10.04.2016 - Anna von Stackelberg




Now jointly working as creative heads of Kenzo, Lim and Leon have come a long way since deciding to open their first concept store in New York in 2002.


It all started about 23 years ago, when Leon and Lim first met as students at the University of California in Berkeley. Hearing about their first encounter, it is hard not to see it as a foreshadowing of the catalytic relationship the two would forge over the coming years; asked by the newly introduced Leon to join him for a night out, Lim, who was already in her pyjamas at a friend’s house, threw on a pair of heels, spontaneously joining him for a fun night out in her extraordinary outfit of casual PJ’s and fancy high heels. But far from making fashion statements on a daily basis Lim was firmly on track to completing a degree in economics, while Leon was enrolled as an art student. Unbeknown to them and despite formally laying the groundwork for a completely different kind of life, their college years would give Lim and Leon the most crucial element for their later success: a deep and lasting friendship.


Both having left their native California in order to pursue corporate jobs in New York, the friends stayed in close contact nurturing a mutual love for travel, street styles and fashion in their spare time. When however, the duo returned from an inspiring joint trip to Hong Kong in their mid-twenties, Lim and Leon decided to ditch their previous career paths and act on their passions by opening a concept store together. Enrolling in a free course to write their business plan and taking a loan of $5000 each, they were set to start on their new venture for which they had chosen a small place on Howard Street, a sleepy place situated between SoHo and Chinatown in New York City. In this way Opening Ceremony was born, a store that was conceived to showcase unrepresented designers from different countries next to co-branded apparel from revived fashion old-timers, such a Levis and Timberland. The fact that the two were the first to feature clothing by Topshop, Acne or the now indispensable Havaianas, is but one early indicator that their out-of-the box approach was set for success from the beginning. Acting as a sort of fashion Olympics, the store opened up an arena in which niche designers from around the globe could compete with American ones, with Lim and Leon inadvertently finding a forum to push fashion boundaries in ways that other designers were afraid to. Needless to say the concept took off like wild fire with further stores opening up in most major fashion centres within the next 5 years.


With stock flying off their shelves and Carol and Humberto finding themselves confronted with rack-space to be filled, the team took a further turn towards self-expression by commencing to design their own sportswear influenced fashion, which was initially sowed by their own mothers. Due to a lack of any formal training, the garments created by Lim and Leon inadvertently barked at long established fashion rules and in this non-conformist way forged a new type of street-smart avant-garde that became an instant hit. Despite their runaway success, it was as a big surprise to most when LVMH decided to hire the pair as creative directors for Kenzo in 2011. But like Takada Kenzo himself, who had come to Paris as a complete outsider in 1964, first to open a store and then start his own label, Lim and Leon brought with them just the right amount of independent thought and a fresh perspective to stir the ailing label into a new direction. Working their trademark casual sporty touch into the house’s line-ups, the duo’s approach managed to bring the label’s appeal back from the brink of retirement to must-have status for a contemporary audience. Still successfully shaping the creative voice of Kenzo and with Opening Ceremony now a household name for a modern kind of cool, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim masterfully embody the American Dream. Following their vision with determination and shunning any fear of challenges, the pair have demonstrated not only a fashion sense that runs ahead of our times, they have also infused their very own maverick aesthetic into the rigid world of fashion and in doing so have revamped the label of fashion’s rogue innovator, Takada Kenzo himself.

Short Facts


Carol Lim and Humberto Leon stand out for their non-conformist approach to fashion, which mixes influences from around the globe with a brilliant disregard of fashion rules.


Lim and Leon bring a sporty element to the world of fashion in which casual items such as sweatshirts and tracksuit bottoms go hand in hand with high fashion attire.


Carol and Humberto have known each other since their first year in college at the University of California. A deep friendship connects the two, acting as a basis for their work but also keenly upheld outside of their work schedule. To this day the two share a country house in upstate New York and travel together regularly for inspiration and enjoyment.

Backstage at the Kenzo Fall/Winter 2016 show


1975 – Birth

Both Carol and Humberto were born in the suburbs of LA in 1975.

1989 – Gap

Leon is hired as store decorator at the Gap in his local mall.

1993 – Meeting

Carol Lim and Humberto Leon meet as sophomores at the University of California, Berkeley.

1997 – College

Lim and Leon graduate from the University of California, Lim with a degree in economics and Leon with a double major of fine art and psychology.

2002 – Opening Ceremony

After an inspiring trip to Hong Kong Lim and Leon abandon their corporate jobs in New York to set up their concept store Opening Ceremony.

2004 – Million Dollar Sales

In 2004 the store hits its goal of a million dollars in retail sales, so Lim and Leon take the entire staff to Jamaica.

2010 – Award

In 2010, Lim and Leon won the President's Award for Excellence in Retail Innovation from The Academy of Art in San Francisco.

2011 – Kenzo

In July 2011 Kenzo parent company LVMH announces Carol Lim and Humberto Leon as co-creative directors for the label.

2012 – Debut Collection

Lim and Leon’s fall 2012 debut collection for Kenzo is inspired by upstate New York and the painter Ellsworth Kelly and sets the fashion house on a new youth focused trajectory.


© Lanvin


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