Humberto Leon, 2010
Photo by Sebastian Kim
<span style="font-style: italic;">Humberto Leon founded Opening Ceremony with Carol Lim in 2002. Dedicated to sourcing the best of international fashion (initially focusing on a different country each year but in recent years embarking on a series of fruitful collaborations with brands such as Pendleton and Levi’s), they now have stores in New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo. Leon chats to style-obsessed artist Cary Kwok—whose work is being exhibited at the Opening Ceremony store in Tokyo from April 7—about perfect hair, the history of style, and… curry ice cream.
Humberto Leon: When did we meet? Four years ago maybe?
Cary Kwok: Yes, it was in New York. I was out there for about a month.
HL: A couple of the things we bonded over is speaking Cantonese and a fondness for Chinese food. I’ve been following your work since then. Actually, I was a fan of your work before we met. Aside from really liking it visually, I like the implications of it, the unseen aspect of it––and the humor and the elegance. No one can deny that your technique is spectacular and so much of it is made with a very simple utensil—the ballpoint pen. You’re also an incredible hairdresser, aren’t you?
CK: I have to say I’m not really a pro. I do it as a hobby. I used to practice hair cutting on my cousins and my mum. It was fun.
HL: Whenever I look at your images of women I think, 'Wow, they have really good hair.'
CK: It fascinates me what you can do with hair. You can sculpt it in amazing shapes, and it’s quite a crucial thing. Your hairstyle and shoes are probably the most important things in your outfit.
HL: I absolutely agree.
CK: I think it’s quite an Asian thing to be obsessed with hair for some reason...
HL: Also Asian people are not shy about playing around with hair. They are really willing to take the risk.
CK: I don’t really know why people are so obsessed with hair, but I think I am one of those people.
HL: I do like the fact that you and I have what I would consider signature hair: I’ve had my hairstyle for a long time and as long as I’ve known you, you’ve had your own hairstyle. If I had to describe your hair…it’s the quintessential Wong Kar-Wai male lead. It’s very ‘heroic’ hair, but it’s also kind of Chinese gangster. Chinese gangster meets movie hero. Like slick Shanghai, in the 50s.
CK: Yours is a younger, “cuter” version I guess.
HL: Have you ever heard of this thing called Hair Wars?
CK: No, what is it?
HL: Every year hairdressers from around the world go to Detroit [Although started in Detroit, Hair Wars now tours to other US cities] for hair competitions. But not your normal hair competitions, because they involves electronics. They even make a hair escalator, and it actually runs and it works… If you’re ever up for it, I will go with you.
CK: I’d love to see it.
HL: Are you excited about coming to Japan?
CK: I am very, very excited—I’ve never been before. I really want to go to a place called Ice Cream City. It’s an ice cream shop where they sell all the flavors that you can ever think of. They have ramen ice cream, octopus ice cream…I really want to try curry ice cream.
HL: The cool thing about Japan is that they have a “city” for every random thing that people obsess over, so there is probably a “noodle city” and a “slipper city,” or a “Kimono city.”
CK: It’s also an exciting thing going to your shop! Because you select amazing things from designers from all over the world. I think it’s more personal, more precious—you really think about what you put into your store.
HL: I personally love finding things that inspire me to move forward, whether it’s from the past or the present.
CK: I think, in terms of fashion, you can’t move forward if you don’t look back into history.
HL: Fashion has always come into history primarily as a sort of function, such as skirt length at a time when women weren't really allowed to show their legs, and even in little things, like clasps and detail. Now you can look back at those things…what were functional items might still be visually beautiful.
CK: Also, it’s really fascinating to see how women transform themselves into what was considered to be beautiful throughout history. Through undertones in my work I’m always trying to make a point of racial, ethnic, sexual or gender equality.