Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Cambodian-American sisters Edo and Eyen Chorm have always felt a deep affinity for their Cambodian heritage and roots. When the pair launched their own EdoEyen namesake jewellery brand in June, 2020, they leaned heavily into designs inspired by ancient Khmer art and culture.
EdoEyen has been partnering with the Cleveland Museum of Art to retail some of its pieces at the museum through January 30, 2022, during the museum’s groundbreaking exhibition on Khmer art titled Revealing Krishna: Journey to Cambodia’s Sacred Mountain, an immersive presentation of the story, context and restoration of Cleveland’s Krishna statue that originally came from Cambodia’s Phnom Da.
The exhibition is being held in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and the National Museum of Cambodia. The Krishna statue the exhibition is centred around was removed from Cambodia in 1912 and reassembled by the museum in 1978, so its return is not being sought by the Cambodian government.
“We’re so excited about this partnership! We’re thrilled that our Neang Neak ear cuff caught the attention of Sonya Rhie Mace, the curator of the Revealing Krishna exhibition.
“She called it ‘undeniably stunning’ when she saw it on Loung Ung – author of First They Killed My Father, the book Angelina Jolie’s film was based on. [Ung] is a fan of our jewellery – and luckily for us, also one of the collaborators on the Revealing Krishna exhibition,” elder sister Edo tells The Post.
The two sisters say that they are honoured to be involved with the exhibition as Khmer people and that opportunities like this are some of the reasons they joined efforts and created their jewellery brand.
“Our goal is to help preserve ancient Khmer art, and playing a small part in the Revealing Krishna exhibition feels like we took our first steps on our journey towards meeting that goal. Although we still have a long way to go, we feel a bit of our mission has been accomplished and it’s very fulfilling,” Eyen says.
They are the only US-based ancient Khmer art-inspired brand available. They sell pieces that are evocative of the bas-reliefs at Angkor and pieces that are distinctively Khmer with an aesthetic that echo the glorious Khmer empire’s style and design DNA.
Their pieces look and feel different from other brands and as an American-based brand they hope to capture the attention of Americans who would not normally be exposed to this type of art.
“It is too early to conclude what kind of reception from Americans we’ll get at this venue but we will work with the museum’s store to monitor sales closely,” Edo says
The sisters first had the idea for EdoEyen in 2017. They were working full time jobs and the jewellery brand was just a hobby at first, until the pandemic hit and and they had enough time on their hands to develop the idea fully and turn it into a real business.
The sisters say their sources of inspiration are the Angkorian temples, Cambodia’s Royal Ballet’s costumes and regalia, jewellery depicted on princesses of the past, the Apsaras and all of the Khmer mythology and legends they’ve heard about from their mother.
“I think it’s just a part of our nature that we have always been fascinated with everything about our Khmer roots. We grew up watching the old Khmer films and as young girls we always loved to look up to the beautiful ladies and the princesses or queens wearing crowns who always look so beautiful. We wanted to create the opportunity to wear that sort of thing in real life but done in a way that is appropriate to the modern world,” says Edo.
“So that‘s where we got the idea from. We kind of incorporated some aspects of those statement pieces and made it a little bit less statement compared to the original and incorporated them into something that would fit with our everyday lives,” Eyen adds.
They say they haven’t seen the Khmer style being made into high-fashion jewellery to wear outside of wedding ceremonies or on stage but they are taking this eye-catching and beautiful design approach to another level and hoping that people who love fashion will wear it in their everyday yet stylish ensembles.
As New Yorkers living in one of America’s most famous “melting pots” for immigrant cultures and a world cultural capital, they don’t feel any constraints about how they use clothes and jewellery to express themselves.
They feel that anyone can wear any of their jewellery pieces anywhere – to meet with a friend, to have dinner, while shopping or wear it to work if they truly want to stand out and express themselves using eye-catching jewellery. Or they could also reserve wearing these pieces for special occasions.
“We want people to feel beautiful, alluring, ethereal, fashionable, stylish, bold, and most importantly we want our fellow Khmer to feel proud when wearing our pieces,” Eyen says.
They’ve been receiving positive and encouraging feedback from their fans that echoes their own sentiments. Cambodian customers and friends say that they’ve always dreamed of wearing this style of jewellery from when they were children and are supportive of their work to help bring Cambodian culture to the forefront in the US.
“People who aren’t Khmer have expressed their admiration for the beautiful designs and others are very touched by our passion for the work that we do for our own cultural heritage—which as you can imagine is underrepresented in America,” Edo says.
The sisters work with jewellery casters in New York City’s financial district who mostly source their metals from United Precious Metal Refining, an organisation that only works with recycled and ethically-sourced metals.
The two sisters are just beginning to incorporate precious gemstones into their work, and they are working with a local NYC jewellery designer and gems dealer who ethically sources rubies and emeralds from India and Africa.
Eyen says so far they are selling their jewellery at a pace they can both manage and they are taking it all in as a learning opportunity so that they can be one hundred per cent involved in the product ideation, sales and marketing stages even if their business grows much larger. They want to ensure their passion and love for the work they do is reflective of their brand and that the work itself isn’t diluted.
“Watching our list of clientele grow as it covers more and more territory across the 50 states of the US is very exciting,” says Eyen.
Their pieces range from $140 to potentially over $40,000 depending on the style and choice of precious metals. They also offer fashion jewellery versions along with the fine jewellery pieces and the Neang Neak ear cuff is their bestseller to date.
Their debut collection – called the Face Collection – consists of three pieces of jewellery: Neang Neak ear cuff, Phkachhouck 1.0 and 2.0 earrings and Kbang crown. Their second is the Hand Collection, which consists of fives pieces: Aroubei, Tbaung Morokot (emerald), Tbaung Gottum (ruby) ring, Roum Dai palm cuff and the Khong Dai bangle.
They also have a necklace designed that will be part of their upcoming Body Collection.
“We are very excited to start making our necklaces. We already have some design ideas,” Edo says.
However, there are a fair number of challenges the sisters still must deal with.
“For example, our necklace design will be very different from conventional necklaces found in NYC. Surprisingly, many CAD designers and many metal casters don’t want to work with us on it because they think it’s too complicated. They don’t want to spend extra time helping us with the research and design process.
“When we first started with the Neang Neak ear cuff and Kbang crown, we went through hurdles to find a CAD designer to help us take our ideas from hand-drawn sketches to digital files. Our challenges have mostly been with finding collaborators who can help us make our authentic and intricate Khmer inspired design ideas come to life,” Edo says.
Therefore, they say they would like to be able to find and work with more talented and skilled CAD designers and art sculptors. A professional who can help them make their jewellery ideas come to life quickly, but someone who also understands their brand’s aesthetic and is passionate about their work and its mission.
“Our mission is to help preserve our culture’s art—and we found a way to do it where it hasn’t really been done before on a larger scale. Artworks are mainly enclosed in museum’s glass cases or in the homes of elites all over the world or the clothing and jewellery are only worn in theatres or on wedding occasions, but that type of art is not living and breathing and we want this to live and breathe again because they’re too beautiful to be kept hidden away for just a few people to enjoy and one of the ways to make it living and breathing again is to make it available to be worn in daily life through fashion,” Edo says.