Luar Designer Raul Lopez’s Community Inspires His Approach to Fashion

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Raul Lopez wearing a printed blazer with a leather strap on the lapel
Photograph by Elvin Tavarez, courtesy of LUAR

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re highlighting a trio of designers whose standout fashion week presentations left us in awe. First up, Luar’s Raul Lopez.

The first time I stepped into a Luar show was in September of 2021, after founder and designer Raul Lopez had just returned from a three-season hiatus. Although industry expectations were high for Lopez—a New York native whose exquisite designs and accessories had become “It” favorites for the likes of Dua Lipa and Rihanna—there was a friends-and-family crowd assembled inside the industrial-style warehouse in Bushwick. Once the show began, I watched attendees lose control like I’d never seen before, enthralled by the collection. Lopez’s vision of creating an “old New York” approach to fashion was successful—and constituted the greatest comeback of the season.

Fast-forward one year later to Luar’s Spring 2023 show, and Lopez managed to surpass the energy of his last presentation, with a crush of fans waiting to enter the showcase hours before it began. “People think we weren’t ready, but we were lined up for an hour and a half,” the designer, who co-founded Hood By Air, tells W days afterward. (Lopez was also nominated for the CFDA’s American Accessory Designer of the Year in 2022, only heightening his profile.) “The capacity was 500, we were already at 700, and there were 150 people still waiting to get in… It was insanity.”

Titled “La Alta Gamma” (“The High End,” in Spanish), this season marked Lopez’s most upscale collection yet, full of design elements that were reminiscent of the ’80s—elegant drop-waist dresses, oversized shoulders. But in reality, the design choices held much more meaning for the designer’s personal life. “The shoulder pads were a representation of me holding the weight on my shoulders. That’s why they got so exaggerated,” Lopez says. “It was this thing of me sitting on the sofa at parties, hiding and sinking into my shoulders so I wouldn’t be seen, because I was so flamboyant as a kid. The collection wasn’t just a nod to that era, but more of this analogy of how I felt when I would sit in these spaces with my family.” Below, Lopez reflects on his latest work, how his upbringing is reflected in his brand, and the unconditional love he has for the Luar community.

Getting into this season’s show felt like trying to gain access to the hottest club. Everyone in the crowd was buzzing with anticipation and excitement—could you feel that energy?

Yeah, 100 percent. Everyone up there, we had to keep telling them, “Can you please sit down?” People were popping champagne bottles before the show. It was literal pandemonium—but that’s love, in a weird way. This is what I wanted: for people to know that this is for everyone. This is for the culture. I want everyone to be a part of it. Try to get in.

Was there a particular piece or look you were most excited to show the audience?

The first look, a juxtaposition of the tech [jacket] and the dress, was special because it explains the narrative. My family reunions were full of women coming in with these beautiful gowns, but then having these random tech jackets over them because they couldn’t afford [anything else]. They probably were a hand-me-down, like, “Oh, you just got here from DR? I got a jacket. Put this on.” The reference photos were actually my aunt’s dress and then a Spyder jacket found in my cousin’s closet.

Courtesy of Dan Lecca

Can you tell me more about the creation of your signature “Ana” bag?

I had the design for a bit, but I was scared of releasing it and not doing it right because I had taken that hiatus. But Brandon [Blackwood] and Telfar [Clemens, both of whom were also nominated], they were like, “No, girl, you need to do this. This is fab.” The bag itself was inspired by my grandmother and my mom—that’s why it looks like a little briefcase with the ’60s Mod handles.

What can we look forward to accessory-wise in the upcoming season? I saw some new bag silhouettes in the show and possibly some new eyewear.

Yes, we have new bag shapes, belts, and new eyewear. I mean, I’m an accessory queen. It could be designer, it could be bootleg, it could be from the streets. If it looks good, it looks good—and that to me is also luxury. Luxury is not just about price point. Luxury is how you carry yourself, your mannerisms, and how you present yourself.

Photography by Vice, courtesy of LUAR

One of the first things I noticed about LUAR, was the diehard New York following that feels strongly familial. You’ve created a safe space here in NYC for young Latinx creatives, which not many brands or companies are able to achieve. What does it mean to you to cultivate such an environment? What does community mean to you?

The love is real. My tribes are everywhere. I can walk down any of these streets—New York, Paris, London, Japan—and I have community everywhere. That is a brand. That is family. This has been in my DNA, since I was a young kid—from Hood By Air to Luar. I’m not a vocal political girl because I'm very old school, but babe, don’t come for my people, because I will really get you together. I always say, keep it cute and keep it mute. I don’t care how you identify. I don’t care what race you are. If you wanna be family, come through, we got you. You can come, as long as you respect. I just want everyone to be loved. That’s how my parents raised me.

Photography by Vice, courtesy of LUAR
Photography by Vice, courtesy of LUAR
Photography by Vice, courtesy of LUAR
Photography by Vice, courtesy of LUAR

What challenges have you overcome to get where you are today in the industry?

I couldn’t go to fashion school because it was [seen as] “gay.” It was a different era. But I think that by me not going, it juiced me up to hustle harder. I was sneaking into Parsons and the FIT library and standing outside, acting like I left my ID at home. Then, boom, go in and start scanning books and getting references. I still go three times a week. And even in high school, I remember being in history class with those big textbooks and I would rip out the looks that they were wearing. It was my way of starting my own thing, but it was a weight and I kept it such a secret because I couldn’t really show it. I was gay so I would get in trouble.

After I came out, I felt fortunate to have a family that actually supported me. Growing up wasn’t easy. Kids today hear the stories of me fighting, being beat up. [I say,] use that, charge yourself up, and just keep moving. You’re never going to accommodate everyone, ever. You need to understand that you’re a gem and people can’t buy every gem. Be the center of attention. That’s how you’re going to be somebody.

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