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.