Reapers Reapers looking to pick up an unusual or highly original keepsake need look no further than Wa Gallery at FCC Angkor. Filled with candy-coloured Buddhas, stingray jewellery and vintage Afghan silver rings, the gallery sells both locally-made items and treasures French couple Marie Fabre and Frédéric Escudier picked up on their travels.
Having first visited Siem Reap in 1991, Fabre and Escudier returned and made it their home in 2007 – with a fair amount of travelling in between.
“We stopped working in Europe and decided just to travel. In fact, we’d been travelling for four years,” says Fabre.
The couple, whose background is in fashion, opened the Wa Gallery a year later. Fabre says she had always wanted to have her own concept store because when she was 16 in London she fell in love with Biba, one of the world’s first concept stores.
“So I always wanted to open my own concept store, with different things,” she says.
The gallery first launched in the now-defunct Carnets d’Asie complex on Sivutha Boulevard before moving to its FCC Angkor site. The gallery is now a treasure trove of colour, art and design – with items from as far afield as Nepal, Morocco and Cameroon.
The couple also designs items that are handmade by local artisans, such as the cotton kramas with a contemporary, beachy look – all pastel stripes in shades of pinks and aqua.
“For me it’s a concept store because we gather different things together,” says Fabre. “We work with artists, with workshops, with handmade things. It’s eclectic. We are very interested in the savoir faire of the Khmer, like the places where they make all the hand-woven kramas and the stoneware. We love their work. We buy what they make, and if it’s possible we ask for our design to be made.”
She adds that she’s also always traveling, and buys things for herself. “Everywhere I go if I see something different, I buy it.”
Alongside jewellery of all different hues and materials – stingray-skin, onyx and lacquer all feature – the store has ornate, bejeweled Tibetan prayer boxes, artwork from Thailand, amulet Berber rings from Morocco and pretty horn and resin tea-spoons.
Tiny Buddha amulets made of quartz and citrine are also stocked.
“These are from local Khmer people – amulets from Takeo province where they make crystal,” says Fabre. “They have been made there for ages from different kinds of stones in all different colours. It’s very interesting, and it took me years to find them. I was so surprised because I thought they were for tourists, but they’re for the local people. They’re hand carved.”
Also on display are delicate silver bangles with colourful fabric embedded into the metal, which Fabre discovered when she lived in China for four months.
“These are from the Hmong tribes. They live between borders in Southeast Asia and are silversmiths and specialists of hollow silver. The Hmong are also famous for their embroidery, so this is mixed – the way they work with silver and fabric is very traditional.”
The work of artist Nicolette Maltat is also eye-catching. The French-born, Phnom Penh-based visual artist gives the traditional a contemporary twist, painting carved Buddha heads in eye-popping colours such as purple, cerise and orange. Plus she is responsible for the neon yellow painted gallery floor, and some of the furniture including the royal blue and orange display cabinet.
She works mainly with wooden Buddhas, and one of her works on sale at the gallery – a large seated Buddha with a head studded with crystals – won first prize in a Swarovski competition.
The polished wooden carving has been given a modern art, semi-camouflage look, painted in daubs of orange, red, yellow and green.
The gallery’s name, ‘Wa’ comes from a theory of Chinese philosopher Confucius.
“It is the main key notion of Confucius, which is to put contrary forces together,” says Fabre. “This is the ‘wa’: putting different things together.”
Wa Gallery will soon introduce some new items such as pashminas from Nepal, and plans for expansion are in the works for the high season. “I cannot tell you anything, but it is going to be something very special,” says Fabre mysteriously. “We are working on it at the moment.”