The catwalk was so narrow the models occasionally bumped shoulders as they passed. At one point, the music ended prematurely. At another, toilet paper got caught under a heel.
But throughout, the 11 fledgling models continued to smile broadly and portray the poise one would expect from veterans.
Indeed, a competition at Sapor’s School of Modeling on Monday night to select a Cambodian for the Miss Model of the Universe pageant was rough around the edges. But what should one expect of a profession in its mere infancy?
After all, this year is believed to be the first time that Cambodia has been invited to compete in the universe pageant, according to organizers.
As school officials said afterwards, they are still battling the stigma that modeling in Cambodia is a front for prostitution. An advertisement in Khmer newspapers seeking contestants—with the lure of a free trip to Egypt in July—drew little response.
Because of such attitudes (or, more to the point, to discourage some newspapers from running bikini shots), the models wore kramas around the bottoms of their swimwear Monday night.
The contest itself had a definite down-home feeling.
The models performed in a small, third-floor room off noisy Mao Tse Tung Boulevard. The music came from a portable player. There was only room for about 10 spectators to a side; other friends and family had to peer in from outside.
But the young women seemed to thrive on the informality. They looked relaxed and confident as they strode, sauntered and swiveled down the 10-meter-long runway, to the music of the Spice Girls, Elton John and Celine Dion. They competed in fashion, sports, swim and evening wear.
Nineteen-year-old Phana Bun, a svelte 1.64 meters tall, accepted the grand prize with aplomb. The Phnom Penh native proceeded to patiently flash fresh smiles for several photographers.
Phana Bun has been training at the school only six months, after spotting the storefront sign one day while zipping past on her motorcycle.
But she’s had fashion-show experience at the Hotel Sofitel Cambodiana, and doesn’t fear next month’s international contest. “I am confident of my capability from what I’ve learned,” she said.
Sapor Rendall, director of Sapor’s School of Modeling, said Phana Bun was chosen because of her skills and her potential to do well in the competition in Egypt. The models also were judged on their portfolios.
Sek Serey Rath, a 19-year-old law student from Battambang, was another crowd favorite. She said she picked a traditional Khmer silk dress for the fashion-wear segment because she wants to encourage Cambodians to keep their traditions.