Nathalie Saphon Ridel
Born in the mid-sixties in Phnom Penh from a French mother and a Cambodian father, she grew up in the city before being forced to leave Cambodia under the bombings in 1974. In France, she completed her studies in Political Sciences at the famous Paris “Sciences Po” followed by a doctorate in Khmer civilization studies. Her ambition was at that time to enter diplomacy in order to come back to Cambodia where her heart still lied. Circumstances decided her instead to join the Paris-based and renowned Compagnie Française de l’Orient et de la Chine.
She travelled extensively through China and South East Asia, working with corporations and traditional factories in search of unique objects for a high-end of the market line of handicrafts. After the Paris Peace agreements were signed in 1991, Nathalie returned to Cambodia for the first time in 1992. This trip was the turning point of her life. The atmosphere carried by these magnificent stones in a city lost to the World decided her to quit her established life in Paris.
She came back in search of the origins of Khmer culture and Art forms. Her project was to implement an inventory of Khmer crafts after twenty years of war. The aim was to gather information that would help revive ancient crafts and bring back to light lost traditions before they completely disappeared.
Through this extensive survey, Nathalie’s belief grew that Khmer Art has a specific identity not highlighted in any of the existing shops, markets or boutiques. That is how the idea of a local high quality brand and retailing network that would become Artisans d’Angkor became so obvious.
After the inventory was achieved, in 1996, she contributed to help her husband’s project, the Chantiers Ecoles, a pioneer vocational training school that has started in 1992. For the school, Nathalie elaborated a collection of carving and traditional stoles, pillows and mats to be sold to the raising tourism market. And thanks to the vision of Jean Pierre and his capacity to develop sustainability in charity, it worked. In 1992 the Chantiers Ecoles trained 20 carvers, in 1996, 60 and nowadays 500. That handicraft branch of the Chantiers has become the Artisans d’Angkor which is the biggest employer in Siem Reap today.
In 2000, Nathalie launched in the Grand Hotel d’Angkor her own vision of Khmer excellence in crafts. She convinced a team of Khmer designers, artists and master craftsmen of the necessity to rebuild the conscience of a distinctive Khmer Style made of perfection and simplicity in its forms, luxury in its materials, excellency in its craftsmanship.
“Khmer Attitude” was born, displaying the best of Cambodia silver and silks and mixing talents, techniques and materials.
Ten years later, Galerie Cambodge, a conceptual store, was added to Khmer Attitude. Upholding Fair Trade values, Galerie Cambodge is a chic and urban showcase for home deco and clothing’s products. Using eco-friendly material and techniques, the collection mixes basketry, sandstone, ceramics, lacquer with natural dyed cottons, linen and silks.
Nathalie is also lending her time and experience with local NGO projects. She is the director o Osmose, a social environmental project located on the Tonle Sap lake since 2003. She started th water hyacinth handicraft project that now provides income to some of the poorest families of Prek Toal Village.
She closely collaborates with Weaves Cambodia, a high end quality weaving workshop and NG located in remote Preah Vihear Province.
Nathalie lives today between Siem Reap and Phnom Pehn where her loving husband and two children ar now based.