Reminiscent of Platform 9¾ at King's Cross Station in the Harry Potter novels, Street 240½ has something of the preternatural about it. This winding passageway in the heart of Phnom Penh's arts district is home to ARTillery, a new collective poised to become the city's hyperactive hub of all things creative.
"It isn't a typical location," says British fashionista Emma Fountain, who – in tandem with her restaurateur brother Jay and Siem Reap-based visual poet Loven Ramos – created the unusual space. "We wanted something a little quirkier – more secret and underground."
Quirky it most certainly is: ARTillery is a rare fusion of fashion house, art gallery, performance space and organic cafe – the first of its kind in Cambodia, inspired by the more established and, thus, progressive arts scenes in London and New York.
On the menu will be 'art explosions' (when a giant communal canvas is painted live by a music-fuelled crowd); drink and draws (when individual canvasses are painted live by a booze-fuelled crowd); art installations by the likes of Cambodian Savann Oun; and fashion creations by independent designers such as Don Prostasio, whose urban-military line took the catwalk at Cambodia's inaugural Fashion Week late last year by storm.
"We want it to be an open, communal space where fashion meets art," says Emma, 29, who studied fashion design at Leeds University in the UK. As a young graduate, she started by selling her own creations out of people's homes before being snapped up by online fashion giant ASOS.com. The deal allowed Emma to open her own chain of small boutiques supporting not only her work but also that of other independent designers.
Philip Lim, Ric Owens, and Sass & Bide are among her influences, and Emma – who first came to Cambodia seven years ago as a tourist – describes her own creations as 'cool casual'. "I like to play on the oversized style. It's a very Northern England thing."
In Phnom Penh, ARTillery's owners are in the process of connecting with the emerging arts scenes in Battambang and Siem Reap, and may also showcase the work of promising Asian designers from Bangkok.
It is hoped the building, which has taken three months to renovate and now has a distinctly Mediterranean feel, will act as a catalyst for other like-minded souls to set up shop in the alleyway, creating what could ultimately become a small commercial haven for talented artisans.
"Most of the artists here are out there on their own at the moment, so we want to bring them together. We're a creative hub for artistic souls. That sounds a little bit pretentious, but being from London, we see it as similar to Spitalfields; one of those little side streets off the King's Road, where all the shops have got their own personality. The building's going to be used as a blank canvass. There'll be lots of artwork and graffiti."
Giving grist to the creativity mill is a cafe serving raw and organic foods; home-made teas and some of the world's most exotic coffees. "We're now testing a Turkish coffee which is traditionally dripped through a sock," says Jay, "but that's the tough thing around here – nobody wears socks because everybody's got flip-flops!"
This 'creative hub for artistic souls' will also host a Sunday farmers'/crafts/artisans' market; cooking lessons; creative writing sessions; make-your-own jewellery sessions, and a yoga/meditation space.