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New fabrics from Old Forest

I’ve said it before: Siem Reap has a great little boutique scene.

From quirky stylings at Poetry or red hot buys at Wanderlust, to gorgeous finds in Three Seasons, this little town requires a big wallet to keep up.

And yet another pretty little store has joined the regular shopping route. Old Forest is the latest offshoot of textile aficionado, Yasutaka Watanabe, or Yasu.

The Japanese businessman, who also has stores in Tokyo and Ho Chi Minh City, has wanted to open a store here since first coming to Siem Reap in 1996.

After a lengthy search, the shop Yasu chose, opposite Psar Chaa, is bright and airy.

It’s brimming with jewellery – some chic, some whimsical –plus embellished bags, floral shirts, statement dresses, cute-as-a-button kids’ clothes, and the stores staple: fabulously coloured and patterned scarves.

Maya Shimohashi, who came to Cambodia from Japan to oversee the store opening, and also acts as his translator, explains that many customers come for something special, the kind of thing they can treasure and pass down.

“The concept is to introduce a respectful way of sewing,” she says. “Making things by hand. To not try to do mass production, but to treat fabric politely, as a really nice item that everyone can love.”

Fabrics are selected by Yasu from Cambodia, Japan and Vietnam, and then an in-house Japanese designer and tailors in Ho Chi Minh create the items. Jewellery is also assembled in the shop’s factory.

“If it good quality and nice, he will buy it and try to make something with it,” explains Maya. “He buys vintage fabrics in the market, or negotiates with the people who make the batik fabrics, linens or lace.”

Yasu says he mixes classic patterns with latest fashions for those with different tastes, but he selects different products to suit the customers in each store.

“The atmosphere in each shop is quite different. So when we design the scarves, there are some which go to Tokyo, some which go to Ho Chi Minh or here.

The Ho Chi Minh Shop has a resident tailor, a service Yasu hopes introduce in Siem Reap.

Despite the language barrier, Yasu’s enthusiasm for his stock is palpable. Throughout the interview he caresses the fabrics and shows a real passion for the textiles.

Maya explains, “His grandfather had a Japanese traditional fabric shop for kimonos and such, so by the time he was really young, he was really familiar with and used to touching silk or many other textiles. He pays a lot of respect to the Asian techniques and making handicrafts."

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