Eric Raisina: Cambodia's Couturier

There is one stylish man to know in Siem Reap and you can bet that if Loulou de la Falaise or Christian Lacroix travel to Angkor Wat, they would stop in his atelier.  The Madagascar-born designer known for his flamboyant silk fashions trained in Paris but has set up shop on the outskirts of Siem Reap. Growing up surrounded by vivid tropical colors, Raisina immediately felt inspired by the silk weaving that he saw when he first visited Cambodia. A few years later, he began consulting for Artisans d’Angkor, a non-profit enterprise that encourages local artisans. He has since set up a workroom and atelier in Siem Reap, where two dozen Khmer work, in the same building where he lives. The fabric that has brought him the most renown (which he refers to as “silk fur”) is inspired by traditional Khmer dress. Its luxurious texture has caught the attention of buyers from Barneys as well as many Parisians. (Raisina’s career high thus far was when it was incorporated in an Yves Saint Laurent bustier.)

When Raisina isn’t busy working in his atelier, where visitors are welcome by appointment, he travels for inspiration and promotes the Khmer artisanship that lured him here in the first place. “It’s difficult to talk about a fashion industry in Siem Reap because the tourists wear items designed here and then go home,” he once told a local reporter, “but what we have done in the last 10 years is amazing. Young people are beginning to design bags and scarves. We need another ten years, and the establishment of a real fashion design school in Cambodia, to get Cambodians to design for Cambodians. Then we can have a true fashion identity.”

Raisina, who now has two boutiques in Siem Reap, shares his favorite inspirations and places.

How has your background / your travels inspired your work? I moved from Madagascar to Paris for my textile and fashion studies 15 years ago. Paris was absolutely amazing in terms of lifestyle and inspirations. There, I discovered that images of many countries in Africa reminded me of my beautiful island. Then when I landed for the first time in Asia, in Cambodia, in particular, is where I really found resemblances to Madagascar. That’s the reason that I’m very inspired here because I feel at home. I love to travel. I love to be inspired by what I have seen and select the best ideas, the best colors, the best atmospheres. I like to see what happens in the market wherever I am. That really inspires me.

What made the biggest impression when you first traveled to Cambodia? I realized that the Malagasy people from the capital were originally from Asia. So the people in Cambodia look like the Malagasy. Many sights, except for the temples, remind me of my country. The atmosphere is similar; people are very kind and talented. I feel close to my country when I travel in the countryside here. Madagascar has a strong influence from Asia and Africa, but I feel more Asian than African.

What you made you decide to base your workshop in Siem Reap? As soon as I arrived in Siem Reap, I felt a lot of energy in the city, probably from the amazing temples. That energy made me feel very inspired and very good. It is a quiet place. I really need that for my work. I love the silk process in this country. People are very talented in the silk industry, making those amazing dyes and patterns in a very ancestral way, which inspires me a lot. I still have the same feeling today as when I arrived, even though many things have changed in the last five years.

Tell me about some of your latest pieces that you’re most excited about? I’m very excited to find my “silk fur“ that I sold to Yves Saint Laurent haute couture. I did a bustier for Christian Lacroix haute couture a few years ago, and that piece still inspires me today; it was a perfect combination between Malagasy crochet raffia and Cambodian silk with French laces. Today, I’m playing with thousands of organza flowers to make my new collection.

What are some of your favorite places in Siem Reap? Of course, I love the temples. I go often at different times of day. I also like the old market areas where you can find small boutiques. The night market is also interesting for its atmosphere. I love the pagodas as well.

What are some of your favorite sights/things to do? I like to see villages by bicycle and relax at the pool at the Raffles hotel. I also love old market areas at night and performances by Apsara dancers.

What destinations do you find particularly inspiring in terms of style/design? Amansara resort and Angkor Village Resort.

What are some museums/galleries worldwide that you love? Le Louvre in Paris, the Wits Art Museum in downtown Johannesburg and Colette in Paris.

What destinations have surprised you with their art/design scenes? South Africa, Ethiopia and Burma.

Whose style do you admire? John Galliano, Maurizio Galante.

How often do you return home to Madagascar? Almost every year.

How has the island changed in the last five or ten years? A lot has changed. The country is finally ready to welcome visitors who can discover how beautiful Madagascar is. There’s also great creativity in terms of handicraft. The new generation is very talented. There are many more visitors, most of whom come for the beaches.

What are some places you love on the island (restaurants / things to do)? The weekend market in Antananarivo. Saint Marie Island for beaches. To see the baobab road in the south. You must have a nice dinner at a good Malagasy restaurant. It’s not possible to be bored in Madagascar.

How does Malagasy/African style influence your creations? I grew up with a backdrop of the turquoise color of the Indian Ocean and the vibrancy of a sunset palette. I love colors and the texture of plants or flowers. In my design, textile is the main focus. Everything is inspired by where I come from.

Where are you dying to go next?


Eric welcomes visitors to both of his shops in Siem Reap.

Published onOctober 10, 2008

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