Opening Ceremony concept stores taking fashion scene by storm

The founders of Opening Ceremony, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon.

“I feel like we want Opening Ceremony to be a place that you discover things. The shopping part is secondary,” says co-founder Humberto Leon of the brand’s stores.

It sounds like a bizarrely counter-intuitive business model: after all a shopper’s experience, how ever positive, won’t pay the bills. But the designer duo Humberto Leon and Carol Lim and want to avoid the vulgarity of the bottom line and market value.

Indeed, when pressed for a market value estimation Leon coyly responds: “I mean it’s worth a lot of time and energy. I don’t think there’s a dollar amount,” concluding by a knowing laugh. Let’s just put this way, Leon and Lim invested $10,000 each and they acquired a matching loan; they’ve self-funded all growth since Opening Ceremony was founded in September 2002.

Their approach to business is less concerned with aggressive expansionism and more focused on growing organically – but impressively with 4,000,000 unique visitors to the website: openingceremony.us that launched in 2009. Not to mention their own Opening Ceremony label, which is sold in over 300 stores worldwide, plus branches in New York, LA and an 8-floor concept store in Tokyo, a blog and a Twitter following that exceeds 74,000.

It’s a strategy and outlook that’s draws in the ‘right crowd`: cool kids, artsy types and the fashion-savvy after young designer talent. Blogger and fashion personality Susie Lau (stylebubble.co.uk) puts it down to “making high fashion approachable, friendly and aspirational for a younger clientele – there’s a real connection between music, film, art and even food in their selection.”

It’s clear the designers can truly read the fashion zeitgeist: from their business decisions from launching Alexander Wang to being the first to stock Havaianas flip-flops, Acne’s coveted skinny jeans and Topshop in the US.  

Even their latest store opening in London goes against the grain by eschewing their hipster habitat in favor of Covent Garden. A location that Leon openly admits isn’t the “typical” choice for Opening Ceremony, however, it’s a strategy that the Berkeley College, California-educated designers employed when they first arrived in New York by setting up just outside SoHo.  

Clearly, the selection of shop location isn’t completely whimsical. Their stores have a cult status like Dover Street Market in London, Corso Como in Milan, Colette in Paris. The duo, who met in 1993 while studying, are well aware that there shops are a tourist destination within themselves.  Their stores offer access to exclusivity but within the framework of an inclusive, Opening Ceremony community. Susie Bubble explains, “The lifestyle appeal is particularly obvious at the Ace hotel in New York which feels more like a lifestyle store than a fashion boutique. Also, on a price point level, they sell a lot of non-fashion trinkets [keyrings and pencils].”

“Community” sounds cheesy but it’s a scene that’s had considerable support from the art house and avant-garde likes of actress Chloë Sevigny, the label Rodarte, actor and musician Jason Schwartzman and film director Spike Jonze. These are all artistic collaborators who’re not just commercial money-spinners but rather muses and creatives who believe in the brand’s ethos.

An idea that’s reiterated in the 36-year-olds plan for Kenzo (they’ve only been at the label for two seasons), “Kenzo Takada had a really strong community around him like former French Vogue editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld and model Jerry Hall,” Leon continues: “I want to tell a story of the brand, which in the Seventies sat alongside Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld and we’re trying to tell his story through our eyes and vision.”

A vision that editors and shoppers are buying into, with the Kenzo label causing a considerable buzz: the house’s embroidered tiger knit sweater selling out on sites net-a-porter.com – a resurgence unseen, since founder Kenzo Takada retired in 1999. A great deal of that success and indeed Opening Ceremony’s prosperity its down to the personality of Leon and Lim. The designer says, “I feel like the Opening Ceremony DNA can be built into so many different things, even a small bed and breakfast-type hotel in some beach city like Jamaica, Key West or Mexico.”

Travel is one of their key motivations, having previously visited Brazil, Argentina and most recently Korea, where Leon says: “There’s a K-pop phenomenon, TV is booming and you know that the fashion part is just around the corner – we discovered things that’ll look super-exceptional in our stores.”


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