoint, was Soreasmey Ke Bin's gender. While he already had experience dealing in whey protein shakes and had invested in both an IT engineering firm and a design studio, nothing could have prepared him for the niche world of bras and panties.
"It's complex," he said, adding that in France the high-end brands housed an overwhelming array of collections, some more risque than others. Higher quality would also mean significantly higher prices than what most locals were used to paying. And sizes, generally targeting the larger European physique, were another matter entirely.
For an accurate assessment of what women wanted, Soreasmey Ke Bin surveyed 200 potential clients: wealthy Cambodians who had experienced luxury labels overseas and expatriates who couldn't find the right fit - or the right privacy - at the market. His new shop stocks sizes "from A to E", he said. Privacy comes in the form of a VIP changing room, furnished in back with comfortable chairs.
Out in the open, though, shopkeepers are not sure the need for pricy garments is quite so widespread. Expensive underwear may be fulfilling for a privileged client base, they say. But most Khmer working girls are still happy with the cheap stuff.
"Women are more educated now and want higher quality," said Kee Naim, whose Thai wares at the Natural Fresh underwear stand in Soriya shopping centre rarely cost more than $10. Rose brand panties from Taiwan cost $5. "Usually, those girls want to be in style."
For Chang Sreytol, a men's shoes vendor in Central Market, however, style can wait. Her underwear need only last a year. "I'm looking for just a normal medium price," she said, glancing over the Calvin Klein panties at Natural Fresh. "Not a lot of us have money, lately."
"Most women come looking for good quality, but it needs to be cheap," said Sop Lien from behind her stand at Central Market. Her bras hail from Vietnam and China. "Earning is difficult."
Soreasmey Ke Bin understands these concerns but maintains that a globalising Phnom Penh will soon need the better bras.
"Cambodian girls are moving really fast," he said. "Ten years ago, you saw only [Toyota] Camrys. Now [Mercedes] Benz. Obviously they're willing to invest in things people can see. So what we are trying to do is convince the middle-class working woman that good lingerie is also an option."