Downtown New York fashion retail savants-turned-designers Carol Lim and Humberto Leon are known for their irreverent, playful, and undeniably cool take on fashion, as founders of trendsetting boutique Opening Ceremony and, since 2011, creative directors at Parisian label Kenzo, owned by LVMH. Confidants and close friends ever since they met as students at the University of California, Berkeley, the California suburbanites spent a decade in “corporate” jobs – Leon as a design director at The Gap and then Burberry, and Lim as a management consultant.
Drawn together by a mutual love of clothing and travel, and inspired by a trip to Hong Kong, the two launched Opening Ceremony in 2002, a multi-brand boutique in New York, now with offshoots in Los Angeles, Tokyo, and London. Named after the Olympics tradition that symbolises a coming together of cultures, the store introduced a rotating collaboration roster of multi-national brands that ‘visit’ the stores each year. The duo also reinvigorated and revived interest in the trends and fashion that defined their youth with co-branded apparel from brands like Pendleton, Levi’s, and Timberland. At the same time, they were first to introduce Americans to brands like Acne and Topshop and began producing a quirky self-branded collection to fill the gap for basic staples.
This theme of reinvention continued when the duo were installed as creative directors at Kenzo, the storied Parisian label founded by Japanese transplant Kenzo Takada in the ‘70s, once known for its cheeky, exotic silhouettes and bold patterns. In a move that marks the first time two retailers have taken the creative reins at a major fashion brand, Lim and Leon have modernised the label – which had been in decline since Takada’s retirement in 1999 – with a remix of streetwise shapes, vivid jungle prints, and inspiration from far-flung locales. The self-proclaimed “nerds” have also revamped the brand’s visual communications with digitally-driven campaigns.