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04.15.11

New York's Cult Fashion Label Hits China

Opening Ceremony, the successful fashion label that counts Chloe Sevigny as a collaborator, opens two pop-up stores in China this week. Alexandra A. Seno reports.

The cult fashion label Opening Ceremony has long been a staple for hipsters everywhere. But now the brand, which has stores in New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo, has expanded to China. For the next four weeks, the label will take over some of the Chinese market's most coveted retail spaces: prime sections inside Hong Kong and Beijing branches of Lane Crawford, the luxury department store.

"People tell us the Opening Ceremony experience is different because it feels real," the brand's creative director, Humberto Leon, said before the launch of the Hong Kong project on Thursday night. "We do the setups ourselves. In New York, you see us working the register. We like to meet our customers and Opening Ceremony is about everything we love."

The playful, trendsetting style that has become the duo's signature appears throughout the pop-up shop within Lane Crawford's 82,000-square-foot store in Hong Kong's International Finance Center. Life-size toy animals huddle next to glass cases that offer up goodies like Pamela Love's iconic skull-inspired necklaces. Opening Ceremony special-edition shoes by brands like Robert Cleregie and Doc Martens fill shelves topped with tutus. The label's celebrated collaboration with Rodarte hangs on the racks.

"Here you get to see all the partnerships, all the different worlds of Opening Ceremony," Leon explains, walking through the store. "We are really big on storytelling, so at Lane Crawford we made these little vignettes, like movie sets." One hall was transformed into Opening Ceremony's homage to France, the inspiration for the label's current collection. Another corner pays tribute to Los Angeles, where Leon and the brand's CEO, Carol Lim, transformed Charlie Chaplin's former dance studio into their store. Another section channels a bohemian New York neighborhood, evocative of Howard Street, where the first shop opened in 2002.

The founders—and their friend and frequent collaborator Chloë Sevigny—kicked off the Lane Crawford partnership with a party at the Hong Kong store Thursday night, attended by hundreds of the city's young and stylish set as well as local celebrities who partied to dance music, vodka Champagne, and mini burgers.

Though the pop-up shop was well-received, many in the crowd wanted to know: Would this portend a permanent Opening Ceremony store in China? According to the company, there are no plans for an Opening Ceremony store there yet, but Lane Crawford will continue to stock the merchandise after the pop-up shop closes. The Hong Kong-based department store was one of the first to buy the brand when it launched.

Gallery: Opening Ceremony Opens in China

For Lim and Leon, who are both from Los Angeles, realizing the Hong Kong-Beijing project is also about taking Opening Ceremony back to where it all began. While they were luxury fashion executives in 2001, Leon and Lim took a vacation to Hong Kong, where the idea was born. "We came and shopped and shopped and shopped," he says. They explored not only the upscale emporiums but also grungy open markets, small shops by young local fashion designers and tourist streets' trinket-sellers.

Inspired by the sense of adventure and seemingly limitless shopping possibilities, they started Opening Ceremony with a mission. Leon says: "We took all that energy of buying everything and it morphed into the concept for the store. We want to show people that you can have fun shopping. So you get this saturation of information. And as you can see, we are fashion nerds."

"Everything for us is personal," he adds. "People ask us how we plan for the next season, but we don't do it that way. It is about what inspires us at the moment in art and fashion. It is about what interests us."

Plus: Check out Fashion Beast, for more news on the latest runway shows, hot designers, and emerging trends .

Alexandra A. Seno is based in Hong Kong and writes about economics, culture and the economics of culture.