Smart or selling out? What Opening Ceremony’s growth might look like

With a new investor on board, Opening Ceremony founders Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, shown in 2013, are planning to accelerate the growth of their brand.
(Donato Sardella / WireImage)

Could an Opening Ceremony store be coming to every city in the land?

Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, founders of the influential retailer and its eponymous private label, announced plans on Tuesday to accelerate growth after scoring a minority investment from Boston-based private equity firm Berkshire Partners.

The new capital will be used to “enhance its Opening Ceremony women’s, men’s and accessories collections and its e-commerce capabilities, as well as further expand its retail presence with Opening Ceremony mono-brand and multibrand stores,” according to a news release.


Leon and Lim will continue to lead the company and have established a board of directors, with Glen T. Senk to serve as non-executive chairman.

Founded as a single store on Howard Street in New York’s Soho neighborhood in 2002, Opening Ceremony has become a global platform for cool that has helped orchestrate the rediscovery by young consumers of countless heritage brands, from Pendleton to Levi’s, as well as introduce new fashion brands such as Proenza Schouler and Rodarte.

Today, Opening Ceremony has stores in New York, London, Los Angeles and Tokyo, and the Opening Ceremony apparel and accessories collection is sold in more than 200 stores worldwide. Lim and Leon, who grew up in Los Angeles and met at Berkeley, are also the creative directors of the LVMH-owned Kenzo brand.

Lim said, “Our growth over the years has been organic, but also strategic, and the relationship with Berkshire provides Opening Ceremony with broad resources to grow to the next level.”

Leon added, “We go by our instincts — it’s the way Opening Ceremony has gotten to where it is today. Carol and I want to continue the special path of Opening Ceremony because we’ve felt such a strong desire for it from our customers. We’ve got a lot of ideas for more Opening Ceremony stores and we want to build our online platform to be even more dynamic.”

Berkshire Partners’ portfolio includes Citizens of Humanity Jeans and Coty beauty products, as well as Husky injection molding supplies and the Grocery Outlet. Marni F. Payne, senior director at Berkshire Partners, said, “Opening Ceremony has long been at the leading edge of creativity and consumer connection in the retail community. The strength of its brand presents a tremendous platform for growth across products, geographies and channels.”

So what will Opening Ceremony’s next phase of growth look like? I was in the L.A. store the other day for the launch of the London-based COS brand there, and was reminded of what a colorful candyland of shopping it has become — a modern day Fiorucci and Biba rolled into one, always with something new to discover. With the environments they have created, and the power they have to transform a brand from gone to gold, Lim and Leon really are the Svengalis of modern day shopping.

I could see Opening Ceremony multibrand stores becoming a model for the next-generation department store, with new brands moving in and out on a regular basis, using the floor space to test the marketplace for new exclusives, concepts and collaborations. (Which is certainly what COS is doing now, in advance of rolling out its own stores.)

Lim and Leon also have tremendous cultural capital, as evidenced by recent collaborations with the art, music and film worlds. Opening Ceremony teamed with the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts to sell T-shirts and tote bags pegged to the Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition on view now in Los Angeles, with director Spike Jonze on a capsule collection inspired by the film “Her,” and with Elvis Presley Enterprises on merch featuring images of The King. In other words, they understand the concept of shopping as entertainment better than almost anyone.

I could see Opening Ceremony mono-brand stores being rolled out in San Francisco, Miami, Honolulu and beyond as tourist-friendly gift emporiums in the vein of Henri Bendel or dare I say it, Kitson stores. The strength of the Opening Ceremony name could become a logo of cool in and of itself.

But will hardcore fans of the store, who trust it as a paen to authenticity, feel like Lim and Leon have sold out?

That remains to be seen. But these two haven’t made a misstep yet, so I’d bet whatever the next iteration of their brand is, it will be gold.


COS pops up at Opening Ceremony

Paris Fashion Week Fall 2014: Kenzo’s creature feature

Opening Ceremony T-shirts, totes feature the art of Mike Kelley