Born in Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge reign ended, designer Remy Hou moved to California at the age of 10, where he was soon sewing for the stars. Now based back home, he is inspiring a fresh generation of designers. Interview by Marissa Carruthers. Photography by Charles Fox.

When did you first pick up a needle?
I knew how to sew when I was 12-years-old; it was something I had to do in order to help my mum. She was taking care of three kids and traditionally as the eldest you have a greater responsibility to help the family. She was college educated during the early 1970s in Phnom Penh but the war abruptly changed her life. Education is the best investment, so I’ve always listened to her advice. I didn’t pursue fashion after I graduated high school; it was when I started working in Hollywood for Helio to handle their celebrity clients. That’s when I started to put my sewing skills to the test, and finally made that leap in 2009 to establish Engineered by Remy as a men and women’s wear brand.

Describe your personal style?
My style is comfortable, confident, powerful, clever and original. I’m usually in a button up or collar shirt, mostly fitted trousers, slim ties, a fitted blazer and my reading sunglasses. Some say the sunglasses are too dark but I think it’s just right. I can fall asleep and no one would notice, unless I start to snore, but no one has caught me yet.

How do you come up with your designs?
Each collection is different, and each time I go into creation mode. I think of the future man or woman, through to future kids. What kind of life are they living? Are they happy, what do they embody, what are their journeys? When I fully understand them, then I choose colours, texture of fabrics etc. There’s a theme to each collection, for Engineered by Remy it’s classic meets edgy.

What makes your clothing unique?
I think my clothes incorporate the “cool” factor, which is something that’s very hard to sell. You can try to always make it look good in photo shoots, but that “cool” factor comes from the fans. I believe the reason is relating the brand to my journey in life. People can relate to my story as a person and not just a nameless brand; it’s good to be able to relate to someone who can bleed and cry. Everything in my photo shoots and campaigns are things I envision for myself. I either have them or aspire to have them, so it’s not something I am selling to a stranger. I am the customer and so I am no longer selling clothes; I am living the Engineered by Remy lifestyle.

What inspires you?
Failure, hunger, family, friends, passion, love, pain, happiness, death. I’m here today because I was given an opportunity; a second chance in life to do something great. I believe my talent isn’t just my ability to sew or design, but my ability to see the world. There’s a purpose to my life and I am constantly reminded each day.

Who is your favourite designer?
Karl Lagerfeld is probably one of my influential designers. It’s probably because we share the same style of reading sunglasses; he’s probably daydreaming during one of his shows. All jokes aside, he’s one amazing creative director. His shows are incredible, and location and set designs are important to me. I also love DSquared, they have the ability to bring themes from collection to set designs.

Which celebrities have you designed for?
John Legend, MC Lyte, Kanye West, KD Aubert, Brian J. White, Bryan Dattilo, Tim Kang, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Justin Bieber, and many more. My favourite would have to be John Legend because I made him a jacket for his birthday, and it was also for his album tour, Evolver.

How was it being a judge on the first Cambodia’s Next Top Model?
I would have never dreamed of being a judge on CNTM, let alone consider myself a judgmental person. It’s an honour for me to be part of the judging panel, I feel I can make an impact by providing advice and tips on styling, fashion and grooming. The ability to educate others is one of my biggest goals, and to use CNTM in a constructive way has easily made this possible.

Can you describe the fashion scene in Cambodia?
There are many brave, courageous fashionistas and designers who don’t follow the norms of society. Without them my work would be very difficult. You cannot create changes alone, to move a county to compete with the rest of the world you need a team of like-minded individuals. The fashion scene is changing because of their investment.

How would you like to be remembered?
Remy Hou, a man who has nothing but has everything.

Ready to wear and custom made clothing can be ordered at the Engineered by Remy office at Mito Hotel, 11 Street 174, Phnom Penh.