2013.021.008 Oral History with Opening Ceremony
Both Humberto Leon and Carol Lim were born in Los Angeles and studied at UC Berkeley. Both are creative designers of discovery who started their brand, Opening Ceremony. Their childhood with Asian ancestry, led to their feel and atmosphere of their brand. They believe in having a story behind their collection and the ability of the internet to make fashion easily accessible.


HUMBERTO LEON: Both Carol and I were born in Los Angeles and we actually met at UC Berkeley. I started designing, technically, with my mom, being a seamstress and sewer.

CAROL LIM: And for me, I guess it wasn't fashion per se, but my mom had a jewelry store, so growing up, I was always with her in the shop, watching her buys, merchandise for the store, and how she would do inventory control on all that kind of stuff, so early on, I was exposed to a retail experience.

CAROL LIM: Humberto and I have known each other for quite some time now. I think we have this common love of discovery and shopping, and I think it's not just in retail store environments. It could be anywhere, even--in supermarkets. This idea of discovery is something that we've always liked, and I think that it inadvertently directed us into starting Opening Ceremony.

CAROL LIM: Growing up with Asian parents, I think there are a lot of things which my mother taught me, which is always looking for quality and the feel of fabric and certain tests, I think, like she said these are things that are really made. And also, fit. She said, even if you're going to buy something, it should always fit well. And I think, these are the kind of basics that we always look for when we're designing, that it's a foundation. Does it hang well? Does it feel nice? And are they things you know that customers can immediately see?

HUMBERTO LEON: I think that's something that a lot of people comment on when they come into Opening Ceremony. They feel like there's an ease to the atmosphere of the store, and I feel that--Carol and I--you know we feel like a lot of that comes from our Asian moms' side. Nurturing everyone that is around us and making sure that everyone's taken care of.

HUMBERTO LEON: When we really put everything in the store, we realized that there were a lot of elements when people went into the dressing rooms that were missing. So, it got us into thinking of, or maybe we need to make some stuff. How do we make some basics, but how do we give it our own personality? And so, I think, piece by piece, it realty started with a jacket, a sweatshirt.

HUMBERTO LEON: One is this flare coat that Carol and I felt that we had this idea--that we wanted to make these jackets that were for any size person and they would look really good on a small person and it could look really good on a tall person and so, that was the incentive of creating that first kind of flare coat idea. I think the diamond sweatshirt is something that a lot of people relate back to us, and it was really kind of our idea of taking something super simple and giving it a really kind of strong, blocking graphic element to it.

CAROL LIM: Two pieces are partnerships that we've done with different brands, which has been a really important way we've worked. These brands are ones that we grew up with and loved, and I think that's always been a starting point for both the collection and any other partnership that we do. What's the story behind the collection? Is it something that we reminisce about when we grew up in the suburbs? Or is it a brand that we've always read about that we've collected vintage?

HUMBERTO LEON: Partnering to make that bandana umbrella--which was such an odd shape, the square umbrella, but you know, that bandana was something that we've really adopted as part of the Opening Ceremony language.

CAROL LIM: The internet has changed how everything is disseminated. So, I think, when we were growing up, we looked to those monthly magazines and we'd read about what was happening, but now I think that if you're in a small town, you can go online--you can see fashion shows instantly online, and I think that that informational access has been pretty incredible.

HUMBERTO LEON: I think it's interesting growing up and knowing that there were certain--you know, you can really count the number of Chinese American designers that were making it in the world of fashion, whether it was Anna Sui or Vivienne Tam. You kind of remember the moments. You remember those famous Mao dresses that were everywhere. So, I remember growing up thinking, oh wow, that's really cool that there's these Chinese American designers that are seen as designers in the bigger scope of things. So, as a teenager, it was interesting to look at that. I don't know if it seemed that plausible at the time, that we would grow up engaged in that same kind of atmosphere.

HUMBERTO LEON: You start to see this, that there's more opportunity and more Asian and Chinese designers that have really made a difference in the industry.

CAROL LIM: What's going to be really interesting is that obviously with China and its manufacturing capabilities, there's so much that happens there that I feel like it's going to get even stronger. So, obviously a lot of people have come here and studied here, whether it be at Parsons or FIT, and I would imagine, very soon, there's going to be a big movement in China. So, I think that's really exciting to watch.

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