As we often do when my mother visits me in Paris, we set out from Le Marais on foot, walking up the Ile Saint-Louis and past Notre Dame. Crossing the Pont Neuf, we chatted away up the Rue Dauphine until a freshly lacquered storefront caught my eye. Could it really be that my favourite Malagasy couturier in Cambodia, Eric Raisina, had opened a Parisian boutique and filled it with his tropical spectrum of dresses and accessories? Mais oui!
Mum, not normally a shopper, hightailed it inside. She had met the Yves Saint Laurent-trained Raisina when I dragged her to his home-cum-atelier outside Siem Reap in 2007. “As amazing as Angkor Wat,” she declared about Raisina’s talent, manifest in organza and silk frocks, scarves, hats and handbags, as roosters cackled outside in the dusty rural landscape.
On another other side of the fashion world entirely, at this compact 6th-arrondissement boutique, I ran my fingers along a familiar rainbow row of Raisina’s signature organza Feuilleté scarves (£88) and stoles (£235). I was impressed that the Khmer inventory, which the designer’s younger sister-cum-shop owner Marie Josée carefully handpicks, fitted so seamlessly into the French fashion capital. I’ve collected Raisina’s light-as-a-feather scarves for years, the more festooned with slashes of silk the better, and have long considered his raffia and organza silk-fur bags (£105), inspired by Tonlé Sap Lake fisherman sacks, among my travel staples. This morning, it’s a fairy-pink silk jacket (£245) with three-quarter-length sleeves and elevated, rectangular plumes that I slip on and buy, pleased that this easy-to-wear, weightless item will add movement to my utterly basic and mostly black travel wardrobe.
This designer’s own backstory is no less colourful: Madagascar born, with a few drops of Chinese seafaring blood, Raisina won a scholarship to study fashion in Paris, where he gravitated towards textiles. His Africa-influenced Haute Texture couture fabrics garnered attention from bold fashion names such as Saint-Laurent muse Loulou de la Falaise and the iconoclastic designerChristian Lacroix. A stay in Southeast Asian early in the new millennium persuaded Raisina to ditch France for Cambodia, where he spent the next three years advising Artisans d’Angkor, a state-run NGO, before building four looms outside his traditional Khmer house-on-stilts, just a few kilometres from Angkor Wat.
After training more than a dozen Khmer men and women to weave Chinese silk and raffia imported from Madagascar, Raisina began designing couture ball gowns inspired by the surrounding temples, and skirts and wraps made of the psychedelic-hued “silk fur” that he has since patented. Raisina opened his first boutique in Siem Reap in December 2006, attracting high-profile temple trekkers such as New York socialite Anne Bass and Angelina Jolie, for whom he sends his bespoke tuk-tuk.
Raisina’s new couture house, with its cavernous ground-floor boutique and a private atelier upstairs for his most prestigious clients, opened last December on the road to Angkor Wat, but I am at least as excited about this more intimate offshoot in the French capital, as its considerably more convenient for me and mum, yet no less kaleidoscopic.