Former fashionista Elizabeth Kiester gave up a crazy-glam-hectic New York lifestyle (complete with full Sex and the City trappings, requisite high heels and sashimi-platter lunch dates) to give something back to the Khmer people she’d fallen in love with on a trip to Cambodia.
She sold her apartment, packed her bags and (quite literally) set up shop in Siem Reap. Which is where we discovered her, while researching star stays for our next hotel guide, Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection: South-East Asia (out later this year).
The result, Wanderlust, is a lifestyle concept boutique selling hand-made clothing and homewares, all created by local women – it’s been so successful that there are already three outlets in Cambodia.
Tell us a bit about Wanderlust, Elizabeth – how did it come about? What drew you to Cambodia in the first place?
I came to Cambodia in 2008 on a short-term volunteer holiday through an American NGO. I wanted to take a vacation, but I really wanted to do something. I was at crossroads in my life, and the idea of a week on a beach just didn’t appeal at the time. I have always loved south-east Asia and Cambodia was on my ‘must check out’ list. So I came to Siem Reap and installed water pumps in rural villages, painted a pagoda, and taught songs and English to the kids at a local orphanage.
I just loved the magic of the place: the light, the sounds, the unfamiliar and strange smells, and the sense of hope that I felt everywhere, in every eye and every smile – even in every tear I saw shed. I wanted to be part of it on a deeper level, and try to do what I could to help instill a sense of security in the Khmer people, and above all, to celebrate and make noise about all of it.
With a look book that’s generally considered to be the last word in British bridal elegance, Amanda Wakeley (OBE, if you don’t mind) is renowned for her fashion finesse (not to mention after-dark attire, if Beyoncé’s recent Vegas clubwear and Florence & the Machine‘s choice of performance get-up, below right, are anything to go by).
Since we at Planet Smith already worship at the altar of Amanda and recently picked the design diva’s brains for her weekend packing guide, we thought we’d delve further and uncover a few of her travel secrets for you.
We managed to catch the ever-busy Amanda in a tiny window in her hectic schedule, somewhere between judging the Scottish Fashion Awards, designing her S/S 11 collection and launching the new Amanda Wakeley online wedding planner, a tool to help stylish brides plan their big day.
What first inspired you to become a designer?
I have made clothes ever since I was a little girl… it’s something I’ve always done intuitively.
Which other designers or artists do you admire?
I love the work of both Madame Grès and Vionnet: women designing for women in the most innately feminine way. In terms of artists, I adore Rothko on the one hand; Tracey Emin is a friend, and I love some of her works, particularly one of the pieces in this year’s Summer Exhibition – the one that says ‘I love you but sometimes I don’t think’. I have also always enjoyed collecting black and white photography, and would love to own one of the large-scale Peter Beards.