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Temple town fashion reaches the world

Siem Reap’s fashionistas, textile designers and manufacturers are taking their wares to the world, with man of the cloth Morimoto Kikuo leading the pack in the international exposure stakes.

Morimoto, an international expert and manufacturer of hand-woven Khmer textiles, is usually holed up in his 23-hectare “wisdom of the forest” commune near Siem Reap town.

But he’s been lured from his rural hideout to become an international jetsetter promoting and exporting his wares.

On May 15 he was spotted in a most unlikely habitat – Lucky Supermarket where, cornered in an aisle, he held an impromptu press conference for 7Days, declaring that he was provisioning before departing for Japan later in the day.

On May 18 in Japan he attended a dinner with King Norodom Sihamoni and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. The King flew out of Cambodia on May 16 for his first state visit to Japan, and before the dinner on May 18 the King held official talks with the prime minister.

Morimoto could shed no light on the reason for his auspicious dinner appointment. “I don’t know why they invited me,” he laughed. “I have no idea at all.”

But no doubt the dinner will be an introduction to Morimoto’s utterly unique wares.

Morimoto and his textile rejuvenation project have long been favoured by the King, and in 2007 he was granted a royal audience with King Sihamoni at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.

Next month, Morimoto jets off to Washington in conjunction with the Gods of Angkor exhibition of ancient Khmer 36 bronze sculptures and ritual objects.

This exhibition, held at the Arthur M Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution, opened on May 15 and will run until January 23 next year.

Morimoto has been invited to show his textiles there and create a retail outlet. He said he would be literally turning up in Washington with a load of silks in his luggage.

While Morimoto is about to wow Washington, Siem Reap fashion designer Eric Raisina is engrossing New Yorkers, organising showings in hotels in the Big Apple.

Siem Reap-based emerging fashion mogul Elizabeth Kiester is also in New York launching her Wanderlust “capsule collection” range at the lower Broadway store, Madewell, part of a US retail chain run by the J Crew Group Inc conglomerate.

This came about following Kiester’s first involvement with Madewell, when she produced a “little bracelet” for the opening of the chi-chi East Hampton store.

She obviously made the bracelet well because, as she told the fashion website stylelist.com, “They sold out of them in a weekend and here we are.”

Styelist.com has dubbed Kiester’s work part of a “feel good fashion initiative” that melds fashion with charity.

The site described Kiester’s water hyacinth flower bag as “great” and Kiester told stylelist.com, “The water hyacinth flowers were growing up and choking parts of the Tonle Sap river, killing the fish. Once the fish were dead the men were out of work. They figured out that if women could pull up the water hyacinth and dry them, they could weave them. The women are crafting something out of this, saving the wildlife and saving their husbands’ or fathers’ jobs.

“I call this 360 degree fashion – it looks good and it is good.”

And last, but not least, the female designers from the funky new Siem Reap fashion store Circle are in Boston, attending a textile fair.

It seems the regularly made prediction, about Siem Reap emerging as a cool new-world fashion hub, is finally beginning to come true.

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