Why We’re Wild About this Eco Couture from Cambodia

Pair up starchitect hotelier Bill Bensley with couture textiles pioneer Eric Raisina and you get the wildest fashion shoot ever.

By Jeninne Lee-St. John
Photographed by Oyen Rodriguez

Mar 19, 2021

IF YOU HAVEN’T HEARD OF ERIC RAISINA HAUTE TEXTURE, you should rethink your wardrobe. The Madagascar-born designer, with ateliers in Paris and Siem Reap, creates beautiful, handmade, airy attire that’s right at home among the climate and aesthetic of Southeast Asia. Light and floaty, ethereal yet somehow “everyday,” Raisina’s silk and raffia clothes are both eminently packable and the ultimate in resortwear statement pieces — meaning, perfect for travel, especially our kind of luxury off-grid perambulations.

They’re also made entirely of natural and sustainable fabrics, often sculpted into shapes found in the wild, or inspired by life in Cambodia.

Which is why it makes all the sense that Raisina is good pals with the greener-than-thou, pull-no-punches hotel designer who created Shinta Mani Wild, Bill Bensley. The prolific American’s Harvard degree in landscape design has revealed its full potential in this luxury tented camp (and others, like reigning No. 1 hotel in the world, Capella Ubud) that was built without cutting down any trees nor disturbing any natural migration and water patterns. The Jackie O.-on-safari-themed property, which Bensley had originally bought to save it from loggers and poachers, is an ode to the nature of southern Cardamom parklands, and to Cambodia itself.

“Bill and I certainly shared the same values, [focusing on the] handmade, the unique cultural identity Cambodia has, and making something stunning from that raw aspect,” says Raisina, who has lived there for two decades, and who pioneered a method of transforming Cambodian raw silk into a downy material he calls silk fur, which Yves Saint Laurent has used for their couture accessories and shawls.

In addition to handweaving that signature material, Raisina also works with sisal (from the agave plant), linen, cotton and diverse natural fibers, such as raffia, from Madagascar: “I’m obsessed with raffia because I found in the early 90’s a way to use this for clothing, rather than just for home decor and accessories.” This led to a commission to design a bustier hand-crocheted from raffia for Christian Lacroix Paris haute couture in 1997.

“Natural fibers are my soul,” Raisina says. “Silk fur is almost our trademark. Raffia lace is for evening gowns and some made-to-measure pieces. Organza fur is our newest texture; it feels almost like cashmere.”

The images pictured here are from a recent photoshoot of Eric Raisina Haute Texture at Shinta Mani Wild — the super-green, 15-tent resort that employs 120 staff (70 percent from the local village), and puts its proceeds towards saving the animals and environment of the forest via the Wildlife Alliance. Raisina gives us take on the photos.

“It was a dream for me to shoot my collections at Wild, and a blast of a way to start 2021!” Raisina says. “I chose specific dresses that suited well with the Bensley interior decoration: colorful and sophisticated to match his amazing design.”

“I was born in Madagascar—another place where Bill actually could build a stunning property! I was surrounded by nature, wildlife and fauna during my childhood before heading to France for my studies. I was excited to bring my colorful collections to Shinta Mani Wild because it reminds me of wild flowers we have in Madagascar sparkling in the middle of dense forest.”

“After winning the New Young Designer of the Year award at the Fashion Festival and Textile Competition in Madagascar, I trained in textile design in Paris. I always thought and believed by creating my own fabric I would design fashion.”

“I like to be inspired by the basics of the country and to bring them forward into something really amazing. When I came to Cambodia, I did lots of research and found innovative ways to weave here. My everyday passion is first of all to find new textures and colors, because textile will guide me better on shapes than drawings.”

“I did a special weaving by using fluorescent threads mixed with silk fur and also other fluffy viscose to create two major pieces for shooting outside at night. It was very impressive and unexpected for everyone, as they sparkled in the dark with UV lights. These pieces were specially dedicated to Bill — I remembered the way he described the wildlife cameras; it was so inspiring to me, so I created these pieces into fashion statement interpretations.”

“I have never [done a photoshoot] in such an amazing spot with such diversity, amazing tents, waterfalls, walkways —everywhere was a possibility and especially ziplining was insane! It was a really unique experience to be able to shoot these silk fringed pieces while on a zipline passing the waterfall.”

“I was so glad to show off the potential that Cambodian beauty can offer in terms of models. I was super happy with my casting, having both supermodels Kouy Chandanich and Untac Nem representing the real Cambodian beauty.”

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