Humberto Leon photographs Carol Lim and Eva Chen.
Humberto Leon and Carol Lim are the creative and business brains behind Opening Ceremony, which they founded in New York in 2002. Since 2011, they have also been creative directors at Kenzo. In November, Kenzo will partner with H&M in a collaboration to celebrate the brand’s 50th anniversary.
Eva Chen first met the designers when she was a fashion editor at Teen Vogue. She went on to edit Luckymagazine and is now head of fashion partnerships at Instagram.
Humberto Leon We all have a common love of dim sum; we’ve talked about this a lot. I think we talk about eating every time we meet up.
Eva Chen I think that every time we see each other we talk about eating for most of it. Remember there was a phase when everyone used to have their after-parties here at Red Egg and this place would turn into a club at night?
Carol Lim Yes, we had a holiday party here one year. What’s nice about this place is that they do dim sum but then the owner’s from Peru, so they also have a lot of Peruvian dishes.
Red Egg restaurant in New York serves Cantonese food and is famed for its world-class dim sum.
EC Do you guys eat lunch out every day or do you order in?
HL We order in. We get lots from Nyonya, a Malaysian place. And we love this place called Hampton Chutney. There’s also a really good Thai place called Larb; it’s delicious.
EC I’ve been there before.
CL There’s a new Hawaiian poke bowl place, which is fresh raw fish over rice.
EC That’s the new thing, right? Everyone talks about poke bowls. Not to be confused with Pokémon balls. What are your favourite foodie Instagram accounts? I like Bon Appétit magazine [@bonappetitmag].
HL I like Bon Appétit a lot. And I like Angela [Dimayuga] from the restaurant Mission Chinese Food [@swimsuit_issue].
EC My friend Christine is a food blogger [@cy_eats] and she specialises in junk food, so all she posts are oozing burgers and crazy, slightly gross things. She does a lot of videos and they always make me feel a bit nauseous, but her Instagram is really good. I went out to eat with her once and watching her take pictures of the food – she carries a side flash – and when she picks something up she squeezes it like a pimple – it’s kind of gross. Food blogging seems so specific because you want things to be spilling and oozing, which is very different to fashion blogging where everyone wants it to be perfect and pretty. Though perhaps not so much anymore. So a brief intro – how did we first meet?
HL Teen Vogue days?
EC I’d shopped at Opening Ceremony before; I always liked the kids who worked there because I felt like they were way cooler than me and very informed about cool stuff. They’re all fashion nerds, which I liked. I was always very intimidated by you guys because I felt like you were really cool.
HL What?! We’re the nerdiest!
EC Yeah, now I know that you’re extremely nerdy and you’re obsessed with food so we get along. I feel like Kenzo and Opening Ceremony are so hip. How have your roles in the industry changed and evolved?
HL The way information is shared has changed drastically and it’s made everyone rethink how they do things. I think we’re lucky because when we did our first Opening Ceremony show we really focused on making sure that the experience was...
Japanese soy sauce (above, left), or shoyu, is brewed with roasted wheat, whereas Chinese soy sauce traditionally leaves out the wheat. This difference in ingredients, as well as brewing time, gives Japanese soy sauce a slightly sweeter, rounder taste when compared to Chinese soy sauce, which has a denser, saltier, thicker finish.
Foodies to follow: @bonappetitmag – a mix of posts by the staffers of Bon Appétit magazine. Expect blistering shishito peppers, roasted koji and sourdough croissants. @swimsuit_issue – for sweet, soy-braised rattlesnake. @cy_eats – to get up close with some of the most irresistible restaurant dishes you are never going to eat. @clerkenwellboyec1 – there is such a thing as a free lunch, after all.
EC Visceral. The first OC show was the one with the cars. We mention that show a lot when we meet with designers. You have to give people an experience these days. Every editor, every model, every stylist in attendance even the people who are showing people to their seats are Instagram producers; they all have a content platform. So even if it’s a Parsons [School of Design] student who’s volunteering at the tent, she’s broadcasting content to her 1,000 friends. So for you guys every show you do there’s a moment. Obviously, the cars or the melting chocolate wall – which was my favourite. I remember walking in and being like, “It smells like chocolate,” and then it started melting down the walls...
CL But you also know there was a chocolate perfume created and it was being wafted through the room.
HL So you were supposed to feel that before.
EC I mean, it worked, it totally worked. Having moments like that is really important. Also now the industry isn’t just the 1,000 editors, buyers and models; it’s half a billion people around the world, so you want them to feel that they’re a part of it. I don’t know if I would have been able to be an editor 15 years ago. You want as many people to be a part of the experience as possible. That’s why I think the H&M collaboration that Kenzo is doing is awesome. You’re bringing it to a whole new audience and making it possible.
HL For the H&M thing, we designed all-new pieces for it.
EC The gloves are really cool. I think they’re going to be a standout. I don’t know who’s going to wear them, maybe street-style kids, but they’re cool.
HL Once you see the price, you know anybody would wear that. We went into the archives and there are some spectacular museum-worthy dresses that are coming out.
EC I loved that about your last show also, you had prints! I remember coming in to do a preview and you guys had archival images and archival ad campaigns.
HL I think a lot of our new customers don’t have any idea about the history of the brand. So we really try to focus on the storytelling: what we do arcs back to Kenzo Takada himself who was one of the founders of ready-to-wear. People say that in many ways he pushed the big houses, the Saint Laurents and Chanels, into ready-to-wear. He was “streetwear” before the term even existed. We have to make sure that he’s remembered in a way that we can tell the story of the brand. It’s relevant – we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary. It’s a big deal.
EC Fashion now doesn’t have to be $20,000 for a couture dress. Well, probably $20,000 isn’t enough for couture, but you know what I mean. Fashion is so much more unassuming now. Using Vetements as an example: reconstructed Levi’s jeans, Kenzo sweatshirts. I remember frantically, crazily hunting one sweatshirt down when I was at Teen Vogue. Then, one day, my mum was at my apartment and she said, “I’ve been through your laundry and I’ve put your sweatshirt in the wash.” And I was like, “What are you doing? Stop!”
HL Chloë Sevigny once told me that for her first ever designer purchase she wanted to buy some Margiela shoes. So she took her mom and her mom said, “Chloë, those are shoes from the devil.”
EC How are you both so reactive? Because I do think you guys move faster than most brands.
CL Number one, we’re curious, so we’re always seeing what’s happening and then we always have a conversation about what we are interested in. It’s not like a company; it’s just two people talking and saying, “Let’s do it.”
EC Tell us about Kenzo World and Spike Jonze’s movie for the fragrance.
HL So we are launching our first perfume and it’s called Kenzo World. It’s coming out in September and Spike came out of commercial hiatus to do a commercial for us. So we’re launching a mini-movie with him.
EC Who’s in it?
HL It’s this girl named Margaret Qualley. We love her; she’s amazing. It’s very much the Spike Jonze world we love. We’ve been working on this for two years. We started with the scent and the bottle, and it all takes so much time, but finally it’s all coming out in September. It’s kind of a big deal for us. Because when we started, when we lived in the suburbs, you would learn about a brand through the fragrance, perhaps in a magazine. Like for YSL Paris – I remember thinking I loved that smell.
CL Or the Benetton perfume.
HL Or CK. In my mind, Calvin Klein was the fragrance. So it’s a different audience. It’s exciting to do something that almost talks to us as when we were teenagers. We know that this is going to touch people who have no idea what Kenzo means, and that’s something really nice.
CL I think that accessibility is so important because you might have a 15-year-old who can’t afford a bag or a pair of shoes yet, but wants to feel like she’s part of the world. That’s why I love the name Kenzo World, because it is a world – a girl who lives in Kansas can be part of the Kenzo World just like someone who lives in Paris. They’re all joined together and feel a lot closer to the brand. And the advertising is like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
HL This is probably the most unmissable perfume commercial. We decided to release the campaign the week that the fragrance is available in stores, which is unprecedented. Normally, they do a month lead-up, but we are doing it immediately and we’re releasing the video on iTunes because we made an original track. So it’s a simultaneous iTunes music launch. We’re also launching the fall film that we did for our Kenzo campaign on the fashion side.
HL We did a film with [the musician] Carrie Brownstein, which she wrote and directed. It’s so hilarious. It stars Natasha Lyonne and Mahershala Ali. We try to do different formats and try to utilise different budgets to do different things that are interesting to us.
EC I think the death of a brand is when it just does the same thing.
HL I agree. We also try to have a point of view, so we’ve been very vocal about being pro-Hillary. We’ve been very vocal about being pro-feminist, pro-gay, anti-guns. We try to really use our platform to talk about what people are doing.
CL As a company, we are 56% women, and of our directors and senior managers, we are 76% women!
HL We’re also 60% non-white.
EC I think that transparency is super important, so people know where you guys are standing. It’s important that people use their platforms and voice to have an opinion. Right now we’re in a phase in American history where it’s wrong not to have an opinion. With the people who don’t want to alienate people or don’t talk about politics, I’m like, “It’s even more important that you talk about politics because it’s right now.”
HL Playing the middle-ground zone is not what you should do.
EC I’m not even a super historical-political buff, but this whole election has me very agitated because it’s so important – as a woman, as a mother, as an American. §