Siem Reap is catching up to Phnom Penh in the fashion stakes – on Saturday the Charming City complex was the setting for a glitzy outdoor catwalk show launching Eric Raisina’s first couture house, while the week before, renowned Cambodian designer Romyda Keth opened a Siem Reap branch of her store, Ambre.
At Saturday’s show models made their entrance through the glass doors of Raisina’s flagship new store, then walked along a red-carpet catwalk. As well as his women’s wear collection, the designer introduced his new line, Eric Raisina Hommes, for men “who like to be a little bit fabulous.”
“It’s completely new,” he told Insider. “I’ve done menswear before but it was always very basic, so this time I want to have a more exclusive line. We have a lot of fancy men who come here looking for something brighter, more interesting, exclusive jackets.”
He said with his maison de couture he wants to move to another level and create something akin to what can be found in Paris or New York, complete with champagne on tap for his VIP customers.
He said he was inspired by his days creating textiles for fashion houses such as Yves Saint Laurent, and visiting their Parisian ateliers.
“When I was commissioned to do pieces for YSL, each appointment I had I’d say to Loulou de la Falaise – his muse – this is a dream, because it was so fabulous,” he said. “You’d see all the pieces, how organised everything was, where they did the patterns, so my dream is to have this level for my Cambodian team.”
He chose Charming City because it is quiet and has the perfect spacious location. His first shop was at his house, which he said people loved to visit, but he was limited by space.
“This is going to be more flexible because I also like to be involved with organising exclusive events for VIP guests,” he said. “I’ve been doing it in my house on a very low level but here I can really organise private shows for a group, functions, even a dinner.”
Production will take place on the first, second and third floors; with couture items being made on the first floor, general production on the second and weaving on the third where a large wooden loom has been installed.
“My main focus with silk is to make it soft, to find different textures so some of this work is going to be on that floor,” he said.
Raisina, who has lived in Siem Reap for 13 years, feels that Khmers are becoming more fashion savvy, and that Siem Reap’s women are becoming more curious. He also believes that Cambodia is slowly making its mark on the fashion map, adding that on the international circuit people are often surprised his creations have come out of Cambodia.
“Every time I have a show overseas, like at Paris Fashion Week, everyone is absolutely amazed to see the pieces that I have on the runway, discovering it’s produced in Cambodia,” he said.
“I think Cambodia has a chance to have its own fashion identity. I’m glad that Romyda has finally set up a shop here because it raises the level which is great, and shows visitors we have something to offer in Cambodia.
“My feeling is that we could organize a huge show here, like Siem Reap Fashion Week or Angkor Fashion Week, because this city is very specific and special. If they can do an exclusive concert in Angkor Wat, why not an amazing show?”
This sentiment is echoed by Phnom Penh-based designer Romyda Keth, who opened her first standalone Siem Reap shop next to the Royal Residence, selling rainbow-hued silk dresses, accessories and a small menswear collection.
“Through visual arts, fashion and music, local artists are striving to turn Cambodia into a new arts and fashion hub,” she said. “At the moment, this is more tangible in Phnom Penh, but I think people have already planted seeds of change in Siem Reap.”
Romyda, who counts former face of Chanel No. 5 and one-time Bond girl Carole Bouquet among her fans, said she has always catered to a largely expat client base, but more recently Cambodian women have started coming in with their daughters, looking for “sophisticated, refined and unique” dresses.
“I believe Cambodian women are now more self-conscious and determined to please themselves. It’s an important breakthrough in Khmer gender attitudes and perceptions,” she said. “All the clothes I design are meant to make a woman feel more elegant, sensual and poised.”
Romyda grew up and studied in Paris, opening her first shop in Phnom Penh in 1999. She now has boutiques worldwide, including Australia, Paris and Japan.