Carol Lim and Humberto Leon are two former fashion shopkeepers in Downtown New York who now specialize in fashion design. They are the creators of the avant-garde store Opening Ceremony and served as Kenzo’s creative directors from 2011 until 2019 in Paris. The two spent a decade in “corporate” careers — Lim as a management consultant and Leon as a creative director at The Gap and later Burberry — and have been close friends and confidants ever since they first met as University of California, Berkeley undergraduates.
During an interview with The TALKS, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon speaks on how its all work and fun for them working together.
Carol and Humberto, how aware are you of the fact that you are considered to be cool?
Humberto: Honestly, we kind of have our own thing going on and I think if it happens to be what other people perceive as cool, that’s fine by us. But if other people perceive it as not cool, that’s also fine by us. We only know one way to work and that’s: things that we like. All the projects we work on have our own personal interest connected to them, you see and sense that in our collections for Kenzo and also when you come to Opening Ceremony.
The best things are usually created when people follow their own vision rather than just pursuing success or money for its own sake.
Humberto: We have always integrated a sportswear element along with the high-end fashion and for us that’s just the way people should dress. It may seem like a big trend now, but it was something that we’ve just always believed in. So for us it’s something that we’ve never separated, ever.
Not even when you became the creative directors of Kenzo, a fashion house with a lot of history?
Carol: No, It was really a seamless transition. We only have one process of working and I think we were asked to come on board Kenzo because they knew our process, they wanted that and embraced that process. We didn’t really think about the pressure, we just dived straight in and started doing it. I also think the way we approach design is the way Kenzo Takada treated his brand when he first started. In 1969 he opened a store in Paris called Jungle Jap and he designed out of there and I think our approaches are similar.
Did you ever consider working for other brands that didn’t have a similar history to your own?
Humberto: In the end, Carol and I are really about storytelling and I think the story has to relate to us. Obviously there are a lot of other brands that are super exciting to us, so it’s not just about liking the brand. It’s more a question of whether that story and that journey makes sense for us and that’s how we approach life and business and everything. But the exciting thing is that we are interested in a lot, so there are a lot of different brands that are interesting in their own way.
To be working as closely together as you two do would be a challenge for most people. Have you always had such a strong bond between you?
Humberto: I think that we both had this instant kind of banter with one another. We met at UC Berkeley and I was this kind of bad influence kid who was coming in and saying, “Let’s go out!” While Carol was very studious at the time. I was an art student and she was majoring in economics.
Did you become friends immediately?
Humberto: Yes, and we continued to hang out for the rest of our three and a half years at Berkeley. Carol and I even had a joint graduation dinner together.
Carol: We also stayed friends as we were working all these different jobs afterwards. Then Humberto moved to New York and I followed him six months later.
How did you end up working together?
Carol: We took this amazing trip to Hong Kong together and that ended up being the inspiration for Opening Ceremony. We found all these great things we wanted to share with our friends.
Do you still take trips together privately?
Carol: We travel a lot together and we love to do it in any form, even if it’s just going upstate where we have a house that we share on a lake. But we don’t think, “This is work, this is fun.” It’s kind of all work and all fun; it’s a seamless thing for us. Very often you’ll find Humberto’s mom with us on a trip, or my mom cooking for the entire staff here in New York. They’re always with us, they’re just part of how we do things, so there’s never really that separation.
What was the last place that really fascinated you?
Humberto: Carol and I went to Thailand a year ago we had an incredible trip there and discovered so many amazing things. I just went to Cambodia and Vietnam and those are both very amazing places. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be far away, there are a lot of mesmerizing things in upstate New York as well.
It is not always easy to travel with other people. Often you can be really good friends with someone and still make terrible travelling partners.
Carol: Humberto and I travel extremely well together. We’re pretty adaptable. We go with the flow. We even travel with friends. Every New Year we go with a huge group away somewhere new.
How many friends are we talking about?
Carol: Well it can range from like 15 to last year I think it was like 50.
Fifty people? That sounds exhausting…
Carol: Friends from California to New York to London to Paris. It was actually really amazing because it was one of the rare times that everyone could clear their schedule and as more and more people started coming they started realizing that it would be such a rare chance for everyone to be together.
Is traveling regularly also an important aspect of your creative process?
Carol: When we travel, everything we’re experiencing, all these new things, whether it’s something we see on our bikes or if we’re traveling in a car, all of this informs us, it triggers different ideas in our minds.
Humberto: Art, film, music, a trip, it could even be a video game, in all honesty the inspirations come from everything other than fashion.
Interview Credit: The TALKS