Hup Guan, the small street behind Central Market, has quietly been transforming into a hotbed of chic. With Frangipani Spa, Mamma Shop Italian restaurant-deli and until very recently the dearly departed Café de la Paix round the corner, the area has developed a cool, village-y feel to it.
And last month its newest addition arrived: Louise Loubatieres Gallery, a little slice of London’s East End, via Vietnam and Cambodia.
Louise Loubatieres lifestyle store is a riot of colour and cuteness. Jewel-coloured, lacquered coconut shell bowls, funky cushions and gleaming jade and orange vases greet customers as they walk in. Closer inspection reveals charming knick-knacks such as ceramic rabbits, and pretty bone and horn rings. An added bonus is finds from many hours spent browsing London’s Portobello Road market, such as framed vintage postage stamps and antique silver spoons.
French/Vietnamese Louise, 28, has a fashion and design background, having studied textile design at London’s Chelsea College of Art, followed by a stint as designer and product developer at Lyle & Scott, the British men’s knitwear label which is enjoying a r renaissance, seen worn by the likes of bands Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian.
Two years ago Louise decided it was time for a change, but it wasn’t until last November that she made the move to Siem Reap.
“I did the fashion thing in London and it wasn’t for me,” she says. “And I’ve always, always wanted to have my own shop. I can’t afford to do it in London, so I thought I’d try it out here.”
Louise was already familiar with Cambodia, having accompanied her mother on sourcing trips for her own shop, Nom Living, which has been trading at London’s trendy Columbia Road Flower Market for over fifteen years.
Louise’s Vietnamese mother grew up in Phnom Penh and started working with Vietnamese artisans nearly 20 years ago. Now the Siem Reap shop carries many of Nom Living’s products – such as the lacquered ‘coco bowls’, woven cotton scarves and stylish ceramic mugs.
Louise says she essentially designs things she would like to have in her own house.
“I just design everything that I like. I like the idea of a traveller who travels and then collects things, brings them home and makes them part of their daily life.
“The whole ethos was to keep the traditional crafts side of it, with the lacquer and the weaving, but to try and bring in a more modern aesthetic,” she says. “I’ve constantly had that mix because I’m half-French, half-Vietnamese, but born in London. So in the house there’s always been that balance of the two and I think without realising it, it influences everything I do.
“Most of the products are designed by myself or my mother, but I also buy products from the craftsmen when I find them too beautiful to resist. A few pieces are picked up along the way, and some items are there to remind me of home, such as the antique silverware and frames sourced in London.”
Strewn on a day-bed in the shop are brightly coloured cushions, made by Siem Reap residents Sirivan and Loic Dumas of Galerie Cambodge, from local material, chosen by Louise for her final degree show for her MA, with leftover fabric brought back to Cambodia.
A beautiful pea-green number with fine pin-stripes is eye-catching. Louise explains this was originally trouser fabric for her menswear collection.
Also stocked in the store are pastel-hued cotton scarves made by Prolung Khmer Pottery and Weaving Centre as well as quirky soft toys by Goel Community, a development organization working with natural dyeing and weaving techniques.
“It’s all organic cottons,” says Louise. “A Korean couple set it up. She initially started making toys for her daughter and people started to like them, so we bought them for the shop.”
With prices ranging from 50 cents for a tiny, ceramic, Vietnamese sauce-dish up to $195 for a hand-woven, silk blanket there is something for everyone at this stylish store.
Louise says the bestselling items at both London’s Nom Living shop and Louise Loubatieres Gallery are the lacquered coco bowls priced at $10, trays at $25-$45, and ceramic mugs at $9.50.
“The coco bowls are water and food safe, so people use them to serve snacks, float candles or to keep their jewellery,” says Louise. “It’s a product that appeals to everyone. You know you've got a good product when men can't resist picking a few out for themselves.”
Not one to rest on her laurels, and despite the shop only being open four days, Louise is already looking to the future.
“All that’s missing is a little café side, and then the dream has come true,” she laughs. “I love to bake. I do a mean lemon, banana and chocolate cake.”
Cake AND pretty things for the house? Sweet-toothed style-enthusiasts of Siem Reap, you have been warned.