The Past, Present and Future of Luar

by Joshua Graham on 2 May 2023

Founded by award-winning designer Raul Lopez, Luar has become one of New York City’s most talked about burgeoning brands and is in the running for this year's LVMH Prize. We caught up with the designer to discuss his Hood By Air origins, creating an it-bag and the different eras that inspire him.

Founded by award-winning designer Raul Lopez, Luar has become one of New York City’s most talked about burgeoning brands and is in the running for this year's LVMH Prize. We caught up with the designer to discuss his Hood By Air origins, creating an it-bag and the different eras that inspire him.

When I jump on a Zoom call with Brooklyn-based designer Raul Lopez, the first Monday of May is only weeks away. Naturally, I have to ask who the founder of Luar (a palindrome of Lopez’s first name) has chosen as his Met Gala date which he tells me is model and fellow New Yorker Paloma Elsesser. ‘It’s full circle. I’ve known her since she was 15’, he says. Arguably fashion’s biggest night of the year, walking the red carpet with one of the industry’s most sought-after models is just the latest career milestone for the Dominican designer.

Raul Lopez and Paloma Elsesser at the 2023 Met Gala photographed by Jamie McCarthy

In February, Luar closed out New York Fashion Week – an honour typically reserved for industry titans like Marc Jacobs or Tom Ford – with his A/W 23 collection, which was met with much critical fanfare. While by no means green to the game, having founded the label in 2011, it's only recently that the brand has found its footing after a three-season hiatus in 2019 before returning to NYFW for S/S 22. Since then his collections have consistently explored deeply personal themes around identity, class and race. Most notably, his S/S 23 show, dubbed 'La Alta Gamma' ('The High End' in Spanish) was defined by sculptural, oversized shoulders inspired by 80s power suits and the pageantry of dressing he witnessed at family gatherings growing up.

Luar S/S 23

This time around he transformed traditional tailoring into off-shoulder, double-breasted gowns fitted with exaggerated lapels. Feathers, fur, and crystal embellishment of the brand’s cursive logo harken to old-money, uptown glamour as well as 90s hip-hop style icons like Lil Kim and Foxy Brown. Always objectively queer, the collection challenged masculine ideals with office wear staples (crisp white shirts and pinstripe trousers included) styled with sequin skirts, platform heels, and new colourways of the brand's wildly successful Ana bag (a favourite of Dua Lipa and Charli XCX) which helped Lopez secured the honour of Accessories Designer of the Year at the 2022 CFDA awards. While subverting gender norms is nothing new in today's fashion landscape, there is a distinct playful irreverence that makes Luar exciting yet approachable. A glass goblet hugged by a leather sling is fashioned into an elegant evening bag, while layered maxi skirts are fitted with elasticated waistbands not dissimilar to joggers or pyjamas.

Luar S/S 23

It was this collection that secured his spot as a finalist of the esteemed LVMH Prize this year; the only American to be honoured. ‘As a kid who didn’t go to fashion school and was sneaking into libraries, it’s kind of like a diploma’, Lopez says on reaching the final steps of the esteemed prize. In March, semi-finalists presented their collections to a panel of judges including designers like Jonathan Anderson, Kim Jones and Nicholas Ghesquière. It won’t be until June at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris where the finalists will present their collections one more time, before a winner is determined. They will receive not only a cash prize of €300,000, but also year-long mentorship with the LVMH fashion family to expand their brand.

'When we were younger we dressed up to disrupt and make people uncomfortable. It’s a way of being political without saying anything.' - Raul Lopez

‘I might invoice them because I was doing a lot of mentoring there’, he jokes about giving the other finalists insight based on his own experiences. ‘They’re competing against me but at the end of the day I’m not scared.’ There is a refreshing confidence in Lopez that could only come from being a New Yorker. While it could be easily mistaken for arrogance, there is a familiarity watching him pace around his room, phone in hand, that has the conversation flowing much more like friends catching up than an inquiry into the world of the headline-making designer's life. It’s when Lopez talks about fashion he beams with inquisitive sincerity, citing the 80s, 90s, and surprisingly the Middle Ages that are inspiring him right now. ‘I like to dive into different eras and pull details and silhouettes’, he tells me before going on a tangent about peasant tops being called such, as buttons were once reserved for the aristocracy of European courtly life. A bit of fashion history I was unaware of.

Luar S/S 23

For Lopez, courtly life has always been on the street. Before establishing Luar, the Brooklynite was the second half of another cult-favourite label blurring the line between luxury and streetwear: Hood By Air. ‘It was great for me because it was our story. Mine and Shayne’s story. Two Caribbean boys being outsiders trying to merge these worlds,' he says. When they met as teenagers the two quickly bonded as outcasts among the outcasts. While men in skirts and make-up are old hat these days, Lopez recalls packing a change of clothes in the fear of being jumped. ‘We’re definitely disruptors. It’s what we built our careers on. When we were younger we dressed up to disrupt and make people uncomfortable,’ he explains. ‘It’s a way of being political without saying anything’.

Luar A/W 23

When Hood By Air was founded in 2006 the fashion landscape certainly wasn’t what it is today. ‘We were doing everything that’s really relevant now, but wasn’t back then’, he says. ‘Pushing agendas of queerness, colour, shapes and body’. And while Luar is being celebrated today as a champion of such ideas, Lopez recalls a much colder reception during his time at Hood By Air. ‘I remember feeling ostracised and pushed to the side because these were all the things they didn’t want as an industry,’ he recalls.

Of course, as the societal pendulum swings and world views shift, the reception towards Hood By Air wouldn’t stay chilly long. In 2014 Oliver won the LVMH Special Prize with the industry justly seeing him as a pioneer for his subversive take on luxury streetwear. While Lopez left the brand in 2010 to start Luar, there's never been bad blood between the friends with Oliver proving an invaluable resource during this year’s judging process. ‘While I was in Paris [Oliver] was texting me every single day. Giving me advice like ‘don’t do this, do this’'.

Luar A/W 23

On the surface, establishing his own label might seem like Lopez laying the groundwork for independence but as our conversation continues it becomes evident that he isn’t interested in riding this wave solo. ‘Community is as important as my breath’, he says, telling me one of his primary goals is to uplift aspiring creatives by sharing his knowledge and resources to those who ask. ‘The world needs colour and it needs stories that are different from what everyone else is sharing. ‘That’s why it’s Luar.World,’ he says alluding to his webpage, ‘because it's for everyone.’

Luar A/W 23

The saying echoes the slogan by Telfar Clemens, whose own it-bag has become one of the most sought-after and influential accessories of our time. ‘Me, Shayne and Telfar are all really close. We grew up together and have known each other since we were teens. We support each other.’ Lopez tells me that when his bag sold out for the first time he returned to New York from a trip to Paris to find Clemens waiting outside his apartment with a car and a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

It’s the introduction of the Ana bag in 2021 that Lopez cites as a big reason for ending the brand’s hiatus. At just under $300, like Telfar’s shopping tote, the bag has reached a level of notoriety amongst the it-crowd with each drop quickly selling out. Providing a steady stream of income for the brand, what the Ana bag has afforded Lopez are the resources for bringing his ideas to life on the runway. ‘I know we’re artists and we’ve been conditioned to believe we should just make things for editors. But you can’t tell your stories if you don't have any cash. “More money, more problems",’ he says, quoting the American rapper Biggie Smalls.

Raul Lopez courtesy of LVMH

With his sights set on his next collection, he tells me he will be looking at the time he spent in the Dominican Republic as a teenager and both the nation’s street style and Sunday best. ‘Every season is me tapping into the different eras of my life, whether it's the past, present or future.’ Whether or not it's Luar that’s destined for winning the covetable LVMH Prize is to be determined. For Lopez the accolade would fast-track his becoming a global brand but as he's already finding the sweet spot between unbridled creativity and commercial success it shouldn’t be very long before he achieves this regardless. As our conversation comes to an end I can’t help but ask if, throughout this process with the luxury conglomerate, he’s ever thought about becoming a creative director for a big brand. ‘I have one in mind,’ he says, not willing to divulge which one it could be.



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