“In the new millennium, the city submerged into a cultural blackout period...Opening Ceremony offered an anchoring beam of light.” Walt Cassidy, Natasha Stagg, and more on how Carol Lim and Humberto Leon reignited New York's creative spirit.
We at Document were incredibly saddened to hear of the closure of Opening Ceremony’s retail locations on Tuesday. Since its opening in 2002, Opening Ceremony has been a New York institution, whether you frequented Carol Lim and Humberto Leon’s expansive Howard Street store, attended one of their legendary fashion week ragers, or recognized the brand’s iconic totes on the subway.
The Howard Street location, the first outpost for the brand, was a mecca, not only for its unrivaled selection of stuff to buy, but for the camaraderie it fostered between customers, employees, and the brands it curated. Opening Ceremony was a launching pad for rising talent including Proenza Schouler and Alexander Wang, a gathering place for former Club Kids and other downtown artists, and a home-away-from-home for young New Yorkers seeking friendship and their first big fashion splurge.
This won’t be the end for Opening Ceremony; Leon and Lim stated that the brand will continue to pursue their collections and design efforts following its acquisition by Farfetch-owned New Guards Group. But it is nevertheless the end of an era for those who recall the store’s inclusive, collaborative spirit.
We reached out to DJs, designers, artists, writers, and Opening Ceremony collaborators to share their memories of the hours spent scaling the stairs of 35 Howard Street, the valuable advice they received from Leon and Lim, and the Christina Aguilera appearance that moved one of them to tears.
Brandon Veloria Giordano and Collin James Weber, founders of James Veloria
“When we first started our vintage clothing business, we didn’t have a business plan, we’d never worked in retail, and we had no money. We managed to get into the A Current Affair vintage show and one of the first customers we met at the show was Humberto. He was so friendly and interested in our business. When he asked if he could visit our showroom (which was really a few rolling racks in the living room of our tiny 5th floor walk-up in Bed-Stuy) we were like, ‘Oh shit we have to get it together, he’s gonna walk in here and realize that we have no idea what we’re doing.’ I think he knew before we or anyone else did that it was the start of something really special and unique, and it didn’t matter that we didn’t have an elaborate setup or a fancy storefront. Humberto is such a visionary that he knew before even we did the type of business that we were trying to create.
I feel like that’s the magic of OC: they’ve gotten behind so many small businesses and designers and have helped them to find confidence in their creativity. Putting together our vintage collections in their stores was such a surreal experience. It’s such a beautiful space, and they really trusted us and let us do whatever we wanted with it. I remember sending emails about having giant murals and dressing up their mannequins as drag queens expecting them to say it was too much, but they were always so down. Having that kind of freedom in a retail space isn’t something that happens everywhere and we’re so grateful that we got to be a part of it.”
Adam Selman, designer
“The legacy of OC is vast. From the designers, like myself, that they championed in the beginning stages of their careers, the stylists that would run to the store to pull last minute for their clients, to the artists that worked in the stores and offices, and the people who went to their infamous events and parties. It will have a trickle effect of memories of NYC that no longer feel within grasp and a reminder that doing things with a true vision and belief in community does make a lasting impact.”
Natasha Stagg, writer and critic
“The memory I have of Opening Ceremony is coming to it before I moved to New York and being introduced to brands and magazines I’d never heard of, surrounded by outrageous fashion people, which was exciting. I worked a few blocks from the New York store for years and walking past it on my way to the train was a happy reminder of the excitement I’d first felt about fashion.”
Naomi Yasuda, nail artist
“I met Humberto and Carol in 2012 through one of my best friends Jacky Tang, who at the time was VP of Opening Ceremony. Until then, I didn’t know anything about fashion, and OC became not only my fashion school, but also a home base for myself and my friends. Humberto and Carol have brought so many amazing people together, and I feel so lucky to have had so many memories with them. They created a safe space for young creatives to thrive and make their own opportunities. My life and my career wouldn’t be the same without OC and the people I met through it. I will be forever grateful. So sad to see this moment come to an end but I’m ready for what’s to come. I know that Humberto and Carol will continue to break boundaries change norms and create from a place of love.”
Julia Cumming, musician and model
“Opening Ceremony was the first client I ever had as a model. I was 17. Working with OC always made me feel like I was a part of something special, like I was representing art instead of just clothes every other place sold. The first thing I shot with them was the Chloë Sevigny collection, and I actually got to take some photos with her. That pretty much broke my teenage mind. Also, I think for my 19th birthday, my activity was ‘walking around the Opening Ceremony store on Howard Street and looking at things.’ I would touch the fabrics and investigate every skirt and pair of shoes and wonder when I could convince myself I could afford something that awesome.”
Lil Miquela, musician and activist
“Opening Ceremony built a business around championing artists when no one else would. So it probably makes sense that they were one of the first brands to reach out to me and ask to collaborate. Michelle Salem and the team over there didn’t just ask me to throw on some OC and tag the pics, they invited me to share my journey on their blog with my Forever 19 diary entries. It’s incredibly sad to see them go but the mark they left on culture will live on forever.”
Brian Phillips, president and creative director of Black Frame
“I once had a desk in the basement of Opening Ceremony, a former massage parlor that had not yet been renovated yet. I could hear customers’ footsteps overhead while I worked on sending out emails. This is where I began to formulate my company Black Frame and after work I would go upstairs to hang out with Humberto and Carol, smoke cigarettes, and ask for advice. They always gave great guidance freely to me and all of creative downtown New York who passed through their doors.”
Daniel Rasmussen, project director at Opening Ceremony
“My greatest memory working with OC was definitely from our Fall 2018 show, The Gift of Showz, a drag show we put on with Sasha Velour. Humberto was dead-set on having a superstar guest performer to surprise the audience at the end. We explored a ton of options and eventually tried to get my childhood idol, Christina Aguilera. Three days before the show, Humberto called to tell me she wanted to do it, and we flipped. I’ll never forget sitting there in the tiny empty venue with Carol and Humberto when she rehearsed acapella, that voice echoing throughout the theatre, and literally out of nowhere I just lost it. A bunch of us started bawling.
Looking back now, I think I was in awe that I was sitting there with a team that cared so much to create a pop culture moment like this, to bring a megastar into a show that had a 100% LGBTQIA+ cast to bring light to the importance of equality and individuality, which the company has stood for since the beginning. It’s what I admired about them growing up in Arizona and I’m grateful to have been a part of it for six years now. There’s truly no brand like it and they deserve whatever great things this next era holds for them.”
Erik Foss, artist
“What an amazing thing they did. I met them at Lit on Monday night when Leo [Fitzpatrick] was throwing parties with [Brian] Degraw and [Matthew] Damhave. I was always stoked to see them. So insanely creative and visionary they were. We also shared a secret place where we would source supplies for our work, more my collages than anything, and Dash Snow hooked me up with this person, Mike Rafee. He always told me about them going to him to help find objects for their installations, so we had that in common as well. The secret spot was in the parking garage swap meet around 26th Street. The vendor was named Mike Rafee, he was a Pennsylvania cat that started that garage swap meet. He made me a straight jacket for an art installation I did for a show I had in San Francisco around 2010. When he made that is when I found out about him working with them. I was stoked, but it made sense because Dash Snow is the one that told me about the swap meet and Mike. I always enjoyed their company over the years and it was awesome to see them work with so many local talents.”
Justine D., DJ
“When I discovered Opening Ceremony in 2002, I was taken by the grand scale of the actual space and the refreshing way they displayed the clothing. Most notably, I recall a large circle created out of fold-out chairs placed in the middle of the sales floor with folded hoodies on each seat. It was not just clothing rack after clothing rack. Their merchandising was not run of the mill. I think they were using the simple tools they had on hand to create something vibrant and new.
I realized the store was owned by an acquaintance of mine named Humberto, and I was impressed that such a young person was a store owner. Shortly after that, a clothing label I did the sales and fashion show afterparty direction for, called United Bamboo, became part of the OC family and was sold at the store. OC have always supported the downtown, avant garde designers of the era when larger mainstream stores like Barneys wouldn’t even consider taking such a risk.
Over the years they threw fun in store parties. An early one was RATATAT playing live and it had an authentic house party vibe. I liked the idea of their multi-purpose space. Just a couple of months ago, I attended Waltpaper’s New York: Club Kids book release party and felt grateful we have a store like OC that chooses to support subcultures and people who maybe aren’t ‘the mainstream.’ This was also reflected in the in store staff choices they made, the models they choose for their campaigns, and their daily mission of inclusion and diversity.
This is an exciting new step for Opening Ceremony and the stores will be missed but I know they’ll dazzle us with what they come up with next.”
Waltpaper (Walt Cassidy), original Club Kid
“The way the ‘90s ended, our scene had been unable to pass the baton to the incoming kids, the way it had been passed to us from our predecessors. In the new millennium, the city submerged into a cultural blackout period, as a result of Rudolph Giuliani’s sterilizing Quality of Life campaign, followed by the horrific 9/11 attacks. It took over a decade for New Yorkers to regain their balance, but amidst this transition, Opening Ceremony offered a much needed anchoring beam of light. With the publishing of my book New York: Club Kids and the launch event, the Club Kids were finally able to have that axial moment of passing the baton. Little did I know that Opening Ceremony was on the cusp of its own symbolic shift. Our event would stand as the last major event to take place in the Howard Street store before the announcement of closure for 2020.
The Club Kids could never be described as an orderly contingent, even in our maturity. I expected a fair measure of chaos that night. To provide some structure, Mel Ottenberg moderated a brief panel discussion between myself, Desi Monster (Santiago), Zaldy Goco, Jennytalia (Jenny Dembrow), Jojo Field (Americo) and Sidney Prawatyotin. As we gathered on the store’s signature blonde wood stairs, a stunning array of cross generational faces packed into the space. People were smiling and embracing each other. There were even some tears. It was inevitable that the launch was going to be a giant family reunion, as we were approaching the 30-year anniversary of the scene’s heyday. Actress, friend, and contributor, Chloë Sevigny, broke the official news of the book’s release on her Instagram page…we decided to put together a small capsule collection of t-shirts and hoodies to commemorate the book’s release, featuring the work of Gregory Homs, Michael Fazakerley and Tina Paul. We enlisted artist Dolphina Jones to re-draw the Opening Ceremony logo in the style of her original design for Disco 2000, Limelight’s flagship Club Kid party. The new logo was printed on gift lunch boxes for attendees.
Mobile and digital technology present ongoing challenges to the creative industry. Art galleries, magazines, record labels, and retail shops are all chewing on the same obstacles that lie ahead. It’s an equally exciting and daunting new decade that we enter, but the best moments in life always are. The most important principle that permeated my experience of being a Club Kid was the value of tempo and change. We must always destroy the things that we create, to make room for the new. It takes courage to not cling to the past, positioning ourselves in the present, and moving into the future. I commend Opening Ceremony and the company’s founders Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, for embracing this concept, and am honored to have been a small part of their journey. I have no doubt that their next move will be equally, if not more, profound.”
The Standard in Los Angeles will be hosting the Official ‘NEW YORK: CLUB KIDS LA’ Book Launch on Feb 15th