While much of the jewelry we’ve been turning to throughout quarantine has nurtured our desire to dress casually, spoken to our souls, and required little maintenance, there are still days where dressing up and breaking out scene-stealing accessories is warranted. This is especially true as the holidays are upon us, but it can also be true for any random day of the week, when it just feels necessary.
A new brand out of New York offers precisely those kinds of pieces, and it draws on ancient Cambodian history to create them.
Founded by sisters Edo and Eyen Chorm, EdoEyen presents statement pieces inspired by the Kingdom of Angkor, an ancient Khmer site that was the capital of the empire (now known as Cambodia) from the 9th to the 15th century. Travel bugs will probably be most familiar with one of its most famous monuments, Angkor Wat, a temple that was built in the 12th century and is now Cambodia’s most visited tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
With a mission to build global appreciation for Cambodian arts and culture, the sister design duo has amazed with its entry into the jewelry market, in what promises to be an exciting journey into the future. Below, a few questions for the creators of the styles that no doubt deserve a place on everyone’s Instagram (and in their jewel boxes).
Tell us a little more about your efforts to preserve Khmer arts and culture through your work.
We visited the Angkorian temples and saw carvings were eroded and sculptures were missing parts, such as the head, limbs, etc. A lot of factors are in play: the eroding due to weathering and tourists’ hands, and the looting goes back since the late 1800s. (Although looting isn’t as prevalent as it used to be, we don’t want to assume that it won’t happen again.)
We know organizations like the World Monuments Fund (WMF) are doing their part to preserve cultural monuments that contain invaluable art, and they are doing a great job, but we think there should be more people with grassroots thinking to chime in. We think the feeling of urgency to preserve the arts of our culture should be more widespread, especially among young Cambodians. We think there is very little global appreciation for Khmer arts due to lack of exposure and/or lack of efforts to incorporate them in a trendy, stylish way for modern times.
Our first effort to help preserve Khmer art is to actually have more people be aware of its existence. The fashion and beauty industries are multitrillion-dollar industries and very influential on a global scale, and we think by aligning our efforts with industries that make it hip to “consume” the art by wearing or adorning is the start of the awareness we both want for our culture. An inkling of appreciation is progress for us. We’ve always been fascinated by the jewelry, so combining this innate obsession with our goal of exposing this type of jewelry to the world is the first step to helping preserve this unique culture. That’s why we’re making this type of jewelry to wear and market!
We are in touch with the WMF (also headquartered in New York), exploring options to help with its efforts, to become a member and start donating to its cause. We are excited to attend its upcoming Virtual Gala in December, which will actually highlight Angkor and Khmer arts. We’re also looking to do a charity campaign in Cambodia by visiting local artists and buying their craft, while also documenting the campaign in a fun but informative way. COVID-19 has halted our plans to travel back, but this is still in the works and we’re looking to do this in the near future. This charity cause wouldn’t really highlight our jewelry; the efforts would be solely based on supporting local Khmer artists whose work is absolutely phenomenal but who make very little or nothing for their talent. We hope to capture filmmakers, journalists, and writers’ interest to help document this campaign.
How do these pieces translate to the jewels worn by women every day?
Since we are making jewelry inspired by a culture that is perceived as exotic or unique, we thought launching the Neang Neak ear cuff as our first piece would align well with our brand messaging. We think the angle that our jewelry is different, daring, and for the bold works well with being a New Yorker.
As for fellow Khmers, we know (as we’re Khmer ourselves) they will always want to wear those jewelry pieces, having been exposed to them through traditional ceremonial events, the art and decor found in and around their homes, and Southeast Asian films. The Neang Neak ear cuff is unique because it has never been worn outside of ceremonial events. From a traditional perspective, the redesigned structure is more minimal, and we made it so that we can wear it in our secular lives—but naturally, the statement aspect cannot be avoided from a Westerners’ perspective.
To sum it up, it is statement jewelry, but it also has minimalist aesthetic as the front view is very subtle, so it can be worn every day!
This line is so ingrained in your culture and history, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on ensuring wearers from all over the world are knowledgeable of your pieces’ origins. With more consumers becoming more sensitive to or aware of cultural appropriation, how important is it to you that people know the meaning or history of what they’re wearing?
It’s important to us for people who buy or wear our jewelry to know its cultural origins and learn to gradually appreciate its roots. Also, if anyone asks, we hope they are knowledgeable enough to share bits and pieces of the culture.
To ensure that people learn this history, on our Instagram and as we continue to build our campaign and branding strategy, we’ll always share tidbits or tell a bit of the story or legends of the culture on our post. We realize it may likely be a gradual process so we are very understanding that it may not take off immediately. Additionally, as we are Khmer ourselves and the creators of these pieces, we do see it as sharing a beautiful heritage with the rest of the world.
Little by little, we hope to instill in our buyers an awareness and an acceptance for diversity in art appreciation. To quote Proeung Chhieng, a Khmer dancer, choreographer, and survivor of the Pol Pot regime, “The role of all artists in the world is to teach people to love good rather than evil. We are peace messengers”—and this is one of the ways we are looking to share our culture’s art. On another note, our designs, specifically our Phkachhouck earrings’ design and structure, are a deviation from existing ancient jewelry pieces. Our goal is not only to redesign authentic pieces, but also to create newer pieces that are Khmer-inspired but more minimalist and modern for everyone, not only for Khmers. People can feel confident that wearing one of our creations will not only help pique curiosity for the culture but also help with having our culture’s art be enjoyed in a modern way.
Your designs are definitely made to be seen, but at a time when most people don’t have anywhere to go and be seen, what’s your advice for wearing jewelry and feeling good at home?
We had this brand idea a few years ago before the pandemic hit. The shutdown did make us think about how people will showcase their jewelry if they have nowhere to go. In the end, we are hopeful (as we think most people are as well) that this is temporary. We didn’t let it stop us from pushing on. People will always want to buy, own, or have in their possession or collection beautiful objects. Our jewelry is not only made for fashion but also for jewelry collectors. For example, a buyer told us she wants to preserve the piece for her daughter when she is old enough to wear it, and another buyer wanted to purchase a tiara for her birthday celebration with her small circle of friends. There will always be those events, occasions that people will be willing to put their best face forward for—including people being videoed and seen online, with the advent of videos on social media like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, as more people are staying in. And of course, for their Zoom meetings some people will still want to look good or turn heads!
Which of your designs is your favorite?
We love them all! As we just launched June 25 of this year and it’s just us two, our work style is more passion project than corporate business. We want to be in love with every piece we create. The making of every piece was literally a back-and-forth between us, and the finished look is a product of our shared vision 100%. We won’t proceed with the next step if either one of us is not truly 100% satisfied.
How is your business being impacted by the pandemic? Have you had to make any changes or alterations? Do you see the lockdowns having any effect on consumer demand or behavior?
We launched at a particularly bizarre time, as New York City began reopening retail stores this past June. We’re still very new and as far as we can say, a few of our buyers at the start expressed to us that they will have to be mindful and save up slowly before making a purchase due to the pandemic; however, they did make the purchase. We were lucky enough to receive this feedback, but we’re sure there are others who feel the same way as this pandemic made everyone unsure about the future of spending on anything, let alone jewelry.
Overall, we are still getting feedback about how people want to buy the jewelry as a gift for themselves, such as for their birthday or for the holidays. We haven’t made any alterations as these pieces were designed before the pandemic, but for future designs we will take the pandemic and how it has affected consumers’ wearing habits into consideration. It will be something to really think about if we do want to grow our brand at speed with the changing times. We’re looking for ways to continue with our vision without having to commit to too much compromise.
I see that you have ear cuffs for sale on your website, though your Instagram shows a variety of other styles (that tiara!). Where can consumers or retailers go if they’re interested?
Right now we are only selling online through our website. In addition, since we are basically a small team (just us two), we are happy to offer personal shopping to buyers and clients in the New York area who are interested in buying safely in person. We are looking to expand into department and boutique stores in the future, such as at Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom, and Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as smaller indie boutique shops.
What are your plans for the holidays?
Holidays are important for jewelry brands, and our brand is no exception. We’ll be offering a promotion for the holidays (follow us on Instagram at @EDOEYEN and sign up for our newsletter!). In addition, we’re looking into partnering up with Urbanspace NYC to set up a pop-up shop at Union Square, the Columbus Circle Holiday Market, or the Winter Village at Bryant Park. Right now, we are focused on expanding locally but open to a global expansion should the opportunity arise.
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