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Siem Reap emigre fashions his kingdom

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Madagascar-born, Paris trained fashion designer Eric Raisina is pictured on August 27 at Hyatt Regency hotel in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Siem Reap emigre fashions his kingdom

Fashion designer Eric Raisina’s daring and colorful designs are partly inspired by his memories of his brightly-hued birthplace – Madagascar – along with present day influences from the Cambodian culture that he’s surrounded by every day in his adopted hometown of Siem Reap.

Don’t make the mistake of calling him trendy, though, at least not to his face.

“When you’re creating your own fabric, I don’t think you need to follow trends. I’m imposing my own trends,” says the Paris-trained fashion designer.

Raisina’s work has earned him worldwide acclaim in the fashion industry where he is known for presenting his creations in a vast array of colors using a touch of Western refinement and a dash of spices from the Orient.

Raisina has had many opportunities in the past to take part in some of the premiere fashion week showcases in the world from the mega-cities of Asia to New York, Paris, London and even Africa.

Earlier in his career he did stints working for both Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Lacroix, establishing his fashion pedigree.

Prior to embarking on his career as a fashion designer, Raisina had dreams of studying the culinary arts and becoming a chef. But it was the uniqueness of fashion and its importance to society and culture in every era that drew him in.

His plan to live a quiet life spent hidden away in the kitchen was abandoned when he got a chance to showcase his first collection in 1993 in Madagascar.

Winning the “New Designer of the Year Award” at the Fashion Festival and Textile Competition in Madagascar then enabled him to go abroad and study fashion and textile design in Paris, his first stop on a journey that eventually brought him to Cambodia.

“I first came to visit Cambodia in 1996 because I had heard of the beauty of Cambodian silk from people in Paris. I came to witness the Khmer artisanal silk weaving being done in many villages and also to understand why Cambodian silk is so special.

“And then in Siem Reap, where I discovered the beauty of the Angkor temples, I fell in love with the Cambodian culture, people, food and everything about this place.

“Then a little later in 2001 I decided to base myself here. I started to work from here and develop my own brand and I haven’t looked back since,” Raisina tells The Post.

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Raisina’s custom made creations for exclusive clientele can sometimes cost thousands but he also has an inventory of less extravagant but equally stylish high quality items. Heng Chivoan

Raisina’s custom fabrics are unique and easy for people to identify by anyone familiar with his work. They tend to be light, tactile, textured, bright and super chic.

He is one of the most skilled textile designers in the world and that’s where he has always derived his strength from as he’s successfully ventured out into fashion and clothing design.

“When I use my fabric it is the fabric itself that will guide me to the shape. The fabric will tell me whether it wants to be a dress or pants because of the weight, the texture and everything else.

“I don’t look at the trends because I’m surrounded with these fabrics that speak to me far more profoundly than any trend,” Raisina says.

He doesn’t hesitate to tell people that raw talent and inspiration will only get a person so far in any pursuit. It takes real education, expertise and knowledge derived from investing the necessary time into study and practice in order to master something.

“That’s what I mean when I say I don’t I need to follow trends because I’m imposing my own trends. Great designers should create trends, not follow them. And if clients think they want something because of a trend, I tend to ignore them and instead I find the truly perfect combination for them that transcends any trend,” he says.

Raisina says his goal is to make his clients happy but not just in the sense of being comfortable. He wants them to feel unique and timeless, he says, and you can’t do that following trends.

“I want someone who buys anything from me today to be able to wear it for five years without it feeling played out. That perfect. I want them to put it on ten years from now and know that it will never be outdated,” Raisina explains.

Raisina says he has a stockpile of designs that he wouldn’t run out in this lifetime even if he ceased all work on new ideas. If someone needs an accessory, he’s got five different perfect scarf ideas to pick from.

For the most discerning and well-heeled clientele, Raisina will gadly do made-to-measure garments and he’s even done wedding dresses before. His prices can range from just a hundred dollars on up to however many thousands it takes to satisfy the customer.

“It might feel expensive. It may, in fact, actually be expensive – I won’t lie. Sometimes clients even need to wait and save for a few months first. But they understand what they are paying for.

“They know that everything is handmade and requires a lot of time and skill to create since we basically start from scratch. We go step-by-step from the weaving to the final product and all custom for them and only them,” Raisina says.

The Eric Raisina haute texture workshop and boutique is situated at his villa in Siem Reap and it is there where he works most of his magic. Just recently at his workshop he was occupied with making a handmade dress using 795 flowers and it took him almost two months to complete.

“Two months is two months, but I knew it was going to be worth it. I just knew it and the red dress that resulted is breathtaking and it is worth at least two months, maybe even more, I should think,” Raisina says with a smile.

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He’s known more for his designs for women but he also has a ready-to-wear menswear collection that is affordable and employs his signature creative use of textured materials. Heng Chivoan

Having spent the past 20 years in the Kingdom, he has observed the slow but steady growth of the Cambodian fashion scene over the years and Raisina says it’s getting really exciting now and things may go from slow progress to rapid expansion.

Raisina points to the many talented designers here like Romyda Keth for Ambre band and also the young generations who are establishing themselves as talents. And the large textile and garments industry based here makes fashion a natural fit as the economy grows and develops.

“I would like people to understand more about our goal of bringing Cambodian silk onto the international scene and to raise the global awareness levels about it.

“And I also really want the Cambodian people to be proud of this unique and handmade material produced for my brand by Cambodian artisans in Siem Reap,” Raisina says.

Raisina’s passion for Cambodian silk has turned him into a man on a mission over the years in his efforts to promote it internationally and he plans to go further along on the path of that quest in the future.

“My dream is really to make the Cambodian fashion scene the star of Southeast Asia and for Cambodian silk to be world-famous,” Raisina enthuses.

In the meantime, he’s considering finding ways to mentor young Cambodian designers perhaps through a formal class or possibly an apprenticeship programme, but he’s still working out what the best plan might be.

“I do have this urge to begin teaching and passing on what I know and that is valuable and of course I must do it in the country where I have lived for two decades.

“I wasn’t born here, but I chose to be here, out of all the places on Earth. I chose Cambodia as my home and so it must be Cambodian designers who I pass all my secrets to,” he says with a grin.

For now, Raisina is excited to be able to showcase his designs once again thanks to his collaboration with the Hyatt Regency Hotel last week for their “Afternoon Tea Couture” event from August 27-29 at their Market Cafe, Restaurant and Lounge.

He says he was pleased with how the event went and that they plan to do it again in Phnom Penh as soon as they are able.

“I hope that this year, I could do again another event in Phnom Penh to end the year if the Covid situation is getting better,” Raisina says.

Raisina says he will fly to Paris to show his collection there later this year and he will be networking and looking for fashion show opportunities at the same time, but he says he’ll never be lured back to the glamorous capitals of Europe for more than a vacation or business trip because he’s found his true home.

“I hope we can always preserve the Kingdom’s uniqueness because it’s magic and it makes people who visit Cambodia dream of returning once more forever afterwards. And some of us do return, and a few of us stay,” he says.

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