New York City–based Opening Ceremony has been collaborating with emerging brands and pop-culture icons since before collabs were even a thing—the label is responsible for bringing international names like Havaianas and Topshop stateside, after all—and its designers Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, two Cali kids who met while studying at UC Berkley, are no strangers to Disney. So it’s apt that the House of Mouse tapped the L.A.–born duo to design a super fun capsule collection for Mickey’s 90th birthday.
Available exclusively at Holt Renfrew (737 Dunsmuir Street) in Vancouver, the line (from $95) is at once retro and elevated, with Lim and Leon borrowing motifs—some slightly “offset”—from 90 years’ worth of Disney archives, resulting in silk frocks, wide-leg taffeta pants, and fuzzy cropped jackets that are splashed with the classic character’s likeness. Elsewhere, there are skater dresses that boast giant circular shoulders—their structured shape evoking Mickey’s round ears, of course—and, for those who prefer their dressing a little less dramatic, patchwork sweaters, nylon tracksuits, and T-shirts decorated with Disney iconography in highlighter hues.
The collection launched last spring with a high-energy (and unprecedented) runway show at Disneyland—a proposal that, at first, both scared and excited Disney execs, reveals Lim—and has hit stores just in time for Mickey’s milestone birthday on November 18. We talked to Lim and Leon during a recent visit to Vancouver about the exclusive collab, their favourite Disney films, and the intricacies of throwing a confetti-packed fashion show at Mickey’s Toontown.
The Georgia Straight: Given that this capsule collection celebrates Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday this month, it only seems fitting to ask: what’s your earliest Disney memory?
Carol Lim: My first Disneyland visit was when I was three or four—and I have tons of pictures. But my first memory was probably when I was little bit older, maybe nine. And I just remember It’s a Small World and getting my Mickey ears and these very distinct moments of taking pictures with Minnie and Mickey Mouse.
Humberto Leon: I have two experiences: one, I remember I got to cut school because my mom’s friends were visiting from Hong Kong and they wanted to go to Disneyland. So I remember taking a random weekday off and it was a big deal. I was so excited. You know, if you’re Asian, you don’t want to go on during the weekend when there are lines. You want to go Monday through Friday so you can have the park to yourself.
Then I remember, a year later, my mom had promised me that I could go to Disneyland again. I didn’t know, at that time, that we were poor and Disneyland was really expensive. So I remember she was like “Yeah, we’ll go.” And then, the day of, I was like “Are we going to Disneyland?” and she was like “No.” So I held a strike. I was picketing at my house; I wouldn’t eat. I wouldn’t do anything because I was so upset we weren’t going to Disneyland. Later in life, my mom told me that we couldn’t go again because we didn’t have money to spend on this.
GS: How does Mickey Mouse—and the magical world of Disney—fit into the DNA of Opening Ceremony?
HL: It’s so celebratory. And I think Opening Ceremony has always been about making sure we are a part of culture and Mickey is probably one of the biggest symbols of that—he’s a global language. I think we were really able to kind of tap into the story of Mickey and Disneyland, and do this in a way that felt super celebratory.
CL: He’s 90. So the fact that he’s still revered and loved by children who are going to be born in 10 years, as well as people who knew him when he was first created, really means something. He just symbolizes inclusiveness. He’s classic; he’s not a trend. And he’s an amazing icon to celebrate.
GS: How did the collaboration—and the idea of launching it at Disneyland—come about?
HL: Disney came to us and said, “Hey, it’s Mickey’s 90th birthday. We’re going to a lot of people and talking to them. We’re celebrating a year of Mickey—do you have any ideas?” So, in a meeting, we gave them a little flavouring of what we wanted the collection to be like. And they said, “Sounds good.” Then the entire Disney team of 12, 15 people got up, and we were like “So, we have a really crazy idea we want to throw out at you. We want to do this collection but we want to launch it and have a runway show at Disney.” And they said, “That sounds like an amazing idea—”
CL: They looked half excited and half scared.
HL: They were so excited but, in the reality of how to make that happen, they were like “I don’t know how this could ever happen.” But, once we did it, it was so joyful and exciting. The hardest thing for the Disney team to address was that Disneyland is a separate entity and partner. Disneyland makes its own product; Disney does its own stuff that’s outside of Disneyland. But they were like “If there’s one time we could make this happen, it would be Mickey’s 90th birthday.” They closed down the park to do this.
CL: That’s why it was such a big deal: they never close the park because part of their ethos is democracy and not being exclusive. So them being able to close at a certain time while remaining open for their guests beforehand was a huge deal.
GS: What was the best and most challenging part of launching a fashion line at Disneyland?
HL: The most challenging part was doing the runway show, which, of course, we did really, really big with confetti balloons and a marching band and Mickey and Minnie and all these extremities. But, to do it, we needed to do practice runs. And the only time we could do these runs was when no one was at the park. So, for three nights, they had to set up the entire stage and bring out lighting starting at 9 p.m., and then work until six in the morning. Then they had to take it all down and do it again the next night.
But the show itself was a very special, special event. It exited from Mickey’s house and ended at Minnie’s house. Mickey and Minnie were on the runway.
GS: Where did you draw inspiration from for the collection?
HL: We went through the entire archives of Disney, so 90 years of Disney comic books, clothing, everything. We combined our own personal memories with these—and you’ll see that in the collection. One of the things we were able to do was actually redraw Disney, believe it or not. We drew Mickey and got it approved by the official Disney people, so now our drawings are part of the official Disney language which is super exciting.
We also decided to look at early Mickey items, like clothing and sheets—all the prints were kind of offset because, at that time, things weren’t being produced with big machinery. It was real people doing the printing, so nothing was perfect. We decided to embrace that imperfect quality in this collection. That’s why some of the colours are kind of strange, like Mickey’s all of a sudden blue and not black. We decided to really embrace a lot of these different little things that felt nostalgic to us, too: our parents buying a Mickey piece in Hong Kong for us and something being a little off about it.
We also wanted to celebrate beauty. We knew what a lot of people had done with Mickey Mouse and Disney, and we wanted to do something that felt very different for us. So doing the gowns and the silk tops and the faux furs—all these things that felt slightly more elevated were super exciting for us.
GS: Finally, I have to ask—what’s your favourite Disney movie?
CL: The original Tron was such a seminal movie for us growing up.
HL: I have twin girls, so I think Frozen is actually kind of an interesting story because it’s about finding the truest of true love and it turns out that that is between the sisters, Anna and Elsa. The idea is that, you know, you think they’re finding a male, a Prince Charming. But the prince is actually the enemy and the love between sisters is unbreakable.