Cambodia’s fashion industry continues to gain pace. With Phnom Penh Designers Week set to be held this month, Jemma Galvin looks at how the industry is moving forward. Photography by Dylan Maddux.

In March, a stream of slashed fabric and leather sashayed down the minimalist runway at De Gran salon for fashion label [cgbcn]’s Punk Couture show. Days later, Anne Noelle launched its romantic yet wearable eveningwear collection at the whimsical Deco restaurant.

The month of May then made a stylish splash with the second installment of the extravagant Glamazon show. It saw KeoK’jay launch a menswear line, designer Juli Handayani debut her Private Collection, and an avant-garde collection created by The Dollhouse’s Ryan Drewe Taylor and Brandon Lee that had the audience transfixed.

There is no doubt that Cambodia’s fashion industry is expanding and diversifying at a rapid pace, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. The first Phnom Penh Designers Week (PPDW) will descend on the luscious grounds of The Plantation Urban Resort and Spa from Jun. 13 to Jun. 15.

“It’s a celebration of fashion,” says designer Don Protasio with an excited smile, a pair of thick-framed glasses perched on his nose.

Organised by F magazine, where he serves as creative director, the week is a platform for the city’s fashion designers to showcase their wares in a market that Protasio says is becoming more attractive to international “mega brands.”

“It’s difficult for designers here to organise events that showcase their work, so soon these designers and their labels could be forgotten. It’s such a shame as there are a lot of talented people here in Phnom Penh, and a lot of Khmer designers who all offer different styles,” he adds.

In response to this challenge, the three-day PPDW event will include shows by nine designers, including Protasio himself. Undoubtedly the clothing will be inspired, and the original idea behind the event was too.

For the past four years, F magazine has held anniversary parties that saw a handful of designers present three or four looks during the event. However, it was never a scheduled, promoted or especially “fashion” spectacle. F editor Soapea Ke says this year he and Protasio have built upon that initial idea and turned it into something “bigger and better.”

Part of the inspiration came from the Philippines, where Protasio was part of the Iloilo Designers Week, showcasing a selection of his intriguing designs. The event brought together designers, models, hair and make-up artists and other creatives, all of whom were local to Iloilo. “I thought, well if they can do it, we can also do it in a small city — definitely in Phnom Penh. Start small and organise an event that celebrates fashion,” Protasio says.

Ke agrees, saying: “The name Phnom Penh Designers Week wasn’t just something that came out of the air. Don participated in Manila’s Iloilo Designers Week and that’s where we took inspiration from… the idea was to create something new.”

Not only will the established brands like Don Protasio, Waterlily and KeoK’jay and emerging labels like A.N.D, SCT and [cgbcn] enjoy exposure, but the event signals a continuance in the nurturing of Cambodia-based fashion initiatives.

The Samaki Sewing Network, a socially responsible garment manufacturing business based in Phnom Penh, is one example. It recently formed through a merger of the Anne Noelle Fashion workroom and the KeoK’jay design workshop. “Our guarantee is to be upfront with our customers about all processes in our workshop business, in an industry that is increasingly not so transparent,” says KeoK’jay owner Rachel Faller.

With both labels showing new collections during PPDW, and KeoK’jay’s autumn/winter 2013 line drawing inspiration from traditional stories and mythological beings, Samaki will have the opportunity to impress even more clients than those already on its environmentally friendly books. It’s this collective collaboration between fashion professionals across the spectrum that seems to be driving the industry in the Kingdom onward and upward.

“I think that there are definitely increasing numbers of young Cambodians who are interested in international fashion and that is really exciting,” adds Faller. “In the next year, Cambodia will graduate its first crop of fashion designers from two universities [Raffles International College and Limkokwing University] with the first fashion programmes here, and I think that will definitely give the fashion scene here a big push.”

For now, the push towards a new, fashion-forward Cambodia is PPDW. Although the event is invite-only, keep an eye on its website and Facebook page as we hear readers may be given the chance to win tickets to attend.

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