Inside Humberto Leon’s Next Chapter

Courtesy of Ugg

“Opening Ceremony was a community first, and then fashion just came with it,” says style innovator and all-around cool impresario, Humberto Leon. The legacy of Opening Ceremony – the conceptual retail space he co-founded in 2002 with Carol Lin – continues to live on, through seasonal drops, collaborative activations, and the legions of millennial fans it raised. Before hosting a special dinner with Ugg, the multi-hyphenate chatted with POPSUGAR about his earliest memories of the cosy 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 harken 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 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 with Los Angeles-based teen punk band, the Linda Lindas (Ugg, for its part, counts Telfar, Eckhaus Latta, and Molly Goddard among its collaborators).

On top of the impeccably-curated stock of emerging labels, collaboration is at the centre of Opening Ceremony’s brand ethos, with devoted fans awaiting every drop. “Collaborating is something that we’ve always done,” says Leon. With Opening Ceremony (affectionately dubbed “OC”) celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, he says “we’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 co-founder has devoted more time to expanding his creative outlets. Earlier this year he teamed up with McDonald’s for “Hall of Zodiacs: 2022 Lunar New Year with Humberto Leon,” an immersive experience set in the Metaverse, designing virtual animal statues. 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 polarised, 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,” he 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. The chic fusion eatery, situated in Northeast Los Angeles, feels like an extension of OC, only with delectable Chinese and Peruvian cuisine. Chifa catered a dinner at Ugg’s Feel House, a multi-sensory experience to capture the tactile feeling 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,” says Leon. “It has this kind of peppery, spicy, taste – it’s delicious.”

At the restaurant, the jade green exterior flows seamlessly into the decor inside, with 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,” he says. “I think with Chifa, it’s really about building this incredible community.” This 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 polarised, or not fashionable enough. But with food, it’s really something that can speak to everybody – because everyone can relate.”

In typical Humberto Leon fashion, of course, Chifa is a nest for exploration, collaboration, and merch. He’s activating the restaurant in a similar fashion to 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,” says Leon. Confectioner Maayan Zilberman previously made a capsule of Jade, jewellery candy for the restaurant that instantly sold out.

“We’re also restarting our dinner series collaboration dishes,” he says. The popular series explored different takes on dishes with his many famous friends, including Ali Wong, Solange, Spike Jones, 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 should be the aim.”

We’re currently witnessing a rise in anti-Asian violence, hate speech, and rhetoric, making it even more important to continue supporting Asian-centered businesses. Humberto has been a vocal advocate of how best the fashion industry, in particular, can actively be allies for the Asian community. “I think it’s really about supporting the community and supporting these marginalised groups,” says Leon. “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 continues: “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 into the retail space. “We will definitely tap back into brick and mortar stores for Opening Ceremony at some point,” he 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.

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