From a youth spent gazing at the glossy pages of old fashion magazines to becoming one of the Kingdom’s leading make-up artists, Leang Syna is at the forefront of Cambodia’s rapidly developing fashion industry. Jemma Galvin picks the brain behind the beauty, with photography by Conor Wall.

At just 29 years old, freelance hair and make-up stylist Leang Syna has a resume that many of her peers can only dream of. From the sets of world-renowned films to the runways of the country’s most glamorous fashion events, she has been part of it all. Having studied under the internationally recognised hair and make-up artist Vitchu Chavasit, her talent and skill enable her to push boundaries. Syna has recently formalised her services into a business, Syna’Styling, and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

What did you dream of becoming when you were young?
Believe it or not I’ve always wanted to be a professional hair and make-up artist. From the age of seven I would curl my sisters’ hair and experiment with new hair styles on them. My father’s position as a supply manager in the military helped this passion of mine to grow as well. He’d often bring old American and Thai fashion magazines home for me and although I couldn’t read English, I’d just sit and look at the pictures.

So how did you break into the beauty industry?
I first studied hairdressing through a French salon and after I completed my training they offered me a permanent position. After two years at the salon I wanted to further my skills and experience so I began make-up styling training at Sapors Beauty School. They later offered me a job as a hairstyling trainer — my big break into the industry — and since then I’ve become Sapors Modeling Agency’s top hair and make-up artist.
How did your family feel about your decision to work in the fashion world?
I am extremely lucky as my family have always supported me. They trusted me to make my own decisions. It was actually my older sister who suggested that I train at the hair salon. My parents are so proud that I am accomplishing my dreams.

Tell us a bit about your special effects make-up skills. It seems very unique in Cambodia.
I have learned a lot of it through doing my own research and test styling for my clients’ briefs, which have been really varied. I was also given a great opportunity by the Cambodia Film Commission which put me through a special effects and film make-up course. I was taught how to apply war and injury make-up and learned how to make people up as though they were of a different nationality, make them look sick, tired, younger, older and many more. That was a great learning experience for me as my teacher was an internationally recognised make-up artist — he has worked on Hollywood film sets and has styled big-name celebrities such as Lucy Liu.

Tell us a little about Syna’Styling.
I offer make-up styling services to both corporate and private clients as well as styling for editorial fashion shoots, print advertisements, runway shows and television commercial clients. In the future I’d love the business to continue to grow in terms of size and reputation and eventually own my own studio and make-up training school.

Can you give us an insider’s tip on where to shop for beauty products in Cambodia?
I always ask my friends from France to bring back products for my business but I also love to search through the markets for interesting make-up finds. I guess my best tip in Phnom Penh though would be to visit Olympic Market for some crazy, long, rainbow-coloured eyelashes — they’re so fun for girly nights out.

What is your ultimate beauty secret to keeping skin glowing in a humid climate?
To prepare your skin before applying make-up, be sure to exfoliate, cleanse and tone. If you look after your skin then your make-up will look great, sit better and last longer. You don’t need to buy expensive products — substituting these for natural solutions you can make at home is a great alternative and suits any budget. For example, mix fresh lemon juice and water for the perfect facial toner.

What are your thoughts on the aesthetics of present-day Cambodian fashion and beauty?
Cambodia is ready to experience and experiment with more diverse beauty and fashion ideas. I feel that in the past 18 months there has been a burst of creativity and the people behind this have found new ways to explore Cambodian beauty. Five years ago, designers would simply want runway models in evening dresses, but now there is a definite urge for more innovation.

The progress is obvious by simply driving through the city and reading local magazines. There is a strong presence of fashion designers from overseas, a great emergence of local fashion talent and a wave of international retail brands all taking advantage of the potential of our country. It’s onwards and upwards from here and I hope that more Cambodian models, designers and stylists will receive international recognition as this expansion continues.

What advice would you give to those wanting to pursue a career in beauty?
Be committed and be passionate. Some students expect to be able to work at a professional level right away but it’s important to understand skin tones, face shapes and the structure of the face first of all. I have students who ask to learn how to do western make-up specifically, but I don’t have tailored courses for either Khmer make-up or western make-up — I teach professional make-up styling. As a stylist, it’s about understanding the individual in front of you and giving them what suits them.

What is your ultimate professional goal?
My goal is to go to England to receive a professional qualification in make-up styling and make-up artistry. I am so grateful to have such amazing experience already but I aim to go further and achieve an internationally recognised certificate. I’d love to work overseas but Cambodia will always be home and I want my business to expand here.

Get in touch with Syna’Styling by calling 012 709 874 or email