We met Madagascar-born fashion designer Eric Raisina at his atelier in Siem Reap when researching shopping in the city. The Paris-trained designer, who has worked for Christian Lacroix and Yves Saint Laurent, makes some of the most enchanting clothes that I’ve ever seen. He’s also something of a celebrity in Siem Reap, a city he finds inspirational and integral to his work, so we decided to talk to him about his work, Cambodian fashion, Siem Reap style, and his travel tips.
GT: How did you become a fashion designer?
ER: I’ve always been in love with unique clothes and I made special pieces for myself and started to design at a very young age. I showed my first collection in 1993 in Madagascar and won first prize in the ‘Young Designer of the Year’ and a scholarship to study Fashion and Textile design in Paris.
Your connection to Siem Reap?
I visited for the first time in 1996 and loved it. It was a memorable trip – a stunning discovery of temples, people and especially Cambodian silk. In 2001, I came and worked on a silk farm until 2004. Then I started to set up my own universe by training my own team for a year. I opened my Villa Boutique Workshop in 2005, designing with Cambodian silk and innovating with techniques and quality. I spend around eight months of the year here and the rest travelling overseas for shows, sales and holidays. I get a great feeling being here. I’m much more inspired here than other places and I love working with my team.
What makes Siem Reap special?
It’s a peaceful and inspiring city, full of energy, with a great lifestyle. I can be a fashion designer anywhere but Siem Reap has added a magical spirit to my life and work.
What inspires you?
I’m very loyal to my main inspiration, which is my country, Madagascar. The two influences on Madagascar – between Asia and Africa – inspire me all the time, and also in fact that Madagascar has French influences. Siem Reap is home now and I find it fascinating. I love travelling and travel for good reasons, meeting with interesting people, and always discovering places with a beautiful atmosphere that help me be more and more inspired. Fashion for me is a real lifestyle and my everyday life is about fashion and its influences – art, cinema, books, and magical moments.
Tell us about your label.
Eric Raisina Haute Texture is all about the unique and beautiful material of silk. I like details and specific touches in my design. It is a real privilege for me to be able to design my own fabric that I can use with freedom in my collections. I really like unique pieces – it’s almost like I’m dressing up all the time – and I like to offer this chance to my client, to be unique and exquisite in my designs.
Colour and texture are intrinsic to your designs.
I grew up with the flamboyant and vivid colours of the Indian Ocean and the luxuriant tropical landscapes of Madagascar. Colours are very important – they make me happy and transport me to different places in the world. I love bright colours when they are almost as real as flowers. Silk organza and the texture of raffia are two of my design signatures. They add a unique touch to my design. I love natural fibres for their luxury and flexibility to work with.
You’re very passionate about Cambodian silk.
I’ve found it satisfying to work with Cambodian silk and have found diverse ways to develop something long considered only in a very traditional manner. It was a privilege for me to be able to give softness to Cambodian silk eight years ago, especially considering its long history – they never thought to make silk soft here. Cambodian silk is amazing but unfortunately there isn’t enough produced. I keep producing it because fashion needs things that are new and innovative. Silk ‘fur’ was one of my innovations, as well as raffia ‘lace’, and they have added real value to my designs because they are completely handmade. This is something I like about Cambodia, the fact that my team is very talented with their hands.
You also love raffia.
Raffia is all about Madagascar. It’s considered a Malagasy national fibre. In 1997, I was commissioned to make a haute couture bustier for Christian Lacroix’s summer collection and since then I’ve never stopped creating other pieces with raffia. In Madagascar, we use raffia for basic products, but I wanted to take raffia to another level. Now, I make evening dresses, skirts, and unique made-to-order pieces from raffia.
Who do you design for?
I’m designing for cosmopolitan women who want distinguished pieces. I like the diversity of women, especially when they are confident with their personality and when they wear my designs.
Tell us about your collections.
Each collection I do for a show is always themed. I need a specific atmosphere to build a mood and story by giving the collection a strong identity. But it is amazing to see that techniques we use in the workshop also follow the interpretation of each collection. My new collection is inspired by the mythical ‘black orchid’ that was supposedly found in Madagascar – I have never seen any of them but they inspired me. It was a great introduction of black to my collection and it worked beautifully with the other colours I already use, because I’m using different tones of black, and also mixing textures.
Describe the Cambodian fashion scene.
It’s growing and starting to find its own identity. Many exciting things are happening in the country, especially in the capital city, Phnom Penh. The first Cambodia Fashion Week was a result of both local and expat determination to take the fashion scene to another level and to show the rest of the world that the country is not only known for it war, history and poverty. There are many talented young artists here and this is a great moment for everyone to do something. My feeling is that Cambodia has to concentrate on developing its own real identity and not to copy what’s happening in the neighbouring countries. To name some of the upcoming designers… Sar Chantho, Don Protasio and KEO are all doing great designs here.
What about Siem Reap?
Siem Reap has its own sense of style in terms of its shops, hotels, restaurants, spas, art galleries, and workshops. There’s so much to see and many things to discover. Visitors can be happy they have the additional option of shopping after visiting temples. I highly recommend they spend more time in the city… there’s so much to do! Explore the place by tuk tuk! Shopping is great here because of the diversity of designers and they’re in a great location too, making it all very easy to explore.
Where should visitors go?
I’m touched mostly by the real artists who respect the spirit of their country and who create amazing designs from that inspiration… Theam’s House is a must-do, Garden of Desire by Pissith for his unique jewellery, and I really like Senteurs d’Angkor for his magical house of healthy and natural products from the country. I’m also a huge fan of the Poetry workshop in the Bayon temples… I love it! I like the Old Market but visitors need to spend time there to really find Cambodian products.
Best souvenir from Eric Raisina?
There are many kinds of pieces that people can buy… for a first purchase, I’d recommend visitors buy one of my scarves – they’re considered the softest in the country.
Your top tip for fashionistas visiting Siem Reap?
Check out the Foreign Correspondent Club (FCC) boutiques and galleries, the most chic place to shop.
What should they wear? Anywhere worth dressing up for?
Dress ‘casual chic’ with nice accessories, and, for sure, Siem Reap has a few places to be, especially at night, for diner or a drink – the FCC, Miss Wong bar, Wat Damnak Cuisine, Viroth’s restaurant, and Hotel de La Paix’s Art Lounge in the lobby.
The thing you can’t travel without?
My black silk organza fur and raffia blanket for the plane… it’s so soft and warm!
A travel tip?
Spend some time in the south of Cambodia, especially Kep, Kampot and Rabbit Island. Also visit Luang Prabang and Burma.
Eric Raisina Shop
Foreign Correspondents Club Angkor (FCC)
Pokambore Avenue, Siem Reap
+855 63 963 208, 9am-10pm
Villa Boutique Workshop
53 Veal Village, Siem Reap
+855 63 963 207, by appointment