Opening Ceremony, the brand Humberto Leon and Carol Lim built into a global commissary of cool, was sold to Italy’s New Guards Group last January, about a month before COVID shut down the industry. It’s been even longer since we’ve seen a collection from the duo. The sale of the business and the shuttering of their pioneering Howard Street store was a blow for New York fashion—the first of many last year—but it worked to Leon and Lim’s advantage. It gave them the runway to reconsider the meaning of OC, their values, and how they want to convey both in the future. Fall 2020 marks their return.
Philosophically, they’re the same designers they were almost 20 years ago—they opened the OC store store circa 2002 when they were in their twenties. “We wanted to be a brand that was non-judgmental and open for all,” Leon says. “Before gender-neutral, or any of the terms used today for those kinds of clothes, we were always about that. And we’ve never been shy of letting people know how we feel politically or what our stance is on world issues.” In all those ways, they were a generation ahead of their time.
Operationally, though, Opening Ceremony 2.0 is a different proposition. To start, the label is being produced at New Guard’s Italian factories with locally sourced fabrics, which means the clothes’ quality has gone up while prices have stayed reasonably democratic. Last year’s conversations around the seasonality of deliveries and department store-dictated sales cycles resonated with Leon and Lim, too. Ditto the sustainability of the fashion show system.
“How do we create something that has a longer-lasting effect than a fashion show? How do we entertain people? We’ve always thought that way,” Lim said. They famously collaborated with Spike Jonze on a play for spring 2015 and with the choreographer Justin Peck on a ballet for spring 2017. With live events currently off the table, they’re eyeing September for a newsy New York Fashion Week comeback and in the meantime they’re using their resources to promote new photography talent. Leon name-checked Rob Kulisek, who is based in Berlin and shot this lookbook, and Zhong Lian, who is Taiwanese, and shot the brand’s spring 2021 images, to be revealed on OC’s e-commerce site shortly.
The fall collection was also informed by the limitations of lockdown. They draped pieces using fitted sheets and asked Bráulio Amado, who’s done artwork for Robyn and Roisin Murphy, to contribute prints of furniture pieces with personalities. Late last year, Leon opened a restaurant in L.A.’s Eagle Rock neighborhood with his sister and brother-in-law, modeled after the one his mom ran in Peru before the family immigrated to the U.S. Leon is the chief marketing officer and, unofficially, the chief decorator, and the wallpaper, which he designed in collaboration with Calico, has been transformed into a jacquard here. “It’s about embracing everything that’s around you,” Leon said. Both designers have young families and have been homeschooling their kids during the pandemic, which might explain the more whimsical aspects of these clothes.
Will he be designing Opening Ceremony stores in the future? “Definitely we see OC stores,” Leon said. “It will exist online and brick-and-mortar and be a place that continually gives a platform to nurture the youth. Always.”