It’s been 17 years since California natives Humberto Leon and Carol Lim founded their store, Opening Ceremony. That’s long enough that we can’t blame you for, perhaps, forgetting the shop’s original principle: spotlighting a single country’s design and fashion industries for a year. After taking a couple of years off from their global highlights tour, Leon and Lim are back at it, selecting Mexico as the county to be featured across OC stores and online in 2019. The choice, for a brand as politically active as Opening Ceremony, seems obvious. “We’ve never shied away from using our store as a town square, as a platform to really speak about what is important to us,” says Leon, fresh from a trip to Mexico. “In light of all that is happening in the world and with America’s relationship with Mexico, we really wanted to take this moment to celebrate some of the designers and the artistry of Mexico and shed a really positive light on all the amazing things about Mexico. In many ways, this project is also our way of talking about the amazing things that Mexicans bring to America.”
Over the past two years, Leon and his team have made six research trips to Mexico, as well as researching Mexican American designers in California, to come up with a selection of pieces that reflect the mood of Mexican design. “We ended up going out there and meeting about 85 designers that have never shown in America before,” Leon says. “We did a ton of studio visits, we went all over, to different cities, and just tried to find people who had an original voice. In various forms, whether it’s jewelry or fashion or objects, we did a lot of research and met with a lot of people.” The result is an edit of brands that you might have heard of, like Barragán or Equihua; others are brand-new, like Le Jesus, a nascent label designed by a vintage dealer that is supported by OC. “It’s so exciting. This is a man who, three months ago, didn’t know he would have his own brand, and we helped him put together a business plan, start a brand, and now we buy his goods,” says Leon.
The combination of known and unknown brands is complemented by a wide selection of artisanal goods sourced from off-the-beaten-path craft markets that turn the entryways in OC’s three U.S. stores into makeshift Mexican bazaars. “I found a guy that makes copper-handled lighter holders from Chihuahua, so we’ve brought those into the store. There are women in Chihuahua called the Rarámuri Runners who won’t wear modern clothing because they know if they give up their traditional dress, it will die out. We’re supporting this community by buying the dresses, blouses, and skirts that they make,” he says.
“You’re only seeing the tip of what’s coming out now,” Leon continues, “Because it’s a yearlong exploration, we will be releasing new designers as the year goes on.” His hope is that in addition to raising funds for the Fondo Semillas organization that supports women in Mexico, the year of cultural conversation and crossover encourages customers to rethink the United States’s next-door neighbor. “I think one of the most important things to think about is that in buying these pieces you’re supporting people who are really making amazing efforts in their statements of representing Mexicans and Mexican immigrants,” Leon says. “It’s not just about the physical thing you’re buying—which in some cases has never been sold outside of Mexico—but it’s also about where this piece has been, where it’s coming from, and knowing that in buying it you are really supporting a local community. I would say 90 percent of the people that we’re buying from make all their goods in Mexico. That’s super exciting.”
Here, Leon shares some of his favorite things to do—and eat!—from a recent trip to Mexico.
Humberto Leon’s Mexico Diary
Originally Appeared on Vogue