Image of leaves and flowers with subtle colours that draw out the natural beauty of their forms are used with dazzling effect on luxurious silk scarves and skirts by a talented designer in Siem Reap. Chan Phanny founded his business, Khmer Golden Silk, in Taksen Tbong Village, Kork Chak commune, Siem Reap province.

Although his business has been in operation for many years, he did not always produce such unique designs. Prior to the global pandemic, Golden Silk sold handmade silk products, but with the decline in tourists – his major customer base – he was forced to find a way of separating his goods from the others available.

Due to a lack of demand, in 2020 he began experimenting with fresh leaves and flowers. He lays them on a piece of beautiful handmade silk, and then steams them until they become part of the fabric.

He said that his company had always used handmade silk, made right here in the Kingdom. Hand-woven silk cannot be compared with machine-woven material, which comes out smooth and precise. The character of handmade silk gives it personality – something which foreign customers seem to appreciate, he added.

“We use local silk wherever possible, but local supply cannot always keep up with demand. In my experience, local and imported silks have their own unique qualities,” he said.

He said that he had seen the steaming technique used to decorate silk in some products abroad, but had never paid much attention to the innovation. It was only during the Covid-19 epidemic – and the subsequent decline in demand for his products – that he decided to investigate it. After a period of research and development, he discovered that he could do it.

According to Panny, the first step is to gather the plants he wants to use. Some of his flowers are grown at home, and some are found in the forests. He arranges them on a silk cloth, which is laid out on his worktable. Once he has found a pleasing pattern, he pulls the silk tight and applies steam for one or two hours. After steaming, the colour of the leaves and flowers has penetrated into the fabric.

“I use my imagination to come up with the patterns. The technique can be used on natural cotton, as well as silks,” he said.

He added that the colours produced through this process are duller and more subtle than chemical colours would be, and that the technique means no two designs are the same. His products are 100 per cent natural, with no chemicals employed at all.

He generally favours leaves from teak or jatropha trees as he has found that they respond well to the process, and that their colours tend to last longer.

Phanny said he spent about five months conducting experiments to determine which plants were most suitable. It was thanks to this trial and error – and a lot of fabric, time and money – that he is able to produce such delightful pieces.

Because the products he creates are made in a very natural way, things change according to the seasons. If there have been heavy rains, for example, the leaves will produces darker colours. He keeps extensive notes, so he his expectations are realised when he applies steam to a new piece of silk.

Khmer Golden Silk products were featured in the One Village One Product event in Banteay Meanchey province, where his silk had attracted a lot of interest.

He said he is now seeing a gradual increase in demand. The majority of his customer base is now made up of Cambodian women, because his scarves are perfect for traditional ceremonies.

He offers two sizes of scarf, with prices generally around $45 for a small and $60 for a large, although products with defects can be discounted.

Phanny is unconcerned with people attempting to copy his work, reasoning that anyone who thought they had the knowledge and talent was welcome to try.