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Christina Aguilera Opening Ceremony SS19 Ru Paul Drag Race16
Christina Aguilera performs at Opening Ceremony SS19 show with Ru Paul’s Drag Race Season nine contestant

From wild subway parties to late-night drag shows: RIP Opening Ceremony

As Carol Lim and Humberto Leon close the OC doors, members of its extended family pay tribute to the pioneering store and its legacy

Opening Ceremony wasn’t just a place to shop. Founded by Carol Lim and Humberto Leon in 2002, it was an immersive cultural hub where friendships were formed, careers blossomed, and intersectional communities established themselves. What OC offered transcended retail experience, as it became a fully-fledged destination. And then, just a few weeks ago, it shut its physical doors for good. 

It was a move no one saw coming, and understandably, those with memories of the store were left reeling at the news. As the artsy, uber-cool, and perhaps sometimes-slightly-bratty younger sibling of the likes of colette and Dover Street Market, Lim and Leon’s store served as a launchpad for some of today’s biggest photographers, stylists, and designers, with the likes of Rodarte, Eckhaus Latta, and Alexander Wang among them (and that's before we even get started on OC's collabs with the likes of Maison Margiela, Chloë Sevigny, and Dazed 100er Chella Man, to name but a few). 

It wasn’t just about those whose clothes lined the racks, though: the people that worked its floor and those behind-the-scenes were just as integral when it came to shaping Opening Ceremony. Famously manned by a host of the hippest young #tastemakers, its staff were responsible for introducing customers to new art, music, and ideas – and sometimes, they’d even sell them a few clothes or a book on the side. 

In New York, the retailer quickly became a lynchpin of the city’s downtown social scene, throwing fashion shows as raucous as the afters that dragged on into the early hours of the morning. Just take the label’s Fall 2019 performance, which saw Sasha Velour, Christina Aguilera, and 30 drag queens take centre-stage, that time in 2017 they turned Penn Station into an all-night dance party, or the moment they revived popular gay party B.East for kicks as just a few examples.   

In the time since it was announced Opening Ceremony would be closing its stores, a huge number of people have taken to social media to try to articulate exactly what their experiences within its walls meant to them. For some, it’s fond memories of ‘spilling a drink on Beyoncé's Prada shoes and karaoking till 6am’, while for others it will always be the place that inspired them to live ‘without being afraid or full of self-doubt’. For longtime OC NY employee Joshua Michael Paulin, seeing CCTV footage of a guy walking into the store and taking a shit in the umbrella stand sums up the chaos of working there (#openingceremonyforever). 

One sentiment emphasised by all Opening Ceremony employees both past and present, though, was that it was more than a business: it became a family. Here, a handful of those family members reflect on their time working for a company that so exuberantly celebrated youth culture, and discuss what is likely to be its enduring legacy.  


“I grew up in conservative Arizona super distanced from fashion, and when I started learning about it, one of the few brands I connected with was Opening Ceremony. Unlike most, it wasn’t intimidating and it was really inspiring to see two fellow Asian-Americans at the helm. 

For me, nothing will ever top our Fall 2018 show, which was a drag show hosted by Sasha Velour. We got my childhood idol Christina Aguilera to perform, which just sent me beyond help. There were a few of us in the tiny empty venue when she rehearsed and she sang acapella. It reverberated into my soul and I just started bawling! We had around 30 drag queens in the show, many of who were our longtime friends, and all incredible performers. I looked around and was just amazed to be part of a team that cared so much to create a pop culture moment like this, to bring together a 100 percent LGBTQIA+ cast to drive home how important equality and individuality is. It was so powerful – people still tell me today how much they appreciated that moment.” 


“I started working at the NYC store in 2006 while I was a student at Parsons – soon after, I was offered a full-time job and quit school to take it. Opening Ceremony, to me, has always defined what it means to be inclusive, diverse, radical, and really fun. In the early years there was such an immense energy and spirit: the design team worked so many late nights and weekends, but it was always filled with so much creativity and laughter, and without the responsibilities and pressure I was given, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities and experiences I’ve had today.

For me, OC represents a way of thinking and perspective that is rarely discussed today in fashion. The company has really used its voice and platform to speak about issues that are truly important to them, whereas most fashion brands prefer to stay neutral.”


“Opening Ceremony was always a store that acted like a town hall for downtown kids and people in the creative field, and it’s a place that has shaped my entire adult life – I met all my best friends and my girlfriend of five years there. 

Carol and Humberto have at times served as my mentors, parents, therapists, and above all, best friends. OC, in a lot of ways, became the model for boutiques and concept stores that wanted to build community, take risks, and represent talent and culture, not only in the cities it serviced, but around the world. Our owners really pushed storytelling and culture above all, and that was always refreshing.

I have so many favourite memories! A lot of them are embarrassing and mostly based on parties we threw: from spilling a drink on Beyoncé's Prada shoes in a crammed men's store basement to karaoking till 6am to half of a car flying through the main floor window. There was never a dull day.”

“We had around 30 drag queens in the (AW18) show. I looked around and was just amazed to be part of a team that cared so much to create a pop culture moment like this, to bring together a 100 per cent LGBTQIA+ cast to drive home how important equality and individuality is” – Daniel Rasmussen


“Not many people stay at a company for ten years, but for me it was like going to hang out with family everyday and trying to do some fun shit all the time. We were such a small, robust operation and this gave us a competitive edge. We reacted quickly and emotionally to all the things going on around us – I'd be surprised if I ever find that again. 

I’ll always remember when the buying team was just me, Carol, and Humberto. We’d take Velibs to all our appointments around Paris, and it was so stressful but even then I knew how sweet it was. I hope the legacy that we leave behind is that we were a place of opportunity for so many young designers. To this day, there's nothing more rewarding to hear than when designers thank us for taking a chance and nurturing their visions.” 


“Opening Ceremony had a profound impact on my life and career. To work for Carol, Humberto, and this world they created was a privilege, but also this invitation to access culture, futurism, collaboration, art, and community. OC was at the intersection of everything and to be there felt special and immense. Everyone who worked at the store had a story, a hustle, a vision, a perspective; it was creativity personified. 

The company was this incubator of rising talent and a destination for newness, and a prototype for discovery in all meanings of the word: new designers, new music, new collaborations. It was somehow the underdog, the outsider, the insider, and the champion all at once, and it went way beyond ‘retail’. It satisfied your cravings for something you didn’t even know you wanted, and its legacy, much like its genius, is inclusivity, collaboration, and artistic innovation. Attending OC’s first runway show in September 2013 was the moment I knew my life and career would change forever. I felt included and so grateful. I still do.” 


“Right off the bat, Opening Ceremony meant family to me – when I first met Carol and Humberto, I distinctly remember how much their story resonated with me from a familial perspective, like they were my brother and sister. I don’t think the store played a specific role in the fashion industry: there was something for everyone, and we always championed and collaborated with both the underdogs and major players. We interacted with art, music, film, TV, food, tech, even sex toys!  

I think what was also surprisingly ‘innovative’ at OC stores was the ease and simplicity of making connections there, to make friends among the staff, shoppers, designers, and commonly, Carol and Humberto themselves. It wasn't very commonplace back then to walk into a store and be able to directly give feedback, pitch an idea, or to simply meet designers and founders.” 


“Carol and Humberto were my party friends and asked me to open the West Coast division, and since then Opening Ceremony has become a pivotal part of my life in every sense: it’s a creative mecca many call their second home now. It’s been a platform for me to work alongside so many talented people and has been a vehicle for my own expression. OC created its own niche that had not yet been discovered, but was truly what so many of us had always dreamt of. 

I believe that it will live in so many people's hearts and it's legacy will be the many golden relationships that have been cultivated through this sacred home. My team has the breath and heart of a golden phoenix. Truthfully, my best memory is every day I got to spend with my favourite people: the layers of each day’s narrative were always so magical.” 


“Working at Opening Ceremony was my dream job, and I remember being happy beyond words when I found out I was hired. Three years later, this is a place I now call home, with people I’ve become incredibly close to. OC is unique and special in so many ways, but for me, what stands out is the company’s ability to foster growth. The best parts of my job were getting notes and thank yous from these young designers who we helped get a start. 

As dramatic as it sounds, we helped change peoples’ lives! It’s crazy looking back as an employee because you become so used to all-things-Opening Ceremony you forget how monumental a lot of your projects are. Opening Ceremony was the first to do so much in the fashion and retail space. It redefined so many things, and paved the way for so many young people like me going forward. OC exposed me to so much, not just professionally, but socially, culturally, and geographically as well. I’m sure OC will be remembered forever.”


“The store had just opened in London and, for them, I think it was very much like, ‘let’s see how this is going to go’. The answer was: not all that well! Bewildered Covent Garden tourists would wander in, see a £2000 Dries coat, laugh, and walk out. If we’d been near Dover Street I think it would have been a very different story. 

That said, I met some of my best friends for life there. They always hired people who had stuff going on outside of work, and everyone was very eccentric. And we were also a little bit naughty! Sometimes doing what can only be described as fuck all. Despite it being pretty trying at times, I do look back on it fondly.”  

“I will never forget the party at Penn Station. It was a wild open bar (of course), so everyone was on 100. Some kid went too hard on the dance floor and ended up cracking his head on the DJ booth. The party ended early with the ambulance pulling up and carrying him out on a stretcher. That honestly didn’t stop us though, we just took the party to the streets and turned 34th street all the way up!” – Qiana Roberts


“Opening Ceremony, for me and so many others, was a safe space to be myself while also learning about the fashion industry from A-Z. The notion of discovery is one of the main principles the company was founded on; discovering new designers and innovative products from around the world, new concepts, new ways of looking at things, and never being afraid to try something new or out-of-the-box. 

When I told people about OC, I would describe it as a mom-and-pop shop on a global scale. It was a place to find inspiration and human connection. It was a melting pot within the industry and sparked so many conversations, friendships, and business partnerships. That will be the OC store legacy.”  


“I know it’s so cheesy to say, but working at Opening Ceremony was more than just a retail job. It honestly was, and still is, a COMMUNITY. The team was full of creatives from so many different concentrations and backgrounds. It was really a family, and an incubator of creativity, talent, and taste. 

The support Carol and Humberto showed was not only important to young designers, but also all creatives who had a dream of conquering their industry. It provided a sense of belonging to the young generations. OC will go down in history as being the best to ever do it! PERIOD. Inclusivity before it was ‘cool’. The real rising of the underground. 

I will never forget the SS17 party at Penn Station. It was a wild open bar (of course), so everyone was on 100. Some kid went too hard on the dance floor and ended up cracking his head on the DJ booth. The party ended early with the ambulance pulling up and carrying him out on a stretcher. That honestly didn’t stop us though, we just took the party to the streets and turned 34th street all the way up!”  


“I have lived and breathed Opening Ceremony for the last decade, and I think that will always be the case wherever I go. The people here have witnessed and participated in my development as a young professional, as a woman, and as a mother, and we will always be in each other's lives. Many people who have spent some time with the company would probably say something similar; they've grown up here.

You can't really talk about Opening Ceremony's legacy without acknowledging the importance of its stores. They were a place for people to discover what's new and exciting in retail; a hang-out for friends and strangers to meet; the go-to venue for the most buzzworthy cultural events in fashion; a safe haven for the progressive, creative, cool, underground, new, established, and yes, even marginalised communities. I've always been extraordinarily proud to have had a part in the shaping of the store’s legacy.

My favorite memory is not a fun one, but rather the most meaningful. In August 2017, I lost my mother very unexpectedly, right as I was in the middle of putting together Opening Ceremony's September show – Spike Jonze's Changers, which was a week-long, dance-cum-theatrical performance at La Mama Theatre. On opening night, right before the doors would open to the public, I was pacing back and forth throughout the theatre, feeling anxious, sad, and excited in equal parts. To pass the time, I picked up a show program to flip through, and when I opened it I saw a bolded message from Carol, Humberto, and Spike on the very first page: Dedicated to Sannie Chin, 1953-2017. I will never forget that moment.”