It’s been two years since I’ve started writing for WUPP (What’s Up Phnom Penh) as they had released their first issue the month before I arrived. So to celebrate their 2nd birthday is a treat not only for the WUPP team, but for me as well. I’m proud to have seen this little magazine make it’s mark across Phnom Penh with its black and hot pink cover being known by the masses.
For this issue, we took a break from my monthly article about beauty (Highlight & Gloss) and chatted about something else I’ve dabbled in the past with: fashion in Cambodia.
*also I got to be on the same page as the incredible Tim Bruyns, chef extraordinaire and wonderful friend. Hurrah!
and the uncut version here:
You’ve written extensively about fashion and beauty trends while in Cambodia. What inspiration do you draw from Cambodia for your own personal style.
With my long background in beauty and fashion it’s difficult to come by something that hasn’t been seen or done in the past few decades or even my lifetime. Things get recycled and rehashed so that they’re something new from something old in a new era, and that’s generally how it is worldwide. Cambodia is eccentric in the sense that it draws so much of its influence from the surrounding region and area rather than focusing on the larger scene and from publications that are readily available in other parts of the world. Paris Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week is less impactful than what a local Cambodian will see in the shop window of Mango or a Khmer celebrity wears to the latest whiskey event. I find that the aspects of fashion and beauty that I pull from Cambodia are the things that come from years ago- even before the Khmer Rouge- and that haven’t been lost. Whether the rich silks and methods of weaving to the traditional styles of dress, they will continue to infiltrate the market as long as it maintains a sense of Cambodia rather than copying things from Korea or big box shops from the West that ultimately are replicating designs from the top labels who first craft and create the looks. While I don’t agree with many of the beauty practices that the Khmer apply to themselves such as skin whitening and bleaching, it does show that tradition holds strong.
You’ve written in the past that Cambodia’s fashion scene is non-existent. In this rapidly changing country, how do you feel about that today?
I still feel that ultimately Cambodia’s own sense of fashion has a long, long way to go before it can really put itself on an international radar. Apart from a few local artists, the majority of fashion and beauty is pulled and recreated with no sense of redirection or artistic addition. While there is a massive amount of change with many talented independent designers pushing their work into the industry and malls like Aeon come smashing into the region, there needs to be a sense of personal choice and implementation of what the wearer actually likes rather than simply flipping through a fashion magazine or seeing what a Khmer celebrity wears on the local television. I want to see the next generation take a look at what they do with their aesthetics and make it their own rather than following a trend to the exact accessory or label.
Do you see a unique style emerging in the country? Or does Cambodia have to look to its East or West for style?
This reverts back to my last statement of wanting to see unique style making its way into the lives of tastemakers rather than trying to carbon copy what someone else does. Imitation is a form of flattery, yes, but when I see people doing the exact same thing that they see trend setters or celebrities doing it’s just a bit pitiful. It’s unlikely that anyone will ever be the first to create something at this point; with thousands of years of style, fashion, and beauty behind the entire world it would be almost impossible to be the frontrunner and creator of something one hundred percent original, wherever you are in the world. Cambodia still has its sights set generally on what and how things are being done by other people and in the region mostly; all you have to do is go into a local “high end” boutique and all you’ll see are knockoffs of brand names; I’ve seen enough knockoff BOY London, Louis Vuitton, and Prada to last me a lifetime.
The day I find a row of truly individualized shops, stalls, and boutiques hawking one of a kind vintage goods, interesting handmade and up-to-date pieces, or at least some lesser known labels even at a higher price point- I will be very excited.”