Up-and-coming Cambodian designers are starting a style revolution. AsiaLIFE meets five home-grown fashionistas to learn how an ambitious generation of talent is shaking up the fashion world with unique aesthetic visions. From punk attitude to casual cool and sophisticated femininity, meet
the future of fashion.
Bubbly university student Mary Sarath can appreciate beauty in everything. “You just have to take a close look, and you’ll see it,” explains the 21-year-old designer.
From old keys to industrial-style screws, seeds and safety pins, her jewellery line transforms day-to-day objects into bold, modern designs. Metals and natural fibres alike are woven together to produce the statement, one-of-a-kind pieces that are making Phnom Penh-born Mary a talent to watch.
“My concept is something chunky, colourful and popped up,” she says at a rapid pace that suits her up-beat personality, before going on to explain that she launched the range around four months ago after returning from the “life-changing experience” of studying in the cold climes of Norway.
The resulting Mary Sara collection is full of touching individual stories. The key to her father’s former office, long coveted by Mary, proved the inspiration for
one design, while metal links that were about to be thrown away at the Russian Market have been adapted into earrings.
Mary says that her very supportive family still cracks jokes about her turning household goods into designs. “Actually once I made something from my cousin’s earphones that were being thrown away. They were a silver colour and just beautiful. I made a necklace,” she says, explaining that the newest line is set to incorporate uncut local stones into eye-catching pieces.
The student is now combining her two passions – design and education – by working in eclectic design store Trunkh alongside studying at university and working on her own jewellery range.
“I have two passions: one is working in the educational field, and the second is design. In the future, maybe I might have a chance to combine them together. That would be perfect,” she says.
Trunkh on Sothearos Boulevard,
Paperdolls Street 2401/2 and BKK, Kolab Sor hotel on Street 310, Phnom Penh
Designer: Hung Chin
Label: CHIN F Design
Helping Cambodians express themselves and find their individuality through style is young designer Hung Chin’s mission statement.
And that’s exactly what the 22-year-old has been doing since he decided to follow his passion and enroll in a four-year fashion design course at Limkokwing University. Quickly making a name for himself as star style student, Chin launched his own fashion label in his second year.
Offering forward-thinking designs, the talented tailor designed and made a collection of menswear, specialising in uniquely patterned T-shirts, which were quickly snapped up to be sold by a string of stores across the city.
It didn’t take long for Chin to achieve his dream of owning a boutique, which opened six months ago in a prime location next to Russian Market. The opening of the store came coupled with a bigger collection of clothing, taking in casual wear, formal fashion with a twist and a small selection of women’s cocktail dresses.
“I want to offer something different to what’s already out there. A lot of young Cambodians like fashion but there’s not that much variety out there,” he says, standing in front of a rail of neatly hung men’s tops, including T-shirts with an array of colourful hand-designed patterns.
Inspired by the tailors who worked on the street outside his Phnom Penh home as a child, Chin was “born into fashion”. “I would watch the tailors work and grew to love embroidery,” he recalls.
Citing Alexander McQueen as his main source of inspiration, Chin defines his style as somewhere between “the real and the unreal” and draws trends from South Korea, the country he says many Cambodians look up to when it comes to fashion. He hopes that, thanks to a rise in talented Cambodian designers, the younger generation won’t have to look as far afield for fashion inspiration in the not-so-distant future.
Dr Fashion on Street 163,
Designer: Lang Suykeang
Label: Skelley Lang
Architectural lines and Japanese culture are just two influences for talented Limkokwing University graduate Lang Suykeang.
With a palette dominated by blacks, whites and greys, the 24-year-old has created a strong collection that embraces the spirit of punk. “They can show off their emotions,” the Phnom Penh-based designer says of her clientele. “My brand has a young, playful style.”
Keang often scours second-hand stores and outlets to source unusual fabrics that she up-cycles to create casual, modernist collections that feature jersey, synthetic leathers and silks.
The resulting deconstructed leggings, geometric
skirts and tops and chunky metal jewellery are already proving a hit, with her work appearing at multiple catwalk shows in the capital despite the brand only launching last December.
“My inspiration is from architecture – the shapes,” she says, flicking through photographs of her designs on an iPad, showcasing a long black gothic dress, alongside T-shirts and skirts with bold colourful patterns, and green and brown camouflage tops paired with flared skirts and knee-high socks.
“My designs aren’t always punky,” she emphasises, adding that she also produces accessories, including necklaces and bags. “Sometimes I also design elegant shapes, but it’s kind of casual wear.”
And after a childhood that involved regular travel around Southeast Asia to destinations including Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand, the Cambodian hopes to one day attract an international market.
“In the future I want to expand the brand… and, if I can, export to other countries,” she says.
Paperdolls 2401/2 and BKK, GG shop onKampuchea Krom Blvd, Phnom Penh, or order online.
Designer: Lang Suycheu
While her older sibling Keang firmly embraces a punk style, Lang Suycheu’s aesthetic couldn’t be more different. Citing nature, art and jewellery as major sources of inspiration, the fashion student’s whimsical designs are a study in romance, embracing the use of light and delicate fabrics such as lace.
“Our designs are different, but in the way of making it – the structure and everything – we help each other. The only difference is the style, “ she says of her relationship with her big sister, with whom she shares a workshop.
“My style is more into fairy-tale stories – something very emotional, elegant and romantic. My designs are inspired by flowers, that’s why I love lace and embroidery,” she adds softly, referencing the feminine work of top international designer Elie Saab, known for his show-stopping embellished dresses, as an influence.
Despite still being a student at Limkokwing University, with one year of her course remaining, Suycheu’s career is already developing step by step.
A designer for local brand Style Me Stylish, she is developing concepts for her own label Lanyna, which
the 22-year-old hopes to grow further after completing her formal studies.
“I need to learn more,” she says, emphasising the highly skilled work involved in sewing delicate satins and chiffons and handling embroidery.
But for Suycheu, fashion plays an important role in people’s lives by affecting how they feel and perceive themselves. “I want to design something that people will wear and feel confident in,” says the young designer. “If women don’t have confidence in themselves, they will lose everything. They first have to have confidence in themselves to feel beautiful.”
Suycheu’s designs for Style Me Stylish are available at Paperdolls 2401/2 and BKK, Phnom Penh.
Designer: Ou Kosal
Label: Kool As U
Working in a garment factory with international designer labels for nine years fuelled Ou Kosal‘s passion for fashion. Helping to create clothing for brands such as Gap, Mulberry, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger equipped the 33-year-old with insider’s knowledge on the standards, design and sewing of good quality clothing.
In 2008, he quit his job to start his own tailoring business while receiving private classes on fashion design in his spare time. Kosal, who also goes by the name James, went on to impress his peers so much that last year he launched his own menswear line, Kool As U.
Trying to bridge the gap between expat and local fashion, Kosal produces a range of casual slim-fit T-shirts, shirts and trousers that can also be worn to party in.
“I’ve loved fashion since I was young but here the majority of brands are imported. I want to showcase good quality, Cambodian-made clothing to the world,” he says. “Here in Cambodia, we have a young, modern population, and I aim to reflect this in my designs.”
It hasn’t taken long for the designs to catch on. Paperdolls stock his line, which he makes in a small workshop in his Phnom Penh home. He also exports many of his jackets to the United States. Calling on inspiration from Paul Smith and Ralph Lauren, Kosal also looks to the United Kingdom. “The men there have great style,” he says.
Looking forward to what looks set to be a bright future, Kosal says he wants to build up his brand to sit in between UK high-street store Topshop and designer Paul Smith. “In Cambodia, people are starting to think about what they wear when they go out or to parties a lot more than compared to two years ago, and this is a great thing,” he says, adding that the next step is bagging himself his own boutique. Watch this space.
Paperdolls 2401/2 and BKK, Phnom Penh