Raul Melgoza

Funeral services were held Tuesday for former Luca Luca creative director Raul Melgoza.

Melgoza, 48, died of lung cancer at his home in Roxbury, Conn., on July 18, according to his husband, John Gomes.

Born in Los Angeles and raised by his mother, Melgoza’s interest in fashion emerged in unexpected ways. At the age of four, he developed an obsession with ironing, offering to iron everyone’s clothes. In junior high school and in high school, he would occasionally skip class to examine the women’s clothing name brand stores at South Coast Plaza. Melgoza also frequented the Virgin Records store to listen to jazz and musicians like Stacey Kent. For the past 17 years, that was the same music that he listened to whenever he was designing, his husband said.

Adhering to his family’s belief that business was the most opportunistic career path, Melgoza graduated from the University of Southern California’s Marshal School of Business with top honors. He then decided to do what he wanted — to get into fashion — and earned a second degree at Parsons School of Design. There, as a senior, he won the school’s Golden Thimble award among five nominees for the Designer of the Year award.

In 2004, Gomes had acquired the Norman Norrell brand with his business partner Patrick Michael Hughes, who was then a business professor at Parsons. In need of a design assistant for the Norrell brand, Hughes suggested to Gomes that they check out the display windows at Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship where the senior thesis collections of Parsons’ five leading design students were on view. Gomes said, “One night Patrick and I went up to look at all of the designers. I said, ‘The only one that I am interested in is this guy. I couldn’t really pronounce his name, and it was Raul.”

Melgoza was hired. “By the end of that year, we had failed miserably. My designer and I didn’t get it right. I was a fish out of water. I didn’t have any experience in fashion and I didn’t have any business doing that,” Gomes said. “But even though it failed miserably for me, it was the biggest success of my lifetime because Raul went on to become my husband.”

With the help of Tim Gunn, Melgoza later joined Luca Luca as an assistant to founder Luca Orlandi. When the Miami-based Equitium Group acquired Luca Luca in 2008 and Orlandi was no longer involved with the day-to-day operations, Melgoza was hired as the creative director. After moving on from Luca Luca, Melgoza started Phoebe James, an accessories company geared for teens and tweens.

Inspired by architecture and the construction of the form of things, Melgoza and Gomes traveled extensively, visiting six of the seven continents. “Raul loved nature, design, beauty, flowers and his children. He was a family man first and foremost. All of those things were his work as his love. He never stopped designing or sketching,” Gomes said.

Gomes, who now heads up the Eklund Gomes team at Douglas Elliman real estate, said, “Raul helped everybody to understand all of it. A lot of gifted and talented designers keep to themselves. They don’t like to share their secrets. Raul was very sharing. He loved to teach people and engage people.”

His involvement with the fashion industry receded last year, after Melgoza, a five-miles-a-day runner, was diagnosed with lung cancer in November. His husband is considering planning a retrospective of Melgoza’s work with the Savannah College of Art and Design’s fashion historian Carmela Spinelli, who taught fashion history to Melgoza at Parsons. Melgoza was a Style Lab mentor at SCAD.

”He had this deep soulful stare, something that was a combination of his maturity and his curiosity as a design student. I watched him grow as a designer, interested in research of his materials, prices and execution,” Spinelli said. “I like to say that he was a good listener of the fabric. Yohji Yamamoto used to say [to his patternmakers], ’Just listen to the material. What is it going to say? Just wait. Probably the material will tell you something.’”

As a final tribute, a service was held at the historic First Congregational Church in Washington, Conn., where a horse-drawn hearse carried the deceased in a wooden casket covered with a bed of 400 red roses. The black horses were adorned with purple plumes, purple fabric draped over the black hearse, trumpets blared, drums beat and then guests sat outdoors beneath a white tent in a quintessential New England setting to share memories of Melgoza, Gomes said.

In addition to his mother, Martha Madrigal, and his husband, Melgoza is survived by twins Paloma Melgoza Gomes and Raphael Melgoza Gomes, and his brothers Dorian Madrigal Melgoza and Alexander Madrigal.

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