Inside Humberto Leon's Next Chapter
"Opening Ceremony was a community first, and then fashion just came with it," style innovator and all-around cool impresario Humberto Leon says. The legacy of Opening Ceremony — the conceptual retail space he cofounded in 2002 with Carol Lin — lives on through seasonal drops, collaborative activations, and the legions of millennial fans it raised. Before hosting a special dinner with Ugg, the multihyphenate chatted with POPSUGAR about his earliest memories of the cozy brand, continuing the spirit of Opening Ceremony, his family restaurant, and the possibility of a return to brick and mortar.
"I grew up in California, so Ugg to me goes hand and hand with beach culture," Leon tells POPSUGAR. His earliest memories of the label hark back to his time at the University of California, Berkeley. "My first year of college, I remember getting my first pair (of Uggs) and really being able to work it into my style as well as my lifestyle." Speaking of Ugg's place in his life as a reliable staple, he says, "it's kind of something that I've just always had, whether it's in my trunk or in my closet, no matter where I live — I feel like it's like one of the most comfortable things you can wear."
Like Ugg, Leon has built his career around collaboration: he's partnered with Dickies, H&M, Coca-Cola, and, recently, Los Angeles-based teen punk band the Linda Lindas. (Ugg, for its part, counts Telfar, Eckhaus Latta, and Molly Goddard among its collaborators.)
Besides its impeccably-curated stock of emerging labels, collaboration is at the center of Opening Ceremony's brand ethos, with devoted fans awaiting every drop. "Collaborating is something that we've always done," Leon says. With Opening Ceremony (affectionately dubbed "OC") celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, he says they're "actually launching a lot of super fun collaborations to celebrate — I'm really excited about it."
Since shuttering the brick-and-mortar component in 2020, the OC cofounder has devoted more time to expanding his creative outlets. Earlier this year, he teamed up with McDonald's to design virtual animal statues for "Hall of Zodiacs: 2022 Lunar New Year with Humberto Leon," an immersive experience set in the metaverse. He also explored music-video direction at the top of the year, lensing the visual for The Linda Lindas' single "Growing Up".
"With fashion, some people often feel polarized or not fashionable enough. But with food, it's really something that can speak to everybody — because everyone can relate."
"I just think about every touchpoint," Leon says. "I've always been very out of the box, even at Opening Ceremony." This out-of-box thinking segued perfectly into his recent venture: his family restaurant, Chifa. Situated in northeast Los Angeles, the chic fusion eatery feels like an extension of OC, only with delectable Chinese and Peruvian cuisine. Chifa catered a dinner at Ugg's Feel House, a multisensory experience capturing the tactile feel of the brand's key pieces. The guest list included names like Elsa Hosk and Soo Joo Park. "You have to try our black-pepper prawns," Leon says. "It has this kind of peppery, spicy taste — it's delicious."
The restaurant's jade-green exterior flows seamlessly into the decor inside: jade-green tables and chairs, terrazzo floors, and jade-green burled-wood motif wall covering. It's a sensory feast for the eyes and taste palette. "It's just another platform to create," Leon says. "I think with Chifa, it's really about building this incredible community." That community includes his family, with whom he co-owns and runs the space, and the many loyal customers obsessed with his mom's signature dishes.
"I think about food, and it's one of the most democratic ways for people to enjoy something together," he says. "With fashion, some people often feel polarized or not fashionable enough. But with food, it's really something that can speak to everybody — because everyone can relate."
In classic Humberto Leon fashion, Chifa is a nest for exploration, collaboration, and merchandise. Leon is activating the restaurant in a similar way as he did OC — through custom playlists curated by celebrity friends and special capsule-merch collections. "We are doing a second collection with the candy company Sweet Saba that I'm really excited about," he says. Confectioner Maayan Zilberman previously made a capsule of jade jewelry candy for the restaurant that instantly sold out.
"We're also restarting our dinner series collaboration dishes," Leon says. The popular series explored different takes on dishes with his many famous friends, including Ali Wong, Solange, Spike Jonze, and Padma Lakshmi. For Solange's curated dish 'Trinity Fried Rice,' the pair celebrated the link between the "When I Get Home" singer's Third Ward (Houston) roots and the classic Chinese herb trinity of garlic, scallions, and ginger — components often used at Chifa.
"As Americans, we've always been divided and pitted against each other, so figuring out ways that we can actually work together as Americans and not be subdivided the way we have should be the aim."
Amidst a surge in anti-Asian violence, hate speech, and rhetoric, it's more important than ever to support APIA businesses. Humberto has been vocal about how the fashion industry in particular can be an active ally to the APIA community. "I think it's really about supporting the community and supporting these marginalized groups," Leon says. "From Black Lives Matter and Stop AAPI Hate, it's important really not only just to show up and to talk about this type of social justice, but to really start exploring these relationships."
He adds, "As Americans, we've always been constantly divided and pitted against each other, [so] figuring out ways that we can actually work together as Americans and not be subdivided the way we have should be the aim."
Activist, designer, restaurateur — Humberto Leon's influence spans far beyond any one industry. But fans hope his creative journey will ultimately lead him back to the retail space. "We will definitely tap back into brick-and-mortar stores for Opening Ceremony at some point," Leon says. "I love brick and mortar, so I think it's inevitable to return back to it."
Keep scrolling for photos from Ugg's "Feel House" dinner with Humberto Leon's Chifa restaurant.