Japan passion for Khmer fashion

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Khmer artistes perform wearing Oliva Kong’s contemporary Khmer costumes inspired by the masked dance drama called Lakhon Khol. Lu gi

Inspired by the costumes of the masked dance drama called Lakhon Khol, a self-taught Cambodian artist has put his passion for design into a collection to be presented on runways at the Japan International Fashion Gala this December.

Men Seyha who is also known as Oliva Kong, is not a university student learning design skills. Rather, it is his struggles as a young designer and strong interest in the field that caused the 28-year-old to come up with his first ever collection – inspired by traditional Khmer costumes.

Unlike his previous collections that consisted of modern, Western-based styling, his latest designs, which represent six sets of Khmer contemporary dresses are inspired by Lakhon Khol, a masked dance drama with choreography that depicts the Reamker repertoire.

Without any professional design school training, the talented artist picked-up the basics from friends and others in the profession. But it is his passion and talent that caused him to be recognised in the fashion industry.

Thanks to his designs that attracted a lot of public interest, Oliva has been handed other opportunities, and now trains young designers at a private school – MaPa Fashion Design Academy. While many designers struggle for success, some for a lifetime, his career shot off after only just a year or so.

Now, Oliva, who is a fashion designer, catwalk coach and owner of the Queen Victoria design studio, says his success stems from his deep love for traditional costumes.

This, he says, is also why he came up with the idea to design the six sets of “contemporary” Khmer dresses which combine traditional and modern styles.

The style of each dress is unique and reflects a form of Khmer cultural arts, such as the set based on the Haknuman (monkey king) character, the Preah Ream character, Tep Machha (mythical mermaid), the Pkar Romdual national flower, and Khmer traditional dresses.

Oliva says: “I have chosen to create the costume sets in the form of Lakhorn Khol art, Lakhorn Sbay Thom art, Romdual flower and Khmer women’s dresses as a basis for my six-set contemporary versions – five for women and a set for men.

The Gala organiser had invited him to showcase his designs after having seen his previous work at a local fashion show.

Oliva’s fashion team will depart on December 22, ahead of the gala which will be held from December 29 to January 2.

As the designs for the six sets of contemporary dresses use different materials, Kong says the time and cost for designing them was naturally different.

“Since they are contemporary designs, each set took at least two to three working days to complete and sometimes it took as long as a week.

“Cost-wise, I spent at least $400 to buy the necessary materials to design each set. Some sets cost over $1,000,” he says, adding that the cost and time taken depended on how intricate the designs were.

Despite forking out money from his own pocket to complete the project, Oliva does not plan to sell his latest collection.

The self-taught designer insists that he will not sell his collection but keep them as a mark of his achievement.

“I will use them to teach students and as samples for the next generation of designers to see and learn from my experience. This is because they represent ‘ideas’ and contribute to promoting contemporary Khmer designs,” Oliva says.