August has always been a big month for Opening Ceremony. Typically, that’s when the store, which opened on New York’s Howard Street in 2002 and Los Angeles’s North La Cienega Boulevard in 2007, announces its annual designer focus—a different country every year—much to the delight of its loyalists. While the Olympics-inspired shtick, hence the name Opening Ceremony, has done well for the store, putting it on the radar of every fashion professional out there, no such news circulated last month. Instead, Opening Ceremony’s co-owners, longtime friends Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, are turning out a year of more diversified offerings, including a slew of collaborations, an L.A. accessories shop and a spanking new outsize version (eight fashion-filled floors) of their concept, which their fans can shop till they drop—if they have plans to be in Tokyo, that is.
In short, at a time when the most storied of stores are digging in their heels just to get by, American retail’s resident cool kids are growing in profile and size. “Business has been great,” says Leon, 34. “We’re doing good and well and better than we did last year.” Nothing says success like a big, splashy new space. At 50,000 square feet, or roughly 18 times the size of the New York outpost, the “monster store,” as Leon calls the Tokyo iteration, is his and Lim’s largest project to date—one that, as of press time, they had plans to celebrate on August 29 with a monster fete replete with musical performances from Julian Casablancas of the Strokes and a star-studded guest list (Rihanna, Josh Hartnett, and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen were among those invited). Not bad for an operation that has been described as a “mom and pop” shop, an image Leon and Lim are beginning to shed.
Indeed, while they run their American ops independently (a showroom included), the Tokyo venture was made possible by Onward Holdings Co., the $2.7 billion retail giant that owns Jil Sander, as well as the licenses for Calvin Klein and Donna Karan in Japan. “They’ve never supported a multilabel [retailer] from overseas,” says Leon with a note of satisfaction before adding that Onward was just one of many companies to approach them over the years about franchising a store in Japan. That the Japanese, whose culture is known for its obsession with “cool,” are so interested says something about Opening Ceremony’s reputation. Incidentally, the feeling is mutual. “Opening our version of a department store in Japan has been in our business plan since day one,” says Leon.
As for what exactly Leon and Lim consider their concept, Lim, 34, describes it as “transforming the experience of travel, which is one of the best times to shop.” Indeed, Opening Ceremony was inspired by a vacation to Hong Kong, during which the pair went “shopping for anything and everything you could ever imagine,” says Leon. “We started meeting all these great young designers, and we thought, Wow, we should buy some stuff for our friends. And then it became, We should bring this feeling back to the U.S.” Neither Leon nor Lim, both native Angelenos, has a formal fashion education; they met at the University of California at Berkeley, where Leon studied art, and Lim economics. But both have their share of corporate retail experience. Leon put in 10 years at the Gap in high school and college before moving up to visual director at Old Navy and then Burberry, while Lim was a merchandiser at Bally.