Opening Ceremony Takes Over the World

03/17/2010 3:00 AM |

I remember when I first trudged down to the quirky downtown outpost of Opening Ceremony, located at 35 Howard Street on a charming stretch of Chinatown-meets-Soho (even years later, I still sometimes have a hard time finding the right block, giving it an Alice-down-the-rabbit hole vibe). The store’s mission statement echoes that of the founder of the modern-day Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, insofar as its founders—Humberto Leon and Carol Lim—chose to highlight a rotating selection of international designers and brands each year. It was a cute, highbrow idea—bringing indies from places like Germany and Sweden to mix with locals like Vena Cava and Tsumori Chisato. However, there are a lot of cute, highbrow boutiques in New York that have fallen prey to their own cool factor—believing that the city’s denizens on the whole are willing to pay for something “interesting” and then going under when the economy stumbles. Eight years later, the store is stocking $2,760 Rodarte sweaters for men, and has expanded into Los Angeles and Tokyo in the middle of a recession, leaving a trail of ever-more-spectacular collaborations in its wake. Touring the chain’s latest outpost at the Ace Hotel, I couldn’t help but think back to discovering the offbeat store all those years ago and wondering, How did this happen? How has Opening Ceremony succeeded with such panache where so many other “concept” boutiques have failed?

For one, Leon and Lim have preternaturally good taste. If the duo weren’t wildly successful buyers for the store, they could probably earn a fortune doing trend forecasting. They capitalized on Swedish brands like Acne before they had any American presence and threw weight behind about-to-hit-it-big designers like Alexander Wang and Rodarte, both of whom have rewarded the store’s unwavering support with incredible selection and exclusives (Rodarte recently launched a cheeky line of $155 sweatshirts emblazoned with “Radarte”). They were also one of the first to successfully think of a store as more of an event—emphasizing the moment of discovery—by hosting pop-ups and stores within the store to offer the city what the market was missing. Case in point: O.C. brought Topshop to Soho before even Topshop could, debuting Kate Moss’s much-anticipated collection for the label in a specially curated second floor. They also have just the right kind of famous friends, like Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman: downtown, unfussy-stylish—the thinking fashionista’s icons. The store’s muse, in many ways, remains the iconic downtown style gal, Chlo√�ƒ�’�†�€™�ƒ¢â�€š¬�…¡�ƒ�’â�‚�š�ƒ�€š�‚´ Sevigny, who’s even translated her brand of 90s-vintage sex appeal into a collaborative line with the store.

Granted, with its latest endeavors, some wonder if O.C. can maintain its “indie” cred on such a massive scale. The collaboration with Spike Jonze on a Wild Things-inspired clothing line was brilliant (and perfectly targeted the store’s smarty-hipster crowd). But at the same time… a $610 furry animal suit? More recently, a collaboration with Levi’s (on corduroys, surprisingly enough) seems to have a more mass-market appeal. Of late, the phrase “painfully hip” seems to be what most aptly describes the chain—exemplified by its smaller iteration at the newly-realized capital of all things cool, the Ace Hotel. (The Breslin + Stumptown coffee + Opening Ceremony = cool factor overload?) All things considered, however, the outpost—like all of Leon and Lim’s launches—seems to be doing everything right, from stocking cheeky candies from around the world to editions of McSweeney‘s to much fawned-over Proenza Schouler handbags. Is Opening Ceremony the department store of the new decade? Memo to Barneys: Be afraid, be very afraid.