Brief encounters: Carol Lim

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 January, 2014, 9:33pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 January, 2014, 11:23pm

Carol Lim talks about growing up in California, becoming the co-founder of Opening Ceremony and life at the helm of Kenzo with her friend and business partner Humberto Leon.

"The Kenzo brand occupies a unique space that I think we can call 'modern luxury'. It has a sense of humour and a free spiritedness. Nothing else has that kind of personality. When you look at Kenzo Takada himself and how he created the brand, [starting] with Jungle Jap [by] being in the store designing and having his friends in music and art as part of his community - that approach is very similar to ours.

The biggest compliment we received after our first show was that people in the company who had worked with Kenzo Takada and had been there for 30 years said it feels like Kenzo is back. It wasn't like it was archival clothing at all; they just felt that the spirit was back. We're moving this chapter of the brand forward and keeping it modern. Just when you think that you know what's going to happen, you're going to be surprised and excited.

We still have customers who text us to tell us that they are coming and we’ll go down personally to shop with them

I was born in Los Angeles, California, to Korean parents. My dad worked as a pharmacist before moving into real estate and my mother owned a jewellery store. From early on, I would go with my mother downtown to buy merchandise and tag all of her inventory, so retail was part of my childhood. She always took us to the mall and showed us how to feel the quality of things. I think that was really Asian - making sure it would last a long time and seeing the fit was good.

I studied economics and ended up working in consulting and banking. I knew it wasn't for me, but the skills that I learned were really important. I decided to move to New York for two years to try out fashion. We, Humberto and I, met when we were 18 and all we did was shop, eat and go out. We always talked about going into fashion together.

In New York I ended up working for Bally in merchandising and rebranding. Humberto and I would meet every day for lunch. We decided to go to Hong Kong to visit a mutual friend, and we met a whole group of young creatives who were just starting out. We shopped and ate, and it ended up being the start of Opening Ceremony. We met a lot of young fashion students who had studied abroad before and they were doing these amazing things.

I think what is key, though, when talking about if our corporate backgrounds helped us, is that we took things that were relevant, like building teams and management styles, but the rest of it we left behind. We don't have a department store mentality, or work from spreadsheets. We just buy things based on whether we like them. I think this free, almost naive, way of buying from passion is great.

My mum is still super involved, it's very sweet. At the beginning our mums would be in the Opening Ceremony shop saying 'Who's going to buy these dresses?' and now they are both there shopping like crazy.

What is exciting is that we have our own community from Berkeley [where they studied] and a community from Opening Ceremony. The Kenzo layer has just added a huge amount to that. We are so happy that people approach us, and we love interacting with the customers. When we started Opening Ceremony we were the only two people selling at the store. Today we still have customers who text to tell us that they are coming and we'll go down personally to shop with them.

For us that connection when people get excited about the product is what makes it special, because at the end of the day if no one buys what you create the circle is not complete.

Spending time in Paris, New York and LA and travelling to cities all over the world is still exciting for us. The smallest things will trigger a conversation and become inspiration for us.

Becoming a mother has meant I am more strict with my schedule so that I can have evenings with my daughter.

But doing both Opening Ceremony and Kenzo is like anything else, you just have to balance things and make them work. We have also started to take over the baby line at Kenzo."

As told to Jing Zhang