We’re not quite sure what to call Opening Ceremony founders Humberto Leon and Carol Lim. They’re retailers, yes, but also designers (of their own label and, since 2011, Paris’ Kenzo house), entrepreneurs, collaborators, and all-around culture mavericks.
Last night, we had the pleasure of listening to them riff with Pamela Golbin, the chief curator of fashion and textiles at Paris’ Musée des Arts Décoratifs, as a part of the FIAF “Fashion Talks” series, and apart from leaving with twin urges to shop ’till we dropped and quit our jobs to pursue a wild and crazy passion project with our best friend, we learned a lot about the early days of their Howard Street store.
Conceived during a two-week trip to Hong Kong the pair took while they were still working their corporate jobs, the idea for Opening Ceremony came from what Leon described as their shared desire “to travel and shop forever.” Which sounds like a great plan if ever there was one, albeit a risky one since they went into it headlong with only $10,000, a space on a quiet, not-quite-Soho street, and a whole lot of wild ideas about what to do. One, as we well know now, was to bring in cool designers and unknown labels from a different country every year — an idea that brought together those aforementioned passions for travel and shopping.
But what to call such an internationally-minded store? Leon told Golbin that, apart from conveying the concept, their number one priority was finding something that people couldn’t poke fun at. “We did the test where you make fun of your own name,” he laughed. “We thought ‘Terminal’ but then, ‘Oh, no…terminal illness’.” Airport was a possibility, too, but that likewise got vetoed. Finally, their friend suggested “Opening Ceremony,” which, in addition to rolling off the tongue, meshed perfectly with the duo’s love for the pomp and circumstance of the Olympics.
Plus, added Leon, “it’s too long to make fun of. By the time you’re done with the words it’s not even a funny joke anymore.”