Last month, just before the February 20 outbreak and the increased restrictions on gatherings, Mario Duyuchen – a prominent fashion designer previously based in Beijing – held a fashion charity event in Siem Reap to show his appreciation for the warm welcome he has received in Cambodia.
The charity event in question was, specifically, a fashion show organised in tandem with the celebration of the Lunar New Year that encouraged Cambodian women to display their talent and beauty.
According to Mario, who prefers this casual appellation to the use of his surname, the entire event was meant to be a celebration of Cambodian women.
“It was meant to send an encouraging message to them about feeling confident in their own skin and recognising their innate beauty,” he says.
Mario spent his childhood in Northeast China and on Jeju Island. The island is the only self-governed province of South Korea and a popular tourist destination with over a half million residents and its own distinct Koreanic language.
As a young man attending university, Mario studied art and design in Rome as well as modern Chinese literature. Fashion was always his true calling, however, and today Mario is a well-recognised figure within the Chinese fashion industry.
After making a name for himself as a designer working with top labels, he became a fashion TV host for the Trend Group in Beijing and eventually started his own couture brand in 2013.
He came to Cambodia as a tourist 13 months ago and decided to stay once the pandemic interrupted international travel and the daily lives of billions of people around the world, while Cambodia – at least for a time – seemed to have been spared many of these difficulties.
Thus, Mario’s holiday destination transformed into his provisional home and he’s been making the best of it ever since by conquering the Cambodian catwalk and becoming the first Beijing fashion designer to create and share a collection through his recent haute couture runway show.
The S/S Haute Couture Fashion Show brightened up the city and brought the runway modelling experience in Cambodia to the next level when it took place at the FCC Angkor in Siem Reap on February 12.
“This new 2022 S/S collection combines a modern chic touch with a traditional style that is inspired by the Khmer Angkorian culture,” Mario tells The Post.
Dozens of local Cambodian women – many of them with no prior fashion experience or modelling background – confidently strolled down the runway to the rhythms of traditional Cambodian music.
At the end of the catwalk they performed a distinctive traditional hand gesture from Khmer dance that represents the growth cycle of a tree from tiny seed to a towering source of fruit.
The show was the result of seven months of work by Mario that he spent imagining and then creating the 12 dresses of his “Blossom” collection.
“Real women represent their country’s unique beauty; each dress in the collection represents a different flower with its own distinct beauty and strength. The power of women and nature combined is a captivating show,” Mario says.
Mario chose his models from among the local women of Siem Reap, many of whom were students or otherwise working in hotels as receptionists and in restaurants as waitresses. Given Siem Reap’s reliance on tourism, all of them have been heavily impacted economically by the pandemic.
Mario tells The Post that all of his models did a fantastic job, enthusing that the “girls claimed the runway as their own territory and they nailed it!”
According to Mario, because Cambodia has welcomed him so warmly and generously – and made him feel at home during his time here, he decided to make his fashion show a charity fundraiser for Khmer women who have been struggling to support their families during these hard times.
Mario says his motto in life is “when saving the world there is no time to waste”, a notion that reflects his kind nature and a sincere desire to help others.
From the day they were cast until the day they went up on stage a total of two and a half months passed with the Cambodian models training and rehearsing for the event.
“After the [auditions], I realised they were all rising stars and that struck me as true particularly when they walked the runway during the actual show.
“It was all live and for them their very first time modelling was also their very first time attending a real haute couture fashion show,” he says.
In order to support local Cambodian women in need of financial assistance, funds were raised during the show through lively auctions of creations by Mario and other designers.
“For the auction, a piece from Artisan Lunetier was graciously donated by Jacques Danger and we also sold one of my delicate runway creations,” he says.
The proceeds from the auctioned dresses went to the models and other local women who participated in the project.
Mario says all 12 of the dresses in the show were exclusive and newly created just for the occasion. The auctioned items found buyers, but he says he wishes they were able to raise more money to help the models and volunteers.
“Still, we do understand that these are hard times for everyone and we can only expect people to give what they can,” says Mario.
The music during the show and auction was composed on a traditional Khmer harp by a French ethnomusicologist, Patrick Kersale, as a part of the Sounds of Angkor project.
After the fashion show an international band – CasAfro – gave a vibrant performance that celebrated the independent and confident nature of Khmer women.
The fashion show was a group effort put together by a multitalented international team who worked with Mario and both local and international sponsors to give the audience an unforgettable experience.
To see photos of Mario’s contemporary fashion designs being modelled by Cambodian women at various locations throughout Siem Reap, visit his Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/marioduyuchen/