INTERVIEW IN KOI, A MAGAZINE DEDICATED TO SOCIETY AND ASIAN CULTURES Christine Phung: “In Cambodia, my uncle gave me a room to use as my sewing workshop. This trip was the birth of my brand » June 21, 2021 – INTERVIEW [Text: Julie Hamaïde — Photos: Samuel Kirszenbaum] Trained at the Duperré school then at the French Fashion Institute, Christine Phung has won numerous awards (Grand Prix de la Création de la ville de Paris in 2011, ANDAM Fashion Award in 2013, Prize for luxury and creative talents in 2018, etc.) while making his mark as a designer at Vanessa Bruno, See by Chloé, Baby Dior and Lacoste before taking over as artistic director at Georges Rech and then becoming creative director for Leonard. An already full CV for this young forty-year-old who also created her eponymous brand. She handles graphic and floral prints, silk and pleats as well as teddies jackets. For Koï, the designer tells us about her history with Cambodia and her vision of the fashion of tomorrow. You have a storied anecdote about your last name. Can you come back to that? My name is Christine Phung, I am French of Cambodian origin. My father fled the Khmer Rouge. That’s when he had to change his identity. He gave his papers and his name to his eighteen-year-old older brother to allow him to leave the country without being enlisted in the military. My father then assumed the identity of a neighbor who had died and whose name was Phung, a Vietnamese name. “Phượng” means phoenix, the firebird that is reborn from its ashes, and I find the idea very strong. How did you discover this family history? I have always had access to it. I had already noticed that I did not have the same name as the other members of our family who are called Trinh. The origin of this name was quickly explained to me. Furthermore, my parents being divorced, I was also the only Phung in my French mother's family. This name has always questioned me, it linked me to my Asian identity. Did you grow up in Cambodian culture? No way. I grew up with my mother and I went to see my father from time to time. This family history weakened him psychologically. He could not be a cultural conduit for me. I think it's linked to the genocide and what he saw. I have read terrible stories on this subject, testimonies of people who denounced each other within the same village, fratricide. What was the trigger for you to become interested in the history of your father, your family and Cambodia? When my father changed his identity, he fled to Macau. The other part of my family started to migrate to France. No one had returned to Cambodia since 1975. When I was thirty, I wanted to go there. I was the first to reopen the door. There were cousins ​​there, an uncle who was a psychiatrist in Phnom Penh. He is a mental health expert who participated in the Khmer Rouge trial. Ka Sunbaunat was a professor at the medical faculty of Phnom Penh and set up an entire mental health care service for the children of executioners and victims, where Western medicine and Asian treatment techniques intersect. When I decided to go to Cambodia, I went to meet him. He reviewed the information and explained to me what he had experienced. He stayed to rebuild his country, he is resilient. Ka Sunbaunat was a father figure. I had read stories about spontaneous adoption where, after the genocide, many children found themselves without their parents and were adopted by other members of their families. So this uncle offered to adopt me! We called my father and he accepted, it was very beautiful.