Tragic fashions to be remedied

Tragic fashions to be remedied

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An example of the offending ball gown style favoured by many young Cambodian women. Photo Supplied

SIEM Reap's trendy clothes designer Elizabeth Kiester rolls her eyes in mock horror as she enunciates, "Those dresses are a time warp."

She's referring to the strange candy-coloured confections that perhaps could loosely be described in a Western context as ball gowns, the dresses that bedeck the gals who gather misty-eyed at weddings, or appear in the many, many karaoke videos featured on local TV.

"I'm convinced those dresses are inspired by a lot of old outdated TV shows," says Kiester, who is also the proprietor of Wanderlust clothes store.

"I think the young Khmer women get the designer feel from those programmes, not realising that they were filmed 20 years ago."

Secretly, Kiester would love to liberate the Khmer gals from their fashion hell, but she knows it's not going to happen overnight.

"But look, I'm willing to help them cut some of those sleeves off to make the dresses a little more interesting."

Actually, with a little help from her friends at the new American NGO, the Coalition for Financial Independence (CFI), she is already making some headway.

"Those horrible ball gowns are often made from Ikat silk, and while I can't help them with those dresses, I can help them make the prints that are on those dresses a little more not-so-dated, and from a more global design perspective," she said.

"I am working on a project with CFI ... in Takeo where the women weave and work in ikat. I'm trying to help them to be a little bit more modern in their colour palettes and sensibility."

A new style of ikat material, a blend of cotton and silk, has already been produced as part of the project.

CFI's executive director, Pierre Mainguy, recently travelled with Kiester to New York to show people in the design and interior design industries what is being done with modern ikat, and the feedback has been positive.

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