The founder of Opening Ceremony is now a restaurateur

Humberto Leon is mostly known for his work with co-designer Carol Lim on their own brand Opening Ceremony and their eight-year stint as creative directors of Kenzo. But for the last two years, he held another role: that of a restaurateur.

In 2020, Leon opened Chifa, a Chinese-Peruvian restaurant inspired by his dual heritage. Now he is opening a second restaurant, Monarch. Unlike Chifa, in the heart of Los Angeles, Monarch is located in a relatively quiet town – Arcadia, about 13 miles outside of Los Angeles. It is focused on Hong Kong cuisine. Chifa opened up to praise, with The Infatuation calling it “amazing and incredibly adorable.”

“I approach fashion and food in a very similar way,” said Leon. “The idea is to build a brand. The brand and what you experience within the brand is the most important thing. Whether you’re in fashion, food, candles or honey, if the story and branding are strong, they have the legs to move into other territories.”

Leon brings some of his fashion expertise to the venture, launching Monarch with a full collection of merchandise and fashion accessories. Included are hats, freezer bags, bumper stickers and clothing, like a $128 hoodie that could easily be mistaken for something from Opening Ceremony. The products are made in collaboration with VistaPrint, a company that makes merchandise, business cards and other ephemera for small businesses. They are available for purchase in Monarch’s online store.

Designers like Leon are in a good position to move between fashion and fine dining. In the last 12 months, luxury brands such as Dior, Louis Vuitton and Boss have opened restaurants, from cafes to pastry shops. Some are within or affiliated with brands, such as Dior’s Monsieur Dior in Paris. Others are stand-alone fine dining restaurants with no immediately visible connection to the brand, such as Burberry’s Thomas’s Cafe.

It is no coincidence that it is mostly luxury brands that excel and embrace the world of hospitality. These brands are masters of brand building, often spending decades honing an air of exclusivity and heritage. And restaurants allow fashion brands to extend the lifespan and reach of their brand, especially to those who may not be able to afford a $500 dress.

And while fashion brands are opening restaurants, non-apparel brands are also seeing an opportunity in selling fashion for brand building purposes. Brands from McDonald’s to Polaroid have released limited fashion collections in recent months. And small pieces of the fashion experience can also become items for sale, like the gold sticker on a New Era hat that some customers leave behind as a point of pride.

“The idea that every touch matters is now a key part of building a brand,” Engelberg said.

Leon’s game differs from Dior or Louis Vuitton in that it wants to keep its restaurants and fashion brand very separate. There is no overt branding of the opening ceremony or mention within the restaurant’s marketing, and Carol Lim is not involved with any of the restaurants. But, Lim said, the projects share a philosophical and operational DNA. As with the opening ceremony, Leon oversees every element of his restaurants, from the food and decor to the take-out packaging and napkins.

“I have a theory of brand building that nothing should be wasted,” said Leon. “The bag that people carry, the business cards, the stickers on the coffee mug – all these things are opportunities to express the identity of the brand.”

Leon said that after he opened his first restaurant, Chifa, people who had never set foot in a restaurant were buying goods online. This was based solely on the strength of the brand identity and aesthetics.

Ricky Engelberg, VistaPrint CMO, said that working with Leona has expanded VistaPrint’s concept of what it can offer small businesses. While it previously offered mainly paper products such as business cards and stickers, as of 2022 it also offers clothing, bags and homewares.

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