The street Abbot Kinney at this time (2007-2014) was creatively and artistically alive. It was alight with little independent stores, art galleries, bars and restaurants. Abbot Kinney was a real paradise to stroll along signaling that Venice was again bubbling. The steel theft bars covering windows and doors were being taken off the houses, which were being spruced up. Trees were planted on curbsides, the drug gangs were put on notice to leave their "turf" on sixth and seventh and it was no longer tolerable to dump old mattresses on the streets and in the alleys. Venice was alive and Abbot Kinney became it's new heart and soul as a relaxing, interesting promenade. Around our store we had the Glencrest Barbecue, Double Vision, The tea house with delicious hand made chocolates, the Roosterfish, Madley's, Salt, Axe, Tortoise all mixed together with used furniture stores and of course Hals jazz club and Abbot's Habit. These were our neighbors and with a kind unusual synergy "the street" was the place to visit. First Fridays we stayed open late with wine and snacks for evening shopping. It was fun. However there were little glitches that began to show up in the form of movie crews shooting advertising campaigns for everything. Beer, shoes, insurance. pharmaceuticals, you name it. They found Abbot Kinney the ideal movie back drop with its small cozy boutique-look and lack of corporate signage it was the perfect casting couch for big-time corporate ad campaigns. Abbot Kinney had just the right look for the "downturn times" understated cool and hip. Perfect to sell Coors or reeboks. In fact about this time, Gentleman's Quarterly (GQ) named Abbot Kinney the hippest street in America and Marianne was named the Best Under-the-Radar Designer by LA Magazine. This I suppose was the peak of Abbot Kinney. In rushed hordes of food trucks to take over the first Fridays, to capitalize on the free parking that was a hall mark of the street and out went the social media invitations to come to where it was happening! The demographic began to change a harbinger of the new stores that began to show up as first the tea shop then the barbecue then john and Irene at Double Vision were gone. The collectible furniture shops left. The rents were whispered to have risen above five figures. These leases were eagerly snapped up by the Jack Spades and Urban Outfitter spin off stores who wanted to be where the action was and develop their "street cred" and hipness. Eventually virtually eighty percent of the independent stores were gone. Very quickly the street and community that prided itself in not having any chainstores was awash with them and we were not far behind. Our stay on Abbot Kinney lasted seven years total and was ignominiously ended as our landlord tripled our rent replacing us with a larger fish. We said our goodbyes and moved nearby to Main Street to begin another chapter.
So not knowing what to expect we opened our store on Abbot Kinney in uncertain times and waited to see the response. I more or less fell into running the store as it was considered that marianne was indispensable as a designer but I...was...well it was my idea so I could "run" the place. I knew from a previous experience that working in a retail location at times could be a bit slow and I wasn't given to staying in one place too long so I decided to augment my time by enrolling in an MA-PHD psychology program at Pacifica Institute. This fit well with me as I had come into contact with fairly interesting if not confusing situations in Cambodia that really puzzled me. In fact it occurred to me that often times in Cambodia I was psychologically out of my depth. The fact was that Marianne and I were dealing with ptsd and various forms of trauma resultant from genocidal activities of the Khmer civil war and we weren't consciously aware of the implications.The study provided an opening to consider these experiences.
So a rhythm was established at the store. I would bring my psych books and read until a customer came in and then I would attend to them. This store opening corresponded with a re-birth on Abbot Kinney and Venice in general. It was fabulous. Any number of interesting people would just drop in and we would stand around talking or perhaps they would pull up a chair for a while and maybe walk out with a skirt or whatever. I really enjoyed this time. We started with very few contacts in Venice and soon people were bringing friends in or telling them to come by and for a brief time Koko Venice functioned as kind of a Venice community meeting place. Neighbors discovered my interest in Psychology and referred friends who were therapists to me and we had wonderful discussions. Such a gift. Some days I would sell nothing but come home ecstatic from the interesting people who wandered in to the store. Artists, writers, film people, producers visitors and gawkers. I got to tell stories. What a pleasure.
Embroidery instructions for a blouseRead More
a collection of organza blousesRead More
The Burmese silk designsRead More
Burmese weavingRead More
In this situation trust was a rare commodity but it was decided that each weaver would have a little contract: stating that ms. so and so would produce 50 meters of number one tightest weave silk at x dollars per meter to be delivered on certain day two months in the future. To seal this agreement we contracted to advance them one third of the amount owed with the remaining two thirds to be paid in dollars upon delivery in three months. We signed the contract and all of the weavers counter signed their contracts and went to work. The agreement was that we were to come back in two months and hopefully everything would be completed in the correct color and quality. Upon receipt of this silk two months hence we would see that it made it to Los Angeles to be delivered to the fashion designer and her production team where upon we would receive the remainder of our pay. There was a great deal trust built into all the agreements and this was the beginning of Koko in Cambodia....
Negotiating the weaving and its price was not a lightweight situation and this eventuality fell to another relative of Mr. Simlay: Mr. Bounleng, who was our driver, our guard (he was, it turned out, armed) and now our negotiator. However this simplifies the story a bit too casually. The reality went more like this. As we stepped from the swaying bridge and we walked down the dirt path leading through the village, past innumerable chickens, pigs and twittering, giggling little children that were coming out to peek at these unexpected, exotic visitors. Nervously we sauntered along, attempting to blend in and not seem totally out of place (which was impossible for obvious reasons) as we walked up to a weaver industriously working at her loom. After a few pleasantries were exchanged, we pulled out the scarf sample and showed it to her. In very short order she announced confidently that it couldn’t be woven. Quickly a large number of villagers were drawn to our discussion each taking the scarf and with a great show of solemnity and apparently in agreement, that as strange as it might seem, it would be an impossibility to weave this silk. Then suddenly from the midst of this crowd emerged a sarong clad, diminutive women of an incalculable age, who grabbed the scarf and began to twist it this way and that, checking the warp and weft threads while commenting that it was extremely poor weaving of an almost embarrassing sort. Then in a flick of an eye she looked at us and stated that she could indeed weave this silk, except that hers’ would be much finer, it would be number one quality. With her assent in place, nearly all of the weavers from the village agreed that they too could weave this silk. This was how we learned that the village had a chief weaver!
Now that issue was settled, we began to negotiate the details: price, time of delivery and so forth. This of course was not straightforward as you might imagine since we were proposing to begin working with a village of people just emerging from the chaos of a genocidal civil war.
The boat trip was an interesting process in that the ferry started up stream and with the diesel engine running slowly floated at an angle down stream until we docked at a diagonal from our embarkation. At this point we hired some Honda 90 motorbikes to take us deeper into the jungle skirting Buddhist temples past hanging bananas, dodging animals until we came to a stop looking out at a rope suspension bridge suspended over another smaller river that we would need to cross to get into the weaving village.
This was a distinct problem due to the fact that Marianne had a fairly well developed fear of heights, open gratings and she was definitely balking at crossing the swaying suspension bridge which seemed to combine most of her phobias into a kind of “Grande Mal” gesture. There was however no choice having come this far and definitely this would not be the proper place to become agitated, since we were without a doubt the first people that looked like us to arrive at this juncture in god knows how many years. So the decision was made for Marianne to more or less close her eyes and follow right behind my footsteps across the undulating bridge. The walk was uneventful and soon we could hear the unmistakable clack of weaving looms. We were in the village of Prey Trey.
The very beginning.
An embarrassing number of years ago Marianne and I visited Cambodia just at the time this country was emerging from horrible genocidal war. Accommodations were meager, tourists virtually unknown but we were there (perhaps as a result of my having received a book from my grandparents as a young boy. I remember this book vividly. Authored by Richard Halliburton, it was about seven wonders of the world, one of which was Ankor Wat.) Anyway, while nosing around Phnom Penh we unexpectedly discovered the beauty of Cambodian hand woven silks in a plethora of types, weights and designs. Both Marianne and I had been involved with silk for some time as I had a small ”side business” selling antique silk kimonos from Japan. It was Marianne though who really “flipped” over the Cambodian weavings. Right then and there she volunteered that she would like to possess the entire little teak store of silk for her own if it was possible. Finances being a bit tight, we negotiated to buy several pieces of hand-woven silk from various weavers. Beautiful crisp organzas, glowing ikats, twill silks in stripes, checks and various ersatz patterns The price for each piece of silk had to be laboriously negotiated and over a number of days we had attained, not the whole store, but a small duffle bag of silk samples to take home.
Upon returning home (at the time we had just moved from Amsterdam to Seattle) we came in contact with a fashion designer, who having never seen silks like these, asked if we would come to Los Angeles to show them to the production team for her fashion line. This we did. I remember flying down for our meeting and discussing the prices to charge for our samples so that we might seem somewhat credible and professional when in fact were “winging it.” The reception with the fashion designer and her team went fabulously better than we could image and we left Los Angeles with a good sized check, and an order for a thousand yards of hand woven silks. Of course there was a little "catch." That catch being that at this point we didn’t really know where these silks were woven and it was up to us to fly back to Cambodia and find out where they were made and arrange to have our thousand yards of silk woven. This of course was problematic. For starters, we didn’t speak the Khmer language, there was still some residual violence in the country and we would be traveling into an unvisited remote area of a country filled with land mines and so forth.
Fortunately we were in Seattle, a city that had a very large population of South East Asian refugees, so we visited the office of South East Asian resettlement where we met Mr. Chip Tan who gave us the address and contact information for his brother-in-law Mr Simlay a gentleman, who Chip assured us not only spoke French but English as well.
Tickets were bought and we were off to Phnom Penh once again.
We headed south from Phnom Penh and our modus operandi was to drive into a small village and flap a piece of silk out the window and see where we were pointed. The direction always seemed to be further and further south until we were parking the car and waiting for what looked like a very small ferryboat that looked to be cobbled together from random bits of wood mounted on a boat hull. Bags of rice, a few goats, caged chickens and a motor bike were off-loaded and we got on board to head across the wide expanse of the Mekong River.