Monday, January 26, 2009

siem reap fashion week

Okay, so I guess I've exaggerated the post title, but we're almost getting there. A couple of weeks ago, the posh Arts Lounge of Hotel de la Paix hosted a fashion show of capsule collections by celebrated French-African designer Eric Raisina and Filipino avant garde designer Don Protasio which coincided with the opening of an art exhibition of Paris-based artist Thav Savann.

Backstage with the designers - Eric andDon

Don's bird series - he printed these images of birds and feathers in our workshop. A French model wore this ensemble with a muslin scarf and a cork necklace

On Vincent: Printed stripe hooded tee, scarf and cotton pants

On Cambodian artist Em Riem: Jesrsey shirt, printed vest and cotton skirt pants with suspenders

On Brewster: Hooded sweatshirt with printed vest and grey pants

On Soo Young (from Korea): printed halter dress with printed muslin scarf, On Kaoru (from Japan, via New York): printed dress and cotton necklace. Don sells his designs exclusively at the One Shop and One Gallery here in Cambodia and Backstage in Serendra in Manila.

Eric Raisina's funky and colorful silk-based fashion... Eric is originally from Madagascar but set up base here in Siem Reap after studying fabric design in Paris. He regularly goes back to Paris as he designs fabrics exclusively for fashion houses like Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Lacroix.

On Christian Larsson (from Norway): silk fur coat, silk fur hat and metallic pants

On Srey Pov: silk kaftan and silk fur hat. Would you believe this Cambodian model is 5 months pregnant???

French models galore...

And yes, the French start young...

On Heidi (from Australia): silk organza dress with silk scarf

On Barry (from Singapore): beaded silk Chinoise top and pants

the runway...

Don with New York designer Elizabeth Kiester

And with friends from all over...

So sleepy old Siem Reap is transforming itself from a dusty old backpacker town to a slice of third world cosmopolis... but don't worry, the character is still there!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

obama, black outs and fairytale endings...

It's just one of those days again...

...when a great moment in history is unfolding and you are there, stuck on the couch, contemplating how unfair life is because there is a massive black out in the entire neighborhood. You have an entire office and workshop to run and there is nothing you can do as you are on the mercy of the electrical current. Your 3 year old son is complaining because there is no tv and airconditioning in the house. Your fridge is losing ice fast and its filled to the brim with food that is turning stale fast! You have a mountain of things to print, lay-outs to finish and client deadlines to beat - but sadly, their destinies are all connected to the plug. Welcome to the wonderful world of black outs in Cambodia...

It's already 10 pm. We've just gone back from the mall to get dinner as it's almost impossible to do anything in a house which is darker than a cave. No power still. Then I remembered that it's the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama - a momentous new chapter in world history. And our tv is dead.

So with my family in tow, we packed our bags and searched the inner folds of Siem Reap for a decent guest house with air conditioning and cable tv. We thought of the $8 a night room Olive has found while searching last weekend for a place her friends from Vietnam could stay... or perhaps the dingy old annex guesthouse extension in the hotel where I used to work... or perhaps we could just camp out in the park in front of Raffles (it's cold anyway, so a blanket would be enough)...

Then as we thought that our lives are on the road to the pits, we found the answer staring us right in our faces as we drove down Achamean Street and Sivutha Boulevard - Hotel de la Paix.

A shining beacon of hope amid the dead of winter (I am quoting Obama's speech already), everyone's favorite hotel is a client of mine and owes me a couple of night stays for several posters I did for them. One of them was for the hotel's coverage of the Obama-McCain presidential race last November (which is strangely a coincidence).

So we tried our luck and asked at the front office if we could avail of our barter agreement. It worked, so we were quickly hushed into our gorgeous Bill Bensley-designed room.

So while several hundred thousands were waiting at the National Mall in Washington DC on the unbearable cold of winter on January 20 to witness history unfold, we watched it in the warmth of 300 count Egyptian cotton sheets in a lusciously indulgent hotel room for free.

Thank God for black-outs.

Friday, January 16, 2009

bag bug!

My wife's obsession for Louis Vuitton is unparalleled, and as a loving, obedient husband, I have no choice but to fulfill her lust for the monogram every once and a while. But since the financial crunch has cast an uncertain twilight on the consumer-trodden world (I just love using that excuse these days!), it simply means I can't afford to give her a new bag every time Marc Jacobs releases a new line every season.

So it is with this bleak financial incapacity that has pushed my creative juices and my shrinking wallet into crisscrossing boundaries...

If you can't buy your wife a Louis Vuitton bag... then make one!

Or better yet, make a couple. Then sell it as an exclusive line of bags and make money out of it!

So the idea of making my own bags for my wife and for women (and men) like her came into being. I thought of designing the bag in itself in the shape of a pocket, so it conjures accessibility, practicality and well, just for the fact that I like that shape. And since eco bags are all the rage these days, it couldn't have fit more perfectly! Don's seamstress does the basic stitching while my Khmer staff does the silkscreen printing and detailing.

The first bag I made was the "can't afford Louis Vuitton" and it was all sold out in the shop in a matter of days. I had to make a 2nd series, this time on black stretch denim. "The devil also wears Vuitton" is a new batch.

This bag was inspired by my designer friend Elizabeth Kiester who moved from New York as a fashion icon to Siem Reap and opened her own shop. The NY side is on the other side of the SR side- so you can actually have two bag designs!

This is inspired by my friend Don who has been bugging me to give him a Balenciaga motorcycle bag for Christmas, but with a retail price of $1,730 (78,000pesos), I think it'll still be a while before I could afford to give it to him... so this is perhaps the next best thing!

Inspired by car bumper stickers...

This book-inspired statement has also been getting good mileage from buyers...

The Obama bag has also been a big riot in the shop the moment I placed it on the rack! One freaky buyer exclaimed: "Oh my God, I've got to have that in my life!"

Although I have never bought my wife a pair of Louboutins (or Blahniks), I thought that this would be cool... some bags like this have different treatments like beadworks, embroidery, tassels and what-nots.

My wife told me that when I get rich enough as an artist (as rich as Damien Hirst or Murakami), she'd like to quit her job and become a trophy wife!

So I told her also that if she gets rich enough as a marketing consultant for a global firm, I told her that I also would love to stop working, close my shop and be a trophy husband!

Each bag which comes in a limited edition of 3 or 6 pieces per design retails exclusively at The One Gallery by the Alley for $25 (1,250 pesos) each.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

sundays with sarah

Our Sundays are usually spent at home cooking up some experimental cuisine with friends, reading a book, catching up with blogs or doing marathons of Heroes or CSI. But this Sunday is special... aside from having really cool, crisp weather (the mercury tipped at only 16 degrees!) , it's also the birthday of a dear friend - Sarah, who also happens to be my wife's boss.

She was actually my boss when I first moved in Cambodia as a graphic designer for a hotel, but after a year, I decided to quit and put up my own graphic design studio. But unlike other bosses who would shake you off their lives after you resign from work, Sarah on the other hand, supported this decision all the way and loaned me ALL the money I needed to start up - from purchasing computers, cameras, printers and all! Now where can you find a boss like that?

So on her special day, we all ran our heads and hands together to give her a special bash...

We took advantage of the cold winter winds from China and set up our garden with a neo-Khmer barbecue- themed feast. I bought two ceremonial umbrellas from the market, 10 meters of fabric, and voila! Instant garden lounge!

The debutante - just turned eighteen. Again! :-)

Sarah has actually just recently returned to Cambodia after stints in China and Malaysia. Now, my wife works for her at the Sothea where she is the General Manager. Still looking cool after recovering from a major flu after returning from a weeklong trip in Cannes, France two weeks ago.

Faith, Freedom and Brother Bear

Don, down with a major upset stomach since yesterday still managed to pull his designer pants together to join the celebration. He took care of the cake.

the feast begins!

Fare consisted of grilled seafood, grilled pork, vegetarian elbow macaroni soup, couscous, tuna salad, fresh mangoes and strawberries as well as a plethora of ice cream and desserts.

Freedom had chocolate crispies for starters and had half a tub of ice cream for his entree.

Slam dunking a strawberry whole... my three year old eats anything and everything!

Chilling out after lunch. Sarah went to the orphanage with Olive and Savourn thereafter while Faith and Don went on with their usual vintage shopping ritual at the Psar Krawlajn.

We wanted to invite U2 for a private concert for her birthday but we couldn't afford that just yet.... so from the bottom of our hearts and our Havaianas... Happy Birthday Sarah!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Another highly creative designer has recently made a big move from the bright lights of Paris, London and New York and made the dusty old town of Siem Reap her new home. Now our lives will never be the same again...

Her name is Elizabeth Kiester - former creative director of LeSportSac and Abercrombie & Fitch where she has elevated the brands through her youthful designs and innovative collaborations with artists and designers such as Stella McCartney and Toki Doki's Simone Legno. She has also been a stylist for brands like BCBG Max Azria, Cynthia Rowley, GAP, Banana Republic, and was also fashion director for glossies like YM, Marie Claire, Seventeen, Mademoiselle and JANE.

With an impressive portfolio like that, moving to a third world country to spread fashion would probably the last thing on anyone's sane mind.

But she did, and in a span of weeks, she has transformed Siem Reap into an exciting new destination for alternative fashion through her bright new store by the alley at the old market area- wanderlust. A fitting name for a fashion nomad.

I did a photo shoot for her for an article for my friend Don and for use in an international inflight magazine.

Modeled by Sheree, her clothes and accessories are bold, fun and awash with color. She also has a sombre and edgy line of avant garde pieces.

Being interviewed by Don, Elizabeth told us that she originally went to Cambodia for a holiday and to do volunteer work for an NGO, but ended up falling in love with the place. So she packed up all her stuff in New York and changed our lives for the better.

Cool, vibrant and always fun, her designs and her shop are a big source of inspiration for us!

Her shop also has a cool lounge on the far end littered with fluffy graphic pillows.

Her bedroom on the second floor is a play of black and white and a burst of luscious red here and there. A true homage to New York loft living.

Winding down after the shoot... we had fun!

Elizabeth and Don are cooking up a fashion show soon by the alley... so this is just the start of something big!