Interview: Opening Ceremony

"Go full force and do not do anything haphazardly."

Shopbop recently interviewed Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, founders of Opening Ceremony.  As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of these two, not only because I feel inspired every time I walk into Opening Ceremony, but because Humberto and Carol aren't afraid to take risks and go with their gut.  It's an important skill of any entrepreneur and I think they embrace it with confidence.

Cool Factor: Talking with Opening Ceremony’s Humberto Leon & Carol Lim

Sometimes that old saying holds true: either you’ve got it or you don’t. In the case of Opening Ceremony founders Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, they’ve definitely got it. The duo opened their store in 2002, and it has since become a beacon for the downtown set, developing collaborations with some of fashion’s coolest kids and, most recently, working with photographer Terry Richardson and model Lindsey Wixson to shoot their spring lookbook. We talked with Leon and Lim about Opening Ceremony’s philosophy and collaborations, and working Wixson and Richardson.

Shopbop: Model Lindsey Wixson served as your muse for the spring 2011 collection. What is it about her that speaks to the Opening Ceremony brand? HL & CL: We decided to shoot Lindsey Wixson for the SS11 campaign because she truly embodies youth, freshness, and personality. Lindsey was super fun to work with and brought an amazing energy to the shoot. And that smile? How could we resist?!

Shopbop: You shot the lookbook with renowned photographer Terry Richardson. Can you tell us a little about what made you choose him? HL & CL: Terry Richardson is very much part of the Opening Ceremony family. We have been friends with him for years and have always wanted to work together. He really captured the fun element of the collection through his photos. Model-muse Lindsey Wixson, shot by Terry Richardson for the spring 2011 lookbook.

Shopbop: Tell us a little bit about the history of the store. What inspired you to open it? Humberto Leon & Carol Lim: The inspiration for the store came from a trip we took to Hong Kong in 2000. We decided to visit a mutual friend of ours from UC Berkeley and had such an incredible time finding so many things—clothing, objects, food, magazines, music—that we knew we wanted to bring this sense of discovery back to everyone we knew.

This excitement led us to open Opening Ceremony in 2002.

Shopbop: Opening Ceremony has a unique retail perspective, highlighting a new country each year. What is the philosophy behind this approach? HL & CL: The philosophy stemmed from our love of travel. As we looked to other people or companies that featured a country every year, we realized that our concept shared similarities to the Olympics: featuring a country (not only from a sports level, but also from a cultural and infrastructure level too), the idea of anticipation, and celebration.

So, each year, Opening Ceremony features a country, bringing together emerging designers, established brands, and items we discover alongside a long and growing list of brands from the US and past countries we have featured. In the past we’ve featured Hong Kong, Brazil, Germany, Sweden, United Kingdom, Japan, France, and the USA.

Shopbop: The Opening Ceremony brand has become an arbiter of what’s hot with the downtown set. Is there a secret to your success? HL & CL: I think that it all comes from the heart. We are always excited about everything we bring into the store, so we always go with our gut.

Shopbop: Collaborative design is also key to the Opening Ceremony experience. What prompted you to start pursuing collaborations? HL & CL: From the beginning, we have always thought of ourselves as storytellers. So the idea of doing partnerships is completely natural. For instance, we have always believed in heritage and authenticity, and when we wanted to develop a flannel shirt, we went to the original makers at Pendleton and decided to work with them in telling their story through our lens.

Shopbop: You’ve worked with some of fashion’s coolest kids—Chloë Sevigny, Rodarte’s Mulleavy sisters—as well as iconic brands like Keds and Levi’s. How do you go about choosing and developing these collaborations? HL & CL: All our partnerships are from the heart and from nostalgic relationships we have with people and brands. There is no set formula to the different partners we work with. Sometimes they happen within weeks of the products being in the store. We like to react from the gut, and most of the time, we are so excited about the projects that we want to share them immediately.

Shopbop: Rodarte is a particularly exciting collaboration, making this label accessible to a much broader audience. How did the partnership come about and what inspired the collection?

HL & CL: We’ve known Kate and Laura since they were 18. We all went to UC Berkeley together and have always had a great connection. The partnership with Rodarte was a natural because together, we share a similar vision of storytelling. We wanted the collection to be a conversation, and we feel that we absolutely succeeded.

Shopbop: You’ve been working with Chloë Sevigny for a handful of seasons. What makes her such a great match for the Opening Ceremony aesthetic? HL & CL: Chloë Sevigny is a good example of working with a friend who happens to be a fashion muse, and bringing her visions to life. In her own way of dressing, Chloë is incredible at mixing designer fashion with street wear, and that language speaks to Opening Ceremony completely. Chloë is always willing to experiment with fashion, which is so refreshing.

Shopbop: Are there any other collaborations in the works that you can tell us about? HL & CL: We are launching MM6 Maison Martin Margiela x Opening Ceremony in the fall, which is super exciting. We are currently working on the next installment of Chloë Sevigny for Opening Ceremony and Rodarte x Opening Ceremony as well.

Shopbop: Do you have a favorite collaboration from the last few years? HL & CL: They are all so different and so personal, it would be hard to choose a favorite. Chloë, Rodarte, Pendleton, Maison Michel, MM6, Deyrolle, Keds, Dr. Martens, Agnes B., K. Jacques… They are all so different and speak to us in a special way.

Shopbop: If you had to isolate one moment from the last nine years, what would be the highlight of your work with Opening Ceremony? HL & CL: September 1, 2002, the first day Opening Ceremony opened. Carol and I were the only two employees, and we didn’t know how to interact with customers so were both fighting for the register position.

3 Fast Questions for Humberto & Carol: All-time favorite fashion label: HL & CL: Comme des Garçons and Dries Van Noten

Person you most admire in the industry: HL & CL: The people behind the scenes you don’t ever hear about.

Best advice you can offer someone looking to get a foot in the fashion industry: HL & CL: Go full force and do not do anything haphazardly.

*Photo by Jason Frank Rothenberg