How Humberto Leon and Carol Lim Have Kept Fashion Fun
Why be boring?” asks Humberto Leon, who, with Carol Lim, started the street-to-chic fashion emporium Opening Ceremony 17 years ago, now with four stores (two in New York, one in Los Angeles, and one in Tokyo) and a cache of more than a million Instagram followers. In 2011 they added the Parisian house of Kenzo to their design repertoire. The question posed by Leon pretty much sums up their mission statement.
Leon and Lim have never been boring, nor have they fallen victim to the sort of jadedness that comes from entering middle age, becoming parents (each has two children), living in New York City, facing fashion critics, executing business plans, and, well, generally being responsible.
“That’s rare in this business, where everybody is trying to be too cool for school,” says actress Chloë Sevigny, whose collaborations with Opening Ceremony from 2008 to 2015 became the stuff of retail legend. (Who else could make pinafores and rompers seem desirable?) “What always strikes me about them is their unwavering positivity — and their ability and drive to just have fun,” Sevigny adds.
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Leon and Lim, who met at the University of California, Berkeley, in the 1990s, started their ambitious dream in the wake of 9/11, having given up on the corporate rat race to open a SoHo store dedicated to discovery instead.
“It’s kind of like a modern-art museum,” says Broad City co-creator Abbi Jacobson. “You can walk in there and be inspired by something you would never think to wear.”
At times it all seemed too much fun to be sustainable. Leon and Lim turned their runways into productions (a play at the Metropolitan Opera House, a drag show with a finale by Christina Aguilera), and Spike Jonze and other famous friends were put to work creating movies and scripts. The duo’s remake of once-haughty Kenzo with an ultra-colorful, contemporary spirit looked a bit crazy too, until their sweatshirts took off. Actress Greta Lee, of Russian Doll, met Leon and Lim through a Kenzo film directed by her co-star, Natasha Lyonne. “They are big dreamers who are wholly committed to giving voice to the underrepresented while also making extremely beautiful clothing,” Lee says.
And despite the different directions they’ve traveled, they’ve never really lost sight of the idea of exploration that started it all. They plan to revive a concept from the early days of Opening Ceremony — highlighting the designers of one specific country each year — beginning this month with a deep dive into the fashion scene of Mexico.
“We have always looked at where the opportunities are,” Leon says. “Coming into fashion as outliers has allowed us to be constantly curious.”
It probably helps that they don’t separate work from pleasure, Lim adds. “The two of us are always thinking, ‘How can we squeeze in something fun between our meetings?” she says. “People find it astounding that we work together, travel together, hang out on weekends, and spend holidays together, but that is because the first definition of our relationship is friendship.
For more stories like this, pick up the May issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download April. 19.