Globalisation has ushered in a global identity – one that can be expressed through fashion. Jeans, suits, T-shirts, and certain types of footwear are now common all over the world, and Cambodia is no exception.
Shopping centres like Aeon Mall as well as local clothing outlets are filled with foreign brands. However, formal fashion education remains limited in Cambodia compared with its neighbours.
Phala Manina, a young Cambodian fashion enthusiast and designer, finds the industry fascinating, and has been making steady progress in pursuing her dream of making a name for herself in fashion.
“It is a field I have a very deep respect for, and a field in which I find a lot of meaning and great fulfilment. Fashion has a very special place in my heart. I went to art school because I wanted very badly to cultivate my heart, my inner world and to seek its depth,” Ms Manina said.
After graduating from high school in Cambodia, Ms Manina went to Paris to further her education in art and design. In her third year, she had a chance to pursue her fashion studies in London.
“I was fascinated by the works produced by the students at Central Saint Martins in London. The school has one of the greatest facilities for producing textiles, so I applied to their textile department, got accepted and did a semester there. It was a very rewarding experience,” Ms Manina said.
She sees her textile designs as creative response to her physical and emotional environment, including images, books, the details of a particular painting, or a series of paintings, films, culture in general, other people’s minds, the feeling of being in love, heartbreak – all of the things that make people feel beauty or pain in their hearts.
Ms Manina continued: “I don’t think my textile designs represent anything in particular. But I am certain that Khmer art has influenced my very subjective idea of beauty. I grew up in Cambodia, so things that I see here do shape my conscience and perspective and taste. I especially love the wedding outfits in our country; all these colour combinations and the glitter, and I like the sheen that comes from silk.”
In terms of pure aesthetics, Ms Manina believes Khmer art and design rivals any in the world. However, young Cambodians will inevitably look for something new, she said.
“The monetary value (of your cloth) does not make you fashionable; it has nothing to do with it, and money cannot buy style, ever. My wish is for everyone to express themselves freely through clothes,” she said.
To take her first steps in the fashion industry, Ms Manina completed four internships (at ZacPosen, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Conde Nast International, and Barneys New York) before she even graduated university. She later did a freelance project for Calvin Klein before landing her first full-time job with fashion start-up XIMONLEE.