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October 16, 2014

Carol Lim and Humberto Leon See Eye To Eye

When looking back on a life, it is easy to romanticize the past and transform random moments into meaningful, overarching narratives that tell a story of inevitable success. Hearing the origin story of Humberto Leon and Carol Lim’s friendship, though, it’s hard to deny the powerful symbolism inherent in that first meeting. The two met as freshman at UC Berkeley when Leon showed up at Lim’s apartment late one weeknight trying to coax Lim and her roommate to come out dancing with him. When Lim protested, already in her pajamas, Leon wouldn’t hear it. He demanded she throw on some heels and come out anyway—pajamas and all. “I did,” Lim says, “and haven’t looked back since.” The chance meeting laid the foundation for this pair’s quirky and irreverent legacy in the world of fashion thus far.


On vacation together in Hong Kong in 2001, the nascent idea for the future business began to fall into place. Traveling through China, Leon and Lim saw numerous young Asian designers with zero representation in the American market. According to Leon, “The concept was a unique one from the start,” a store where international designers would be pit against American ones. It would be “a sort of fashion Olympics,” in which only the chicest survive. Out of this idea for a head-to-head designer deathmatch, Opening Ceremony was born. It was a store, but also an ideology that, as Leon says, “forced us to go beyond our comfort zone to discover and support young designers from different places every year.” Opening Ceremony would serve as a platform not only for international designers whose voices were shut out of the competitive fashion marketplace, but also for unorthodox, young creators to carve a niche for themselves outside of the traditional garment institutions. In a little over a decade, OC has managed to attract a wide range of peculiar, diverse, and avant garde designers, creating a microcosm of the visionary duo’s own edgy aesthetic on every shelf. The store provided them with the blank canvas to think outside the box and push conceptual boundaries in a way other designers were too afraid to, setting a precedent for the future of their career.


Despite its founders lack of formal training in fashion, from its inception Opening Ceremony has proven itself a force to be reckoned with. The brand may be synonymous with the epitome of unconventional cool, but “We try not to take ourselves too seriously,” Lim demures. “It’s important to us to maintain a sense of humor and fun, and we try to infuse that into everything we work on.” OC has stores in cultural capitals on both coasts, in- store boutiques throughout Asia, an in-house line sold in over 300 locations worldwide, and collaborations with the likes of Chloë Sevigny, Rodarte, Elvis, and Spike Jonze. Leon and Lim have more than demonstrated they have what it takes to translate that sense of play into something palpable.


Their idiosyncratic career path and domination of street style made the pair’s jump into the world of established luxury brands all the more thrilling. For many in the industry, the seamless transition into the role of co-creative directors of Kenzo seemed to fly in the face of their unorthodox trajectory and aesthetic M.O. But for the designers, “Kenzo felt like the natural transition,” says Lim, with Leon concurring, “From the beginning we felt a kinship with the brand.”


The pair have relished the ability to be involved in every aspect of the store from sales to design, and they’re excited to expand that knowledge. “To be able to work in that same way with an established luxury brand is such an amazing opportunity,” Lim enthuses, “[it] has allowed us to grow in ways that we couldn’t have imagined.” They’ve found a home for themselves within the Kenzo tradition, a label that once boasted a similar sense of insouciance and fun via its offerings under Kenzo Takada, its founder. But the brand lost its way in the midst of the early 90s, falling into obscurity and becoming primarily known for its wide selection of fragrances. All of that changed when Leon and Lim reinfused the Kenzo brand with the excitement and intrigue that typified Takada’s early work. ”It’s interesting,” Leon muses, “because there are a lot of parallels between our career trajectory and Mr. Kenzo Takada’s. He too started with a store that featured wares and clothing that he found interesting, and he developed his collection to go in that store.” Lim goes on, “And even beyond that, looking at Mr. Takada’s body of work, you can see that he partnered with outside artists and collaborators and was constantly changing the conversation, as we do.”


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Kenzo Credits:
Photography by David Shama
Styling by Lester Garcia
Hair stylist: Tamas Tuzes @ L’Atelier NYC
Makeup artist: Vincent Oquendo using Laura Mercier @ See Management Casting: Roger Inniss
Manicurist: Jackie Saulsbery using Morgan Taylor @ Kramer + Kramer Photographer’s assistants: Corey Olsen and Remy Amezcua
Stylist’s assistants: Melody Huertas and Angel Jhang
Models: Alessia M @ Supreme, Kelsea Van Mook @ Next and Marley @ Request.
All fashion by KENZO.

Opening Ceremony Credits:
Photography by Geoff Barrenger
Styling by Lester Garcia
Hair stylist: Andrea Wilson for Swoo Hair @ Next Artist Makeup artist: Ayinde Castro
Casting: Roger Inniss
Stylist’s assistants: Melody Huertas and Angel Jhang
Models: Jemma Baines @ Next and Mike WInchester @ Fusion.
All fashion by OPENING CEREMONY.

text by: Emily Kirkpatrick

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