Less than 12 hours after Luar’s fall 2023 show, its designer Raul Lopez was named a semifinalist for the LVMH Prize — marking more than a decade’s journey that led him from the corners of downtown basement dance halls to transatlantic flights on a luxury conglomerate’s expense account.
Lopez is a lifelong observer who uses design as a form of therapy to air his class anxieties accumulated over three-plus decades living in New York City. These panging nerves — combined with elements of his own history and ambition — are what make Luar an important and timely voice in the city’s fashion scene.
For fall, Lopez translated that tension into a collection he titled “Calle pero elegante,” or “street but elegant.” It was a taxi ride through Lopez’s childhood — a lesson in the outer borough opulence, Wall Street executives, Upper East Side ladies and club kids that he observed along the way.
“I’ve been obsessed with looking at people since I was a kid. I used to cut school and find a shopping bag from a designer store [to fit in], put stuff in it and go look at people and clothing on Fifth Avenue,” he said a day before his show.
Lopez grew up in Williamsburg with his nose pressed up against the glass staring at Manhattan — longing for its wealth and slick refinement. His show, at the Faurschou Foundation in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, was only a 15-minute walk from the apartment he grew up in and down the street from the pier where he would go fishing with his cousin.
It was time for him to reclaim Brooklyn as his own — a point he punctuated by closing the show with Foxy Brown’s 2001 “B.K. Anthem,” a song that speaks to the days before Brooklyn’s yuppie insurgency.
In recent seasons, Lopez’s designs centered on family dynamics and the fashions they wore when he was a child. For fall, he diverged and focused on the Brooklyn “gangstresses,” or women who commanded respect through style and attitude that he observed in his younger years. Lopez combined their approach to elegance with the dance hall references that defined his 20s.
This fusion represents Lopez’s own view on heirloom dressing. “Their cascading diamonds showing newfound wealth could be seen as ignorance in certain classes,” Lopez said of those women he admired. “To us, it shows collectible details and heirlooms that can be handed down from generation to generation. It’s a new form of generational wealth. I’m showing kids today that if I can do this, you can do this. It’s a form of entrepreneurship.”
Lopez designed fur coats in collaboration with Saga in an ode to the heirlooms he grew up admiring on those women in the Dominican community. Some had the Luar logo scrawled in contrast mink. The best version was a honey-tone cocoon shape that recalled the bulbous garments beloved by high-society women in the ’60s.
As Lopez expands his commercial footprint, he placed a new focus on outerwear. Oversize, “boulder shoulders,” as he described his signature broad silhouette, were applied to floor-grazing peacoats, blazers and a sleek run of elongated ski jackets that recalled the popular Spyder jackets of the late ’90s.
Pushing the commercial envelope further, Lopez introduced sunglasses, as well as excellent ’70s-revival track suits and new editions of his “It” Ana bag — these in holographic material or all-over rhinestone detailing.
While Lopez has learned over the years how to make money from his brand, at its root is a highly sensitive creative. It’s evident in how he lets his avant-garde tendencies peep out. The feathers, headdresses and sequins at each show reveal how, amid selling thousands of handbags, there’s still a showman with a fever dream inside.
“Just because you think I’m Latino or look a specific way, you are expecting me to design a specific way,” he said of his self-awareness in the space. “I’m not going to give you what you want. I’m never going to give anybody what they want. I don’t fit in like that — you can’t put me in a box.”