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Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, Co-founders of Opening Ceremony, a multifaceted company that includes a fashion label, showroom and two boutiques in New York and Los Angeles, have taken on fashion with a unique perspective – launching their store as a retail take on the Olympics – and come out on top. Known for their sportswear chic aesthetic, and successful high-profile collaborations including two collections with perennial style maven Chloe Sevigny, Opening Ceremony is investing American fashion with a necessary global focus. One half of the duo, Humberto Leon, lets farfetch.com in on the world of Opening Ceremony.

Can you tell me about the birth of Opening Ceremony – when and where did you launch your label, and what was the inspiration?

Humberto Leon: We launched our label about a year after launching our store in 2002. We started out making a few basic items that we wanted in the store but couldn’t find, and in a way they weren’t the kind of ‘fun’ items that we wanted to buy. We realised there was a need for these classic men’s and women’s pieces, which we called “basics plus”, because they are key items that are a little more than basics.

Your brand has many components – from your own men’s and womenswear lines, to your showrooms and creative collaborations – how would you sum up what your company is all about, and why have you involved so many different elements?

Humberto Leon: From the outset we saw a great opportunity to have a 360 degree view of fashion – to be able to have a showroom, a store and a fashion label. For us it’s about looking from numerous perspectives to learn about every aspect of the industry. It’s been amazing to not only have our own line, but to be able to carry young designers that aren't stocked elsewhere alongside more established designers. This has given us a unique insight into the business of fashion. For us, what we do is about sharing, we have really become known for forging lasting relationships with young designers and growing together.

What is the concept behind your men’s and womenswear beyond creating ‘basics plus’?

Humberto Leon: Our line began pretty organically and developed into a complete story as we went along. I’d say day to night wear is really what we are all about. We want to make clothing that you can wear in all different ways, to all different places and that doesn’t look like daywear or nightwear, but just ‘wear’. There is a story behind every collection for both men and women, it’s usually following a theme of a couple in love, or a brother and a sister on an adventure, or best friends travelling together – we always envision a guy and a girl, that’s always the starting point.

Was there a story behind your most recent AW09 collections?

Humberto Leon: Yes, the story this time was about the couple taking a vacation in Mongolia, with a second part of the trip at the Grand Canyon. These very different landscapes inspired the colours, use of layering and cuts. For the first time, we introduced leather into the collections – it followed on from a Grand Canyon ‘great outdoors’ sensibility.

Where did you grow up, and were you always interested in fashion?

Humberto Leon: Neither of us grew up really looking at fashion as something we wanted to be involved in, we fell into it in a really exciting, serendipitous way. I always worked at clothing stores in L.A when I was in high school, and my mum made clothing for herself and for us, and Carol’s mum was in the jewellery business, so we had some limited experience of the industry. Both Carol and I went to UC Berkeley – I studied art and Carol economics. We didn’t put too much thought into buying or owning a store, or starting a label, we just did it and learnt as we went along.

Do you have an idea in mind of the people you are creating clothing for when you design?

Humberto Leon: All different types of people wear our clothing – from eight year olds to 80 year olds, we have such a varied clientele. The people who shop at our store and buy our designs have their own individual style, and they buy from us because they are after something special, unique and quirky.

Who have you been the most excited about seeing in your clothing - friends, family, personal heroes, celebrities?

Humberto Leon: It’s been so exciting to see so many different people wearing our clothing – and just to see our friends dressing in what we’ve made is so satisfying. It’s always a highlight when designers we respect wear our clothing… I can't name names though, that would be too embarrassing. The celebrities that choose our clothing are great as well – from Kirsten Dunst to Jake Gyllenhall and Rihanna, seeing them in our stuff is always exciting.

Would you say you are following in the tradition of great American sportswear – or do you look elsewhere for inspiration?

Humberto Leon: We aren’t necessarily following directly in those footsteps, but we’re looking at that tradition of sportswear from our own point of view, and reinterpreting classic sportswear pieces. We’ve never wanted to pigeon-hole our label and aesthetic, so for us the sky is the limit.

While you don’t want to pigeon-hole your style, is their an aesthetic characteristic to Opening Ceremony?

Humberto Leon: Our aesthetic is ‘all-occasion wear’ – we make clothing that can be worn from day to night. Our designs are simple, yet special – the more you investigate the more you find. We love mixing unexpected elements – we don’t shy away from colour or print, we don’t really shy away from anything! Our line is very much based on an American sensibility, with attention to detailing and tailoring making each piece really special, with hidden secrets. Our label incorporates a little of everything we like… Growing up we shopped at charity shops and markets, and that teenage culture has definitely influenced our aesthetic.

There seems to be a wave of talented young US designers coming out of the US right now, does it feel like you are part of a new movement in fashion?

Humberto Leon: Definitely. From luxury to more affordable wear, American design runs the gamut, and there’s something exciting going on here right now. It’s an exciting time to be a young designer in the U.S. There’s a lot of support for us, locally and internationally, and I believe it is because American designers are taking more of a European approach to fine craftsmanship, fabrics and detailing.

How did the ongoing collaborations with Chloe Sevigny come about and what has that creative relationship been like?

Humberto Leon: Chloe is incredible, she’s exciting and interesting and its been really, really fun working with her. She’s a friend so that makes it all the more enjoyable. She designed a full womenswear line for SS09, and now out this Fall she has created a full menswear line of her favourite classics. We always look at our collaborations as partnerships – we think of them as long lasting and consistent, like someone is entering the Opening Ceremony family.

What’s been the best thing about running and designing for Opening Ceremony?

Humberto Leon: The best thing has been seeing people leaving the store excited and happy after buying exciting goods – both Carol and I are in the store every day. Seeing people liking what you do is always an amazing feeling – and working each day with one of my best friends is a bonus.


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