Carol Lim and Humberto Leon are two of the most influential voices in the world of contemporary fashion. In 2002, they opened the now iconic shop Opening Ceremony in New York which has since then expanded with pop-up shops in Los Angeles, Tokyo, Hong Kong and London. At the same time as the impact of Opening Ceremony was growing, they started developing specific collections, and collaborations with leading figures from the arts and the creative world. In 2011, they were appointed creative directors of the legendary Paris-based fashion house Kenzo.
How would you connect fashion to elegance?
HL: To us, elegance isn’t really about the fashion, it’s about the person. A person can make a pair of jeans look elegant, a person can make a $2 earring look elegant. It’s about the person wearing it, and that’s where fashion is.
What is the role of history and art history in your conception of fashion?
HL: It’s huge. History is what forms a story. Carol and I believe that, as people creating fashion, it’s important to be storytellers. To have a reference point in time is really relevant and it makes for a better story.
CL: We just want to be informed. History and the present are really important for us to understand, because, in the world, things are happening. If you are in your bubble, you become excluded because consumers, on that level, know what is happening.
HL: To know allows you to do or not to do.
Would you describe fashion as a language and a discourse, as Barthes did?
CL: It is. No matter if you want it to be, it is an expression. People say “I’m really into fashion, and that’s my expression”. And even those who say they’re not into fashion are still expressing something. No matter what you want to do, if you’re actively into it or not, people will interpret it in some way. This first point of reference everyone has is that we look at each other.
HL: So much has changed with the Internet. Before the Internet there was such a distinct language between countries and cultures. Now that there is so much more exposure at the click of a button, the language is much more melted, whereas at some point it used to be much more separate.
"We just want to be informed. If you are in your bubble, you become excluded because consumers, on that level, know what is happening"
The word "intellectual" was coined in a time of great political distress. Does fashion have a political role? And in which way?
HL: For sure. Fashion is here to challenge people’s thoughts about the perception of the body, the perception of beauty. It can change people and challenge people in many ways.
CL: Some of it is cultural. It’s a conversation between art, function and cultural elements that doesn’t just exist on its own.
HL: We’re also very interested in technology and the way technology informs fashion and how a lot of technology allows a lot of human beings to move faster. We’re very close to the Olympic Games; technology and fashion have really interacted in changing sports and humans.
Would you relate the idea of "fashion" to the one of "style"?
HL: Style is very individual, it is unique and it allows people to express different fashions. Fashion, to us, is the bread in which you make the sandwich.
CL: Fashion is the item: you can say “here is a fashion collection”. Style is how you interpret it. You can buy fashion, you can buy the perfect bag, but you can’t buy style. How an item becomes part of your personal style belongs to the individual.
What does fashion have to do with intellectuality ?
HL: I think intellectuality informs and makes fashion. We’ve noticed something in the years that we have been in this business: we meet all these amazing people who are fashion designers. They’re some of the smartest people out there, some of the best mathematicians out there. In many ways, I think it’s almost the question in reverse.
"Style is very individual, it is unique and it allows people to express different fashions. Fashion, to us, is the bread in which you make the sandwich"
You often describe yourself as storytellers. What does this aspect play in your work and in fashion in general?
CL: It’s the basis for everything we do. We’re avid for information. When we shop, we like to know exactly what we’re buying: as we opened the store and started designing, that’s what we always said. The print that we’re doing, the stitch that we’re doing, we want to be able to explain it. It starts from a conversation that is personal: why are we going to partner with this person? You can pick up any garment, and we could talk for two hours about the garment, the stitches.
HL: We live in a world in which there are a lot of choices. If we’re thinking about Hawaiian shirts, we want to ask: why are Hawaiian shirts important? Yes, you could see it everywhere for 15€ here and there. But do people know that Hawaiian shirts were invented for Aloha Fridays, for all Hawaiians to wear on Friday? And that if you were to go Hawaii on a Friday, every single businessman would be wearing a Hawaiian shirt made by Reyn Spooner, and started in the 1960s? That became culture on its own. We want to be able to tell you why something exists, and capture that moment. With Kenzo, it’s a great story to tell: Carol and I feel that our job is to retell the story in a way that can relate to people in 2012. We’re telling the story of ambition, spontaneity, fun, excitement, in a different way.
All your work is a curating of conversations. Can you tell me about this process of having ongoing conversations?
HL: It started with Carol and I always having conversation with each other. That’s the most exciting part about having a partner to work with. Since then, we’ve had conversations with each other that lead to other people. A lot of them are all organic conversations: for instance, a conversation with Chloë Sevigny about her childhood memories? We all grew-up in suburbs, us in California, her in New York, and that led to our first collection together. Carol and I had the nerdiest conversation about flannels eight years ago, and we thought: “What happened to that flannel company? We went to Berkeley, and everybody was wearing vintage Pendleton. What happened to that?”. We called them, and they had no idea of what was going on in fashion, and they knew about their products. They were one of the first participants in accepting Native Americans in a rodeo. In the end, we do make products from it, we make something that the customer can take and have a piece of that conversation with them. These conversations built relationships. Carol and I refrain from using the word “collaborations”, because they’re more partnerships, and ongoing conversations. They’ve also continued. The Chloë conversation continues: we’re in the 6th season, and we’re working on the next one. Each one gets more fun and intricate. Each one speaks to its own moment in time. We also like to look back and think: what are the stories that we’ve told? We have a ten year book coming out, and we looked at it: all the stories that came from our mind actually tend to make sense.
In two weeks Donatien will be interviewing the art director and creative director Nicola Formichetti.