Spike Jonze In Conversation With Humberto Leon

Fashion staple Opening Ceremony and revered filmmaker Spike Jonze are both synonymous with everything cool. Thus, it makes sense that they would team up so often. OC designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim have designed costumes for Jonze’s films, including Her and Where the Wild Things Are; Jonze, along with actor Jonah Hill, wrote the script for Lost Cotton, the one-act play that served as Opening Ceremony’s SS 15 show.

To further propel this collaborative spirit, OC and Jonze joined forces once again on FW 15. It consists of digital prints of Jonze’s never-before-seen 35mm photographs, leading to pieces that are totally unique, and completely fabulous. In celebration of the collection, Jonze and Leon, who have been friends for ages, created the above video, shot here at Milk Studios New York. Check out the behind-the-scenes video as well, for a look at how models were literally tossed around Spike’s photos.

Read on to learn about how Jonze and Leon first met, their work together, and the backstory of Jonze’s images, including shots of Kim Gordon, Chloë Sevigny, Björk, Karen O, and The Beastie Boys.

How did you guys meet?

Spike Jonze: How did we meet? We met at…

Humberto Leon: We met at a Christmas party!

S: Wasn’t it raining?

H: It was raining.

S: We were wet. I dabbed your forehead. Isn’t that true?

H: No, no it’s not. We met at a Christmas party.

S: But I was wearing an Opening Ceremony jacket. It was like a Han Solo in Empire Strikes Back navy blue number. And I was like “I’m wearing your jacket!”

H: That’s our pea-coat blazer to be exact. We were introduced by our friend.

S: My cousin.

H: Yes, by Jason. And that was about eight years ago.

How did this collection come about?

H: I went to visit Spike once as he started working on his archives, is that what happened?

S: I think you wanted to see my photos and I said “Yeah,” but they were in a massive mess. But last year we started organizing them, to scan and archive them and such. Humberto came out right at the beginning and started sorting them all out and labeling them. There’s about 24,000 negatives. He started going through, and then…

H: And obviously I’ve been a huge fan of everything that Spike’s done. I knew that he always shot photographs, so I asked if I could one day see his archives. Finally he mentioned in passing that he was organizing it. So I spent two or three days, sometimes just by myself, unraveling all of these slides. And I asked if I could make a collection inspired by these.

S: And I said “What? What does that even mean?”

H: (laughs) Very abstract. And this collection was partially based on the actual photographs, so we made prints with the skate photos, the BMX photos, a lot of the behind scenes of the music videos and some of the movies. Then we also took the context of what was happening in the photographs, which inspired a lot of the clothing in the collection.

S: Like the way people were wearing the clothes?

H: Yeah! All the long sleeved tee’s and baggy pants. I like the way a lot of the skaters were belting their pants. It was a combination between the way they wore it and your amazing photo shoots themselves.


Spike Jonze and the Beastie Boys.

What was the collaboration like?

S: We’ve made a bunch of things together, like, he did the clothes for Where the Wild Things Are and he did the clothes for Her, and a collection of clothes inspired by those movies. I really like just giving it all to him and letting him do what he wants, it’s more interesting if I don’t get to weigh in at all. So this collaboration, I didn’t know anything he did until I went to the opening, I didn’t even know what photos you guys printed. I really let Humberto go crazy.

H: You said that was the first time you’d seen some of those photos, yeah?

S: Yeah! When I walked into the gallery where the show was I was seeing some of those photos for the first time since I’d shot them. It was pretty trippy.

H: It was amazing. Spike really let me go in, he kept saying, “I don’t want to know anything!” Even when I tried to show him some work when he’d visit me in the office he would refuse to look at it.

S: Well I trust you. I felt safe, I knew you would do it right. I don’t think I could say anything the first time I walked into that room, I needed time to take it all in.

What did you think of the clothes?

S: I thought they were beautiful! It was cool because I could see where he was pulling things from. The pants that are too long with the belt’s too long, like, I remember wearing those kinds of pants. But also the fact that he took the Kodak logo from the original slides and kept them on the shirts. That was really nostalgic, it made me miss all the Kodak boxes I’ve opened throughout my life

H: The collection was very much about celebrating photography. A lot of people definitely know you as a director, but maybe don’t realize that you started as a photographer shooting BMX bikers to begin with, then skaters, and then into movies after. So a little bit of this was to tell the story of you, which I know really well, but to express it to other people that have no idea. Which is why photography is so integral to this collection.

S: It’s tricky because I think there’s all kinds of rules with skate photos. You want to see where they took off and where they landed, you don’t want to print a bail. So I wanted to make sure that we got all those right.

What’s the story behind this photo with Kim Gordon?

H: Well, I feel like a lot of people don’t know that Kim gave you one of your first video jobs.

S: Kim gave me my first video job, yeah. She saw this skate video I made with Mark Gonzales called “Blind Video Days.” And she called me up and asked me to shoot some skateboarding for a video. At that point I was just doing photos and videos, and I shot video for a song called “Dirty.” Through that I met Tamra Davis who was directing it, I just directed the skating and edited the video. She gave me a crash course in making music videos and using film cameras.

H: And she’s obviously become a good friend of yours, you see her through the years in your photographs.


Kim Gordon.

This photograph of Chloë Sevigny here, how did you meet her?

S: She was an intern at Sassy magazine, and we did Dirt Magazine which was published by the same company. She would be around the office. We ended up doing some fashion thing for Dirt, we didn’t even know how to do fashion things. Actually the boy in these photos is Mark Ronson, who was about 18 at the time, Chloë was about 20.

H: I think you said this never ran, right?

S: We never printed that issue, yeah.


Chloë Sevigny.

And this photo of Björk?

S: That was on set for the video “It’s Oh So Quiet.” This was a really interesting week, we learned to tap dance. We went to rehearsal every day with these dancers and bought tap dancing shoes. I tried to learn how to tap dance, but she really did learn how to do it.

H: You guys took classes together?

S: Yeah, in our rehearsals. Eight hours a day! But she was a real pro. I don’t think people really understand that Björk is just an Icelandic punk. She does this ethereal art and operatic presentation so well, but people don’t know she grew up in punk bands. If you go drinking vodka with her she’ll drink you under the table.


Björk on the set of the video for “It’s Oh So Quiet.”

Do you have any particular favorites from the photos?

S: I really love this photo of Karen O, which we took during the shoot of the video for “Y Control.” I don’t know what it is, something about the light and the way her hair looks, it’s a really beautiful print.

H: Yeah, you mentioned to me before that this was one of your favorites from the set.

S: Well I had never seen it until I saw it blown up on the wall in the gallery. Again, it’s trippy.


Karen O on the set of the “Y Control” video.

What about that photo of you with the Beastie Boys?

S: Before we did the video for “Sabotage,” we had the idea to do photos of them as cops. So we found a wig/mustache supply place in a sketchy part of town, went in there and bought everything we could possibly by. I can’t remember if this photo is the video or the photo shoot beforehand. This guys are just the best, they’re game for anything you can throw at them. You couldn’t shoot a bad photo of them.

All images by Spike Jonze, courtesy of Opening Ceremony.

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