Raul Lopez de Luar is building a luxury brand around community

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Before Raul Lopez, founder and creative director of Luar (yes, word nerds, which reads like an emordnilap of his first name), put his brand on hiatus in 2020, he compared his professional life to that of a hamster on a wheel, current is exhausted to meet the often exhausting expectations of the industry, the expected output of designers being somehow correlated to their relevance.

“They expect you to keep going and keep going, but then they don’t fund you,” he says. “We’re like the fashion buffs: they need us to come play for them, and I was like, ‘Girl, I’m fine.'”

Once the pandemic hit, many creatives had no choice but to slow down; some, including Lopez, chose to abandon the traditional schedule altogether, choosing instead to operate at their own pace.

“I haven’t taken a break since 2005 until two years ago,” he says. “I feel like we need to learn to pause, disconnect from our art, and just be.”

After a brief hiatus, Raul Lopez brought Luar back to New York Fashion Week with a Spring 2022 show.

Lopez grew up in a Dominican family in New York, in the pre-bourgeois neighborhood of Los Sures, or Williamsburg South side. It was a much rougher time – nothing like the Williamsburg of today – but he remembers the bachata and merengue music that echoed throughout his youth, and how that informs the way which he creates today: “Growing up as a proud gay boy of color, I always kind of did my job of bringing awareness to my heritage and my upbringing in Brooklyn.”

He descends from a line of seamstresses, his grandmother and his mother both teaching him how to use a sewing machine. At the time, many women – including his own mother – came from the Dominican Republic to the United States and found work in factories in the city. In addition to her job, she often took on sewing projects around the house, making pillowcases, curtains, and the occasional outfit for her children. Naturally, this had a big impact on Lopez.

“I think my initial love of fashion came from seeing my grandma and all the old folks making and creating looks for church on Sundays,” he says. “My dad worked in construction and he always tried to get me to come with him, but I always said I had a stomach ache so I could stay home and watch them sew.”

After much hesitation, Lopez’s mother finally taught a young Raul how to sew. His very first design was a white T-shirt with sleeves made from a pair of Girbaud jeans. After that, there was no turning back. By the time he arrived in high school, Lopez had created custom looks for himself and tapped into an early entrepreneurial spirit by charging classmates for his designs. Without formal training at a fashion school, it wasn’t until he began venturing downtown and rubbing shoulders with other like-minded creatives that he would officially enter the fashion scene ( with a capital F).

A snapshot from Luar's spring 2022 campaign, photographed by Arnaud Lajeunie.

A snapshot from Luar’s spring 2022 campaign, photographed by Arnaud Lajeunie.

Lopez came in the same creative class as Telfar Clemens and Shayne Oliver, the latter with whom he started his first design venture with: Hood By Air, a pioneering streetwear brand that spoke about the counterculture and turned to sitting at the intersection of queerness, blackness, luxury and more.

“We were just trying to shake things up in the industry,” he says of his time at HBA. “Trying to find a way to fit in, but at the same time trying to get people to start a conversation and be like, ‘What the fuck?’ I think that’s It was a great moment for both of us because we were both trying to have a voice in those communities, and that was our story together.”

There’s no doubt that HBA put Lopez on Luar’s path. He and Oliver have created something so beloved in the industry, breaking down barriers for creatives of color pursuing fashion, earning and maintaining unprecedented exposure by telling their own stories. But in 2011, it was time for Lopez to break out of a dual narrative and create in her own way. The two designers had different visions for their future, and Lopez seized the opportunity to pursue her solo. “I mean what I mean, not what ‘we’ are going to say,” Lopez said of her outing. (The two remain friends and are strong supporters of each other.)

Lopez’s biography is inextricably linked to Luar – and that’s part of the brand’s market appeal.It’s inspired by Raul’s Dominican heritage as a New Yorker, and it authentically serves and embodies that intersection,” Federico Barassi, VP of Menswear Buying for SSENSE (one of Luar’s resellers), says. “From his use of belts on coats and shirts to his curvaceous lines and asymmetrical construction, Raul presents the SSENSE customer with another point of view and does a great job of bringing us into his world and sharing Luar’s New York. , through his lens. It’s interesting while remaining accessible.” The brand was also taken over by Nordström, Operating mode, Dover street market and Luisa Via Roma.

Ssense is one of the select few retailers to carry the best-selling Ana de Luar bag.

sense is one of the few select retailers that offers Luar’s best-selling Ana bag.

“Raul has deep ties to this New York community of young POC creatives that go back the years,” the stylist explains. Mel Renee Leamon. “His shows are like a family reunion and we support him as a designer and a brand. I think that’s important for anyone who wants to make an impact through fashion.”

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Luar is the result of discovering this community beyond Los Sures, learning about different cultures and genres, Lopez mimicking her surroundings, which ultimately gave her the tools to hone herself and carve out her own aesthetic.Luar is for people who are confident enough to be comfortable in their own skin,” Lopez says. “I feel like you can dissect the collection and there might be pieces for someone older, someone younger… It might be for someone who loves the art or someone from the neighborhood.”

One of the brand’s strongest and most defining design elements is how it embraces duality, marrying textiles that sit at different ends of the spectrum. This design practice may seem completely out of sync at first glance, but Lopez’s vision and execution make it seamless. (In conversation with the designer, I draw the connection to his early struggle with constructing clothes, unifying the plain white t-shirt with Girbaud denim sleeves. “I never even put that together!” he says in response.)

A Luar garment will always be more than it looks. Lopez uses a Trojan Horse approach to design that forces the viewer to interact with the garments in order to fully understand the level of detail that goes into its construction. “If you’re that girl and you really understand and really see it, Luar is a very detailed brand where you have to actually come in, sit down, watch it and dissect it,” he says. Detail, according to Lopez, is his greatest strength as a designer and has been instilled in him from the start: “I like clothes that are full of details, but they look like they have nothing.”

Leamon calls the contrast between business and off-duty pleasure a highlight of Luar’s latest catwalk collection: “It speaks to the professional yet creative person in New York. We work hard during the day and go straight to the party after work. felt like the conversation that had taken place, work hard and play harder.”

Juxtaposition on Luar's Spring 2022 show.

Juxtaposition on Luar’s Spring 2022 show.

It all ties back to Lopez’s family again, according to the designer. “A lot of the inspiration comes from my dad being in the construction world, and seeing how he could split up and build all this space,” he says. “I have always found beauty in it, but it never interested me. I was in the aspect of deconstructing a space to create a new one. I like the roughness, which shows through the denim and the leather… I think the softness comes from my mom – she’s a super woman. It’s so inspired by my family. They inspire me with a lot of the things I do.

With Luar, Lopez also had to strike a balance beyond aesthetic goals, being hyper-aware of the business side of selling clothes. In doing so, he was able to retain his artistic autonomy and have niche, recognizable Luar codes while continuing to move products and grow his business. “As an artist, you have to really think about it, because otherwise you won’t survive. You won’t be a lasting brand,” he says.

Enter the Ana bag, a sturdy and compact tote named after the most important women in his life, first released in 2021. It’s also a tribute to these women and their strength: Lopez likes a “power female dog”, a woman in charge, a boss. The Ana bag was her avenue to commemorate such a woman.

A viewer wearing the Ana de Luar bag during Paris Fashion Week.

A viewer wearing the Ana de Luar bag during Paris Fashion Week.

“The handle is kind of a nod to the 50s and 60s, like the mod era,” Lopez says. “And then the body of the bag was kind of a nod to my mum, back in the briefcase days. It was a way of giving back to them and saying thank you for paving the way for me and me “Learning everything I know and keeping me grounded. It’s nice that people can carry my story, which is kind of what I want.

Lopez had always insisted on launching a successful handbag. He had been sitting on the Ana design for a while, so in order for it to debut as an instant hit after the brand went on hiatus, he put it back in the game. He also got some numerous celebrity mentions (without seeding), seen on Dua Lipa, Solange and Patti LaBelle.

Lopez’s own notions of luxury came into play when he priced the bag, which currently sits at $235. He and his design peers (like Telfar, notably) come from the school of thought that luxury doesn’t always mean something overpriced. That’s what we make of it and that’s where we find it – a mindset that can come from the way we behave and can be linked to personal things and practices that bring us joy in life. life.

“I wanted to have it at a price where everyone could have it,” he says. “You can save your small parts and you can get it. I also wanted to make sure it was well designed and made from really good materials.”

While tight-lipped about what’s on the horizon for him and Luar, he hinted at an ongoing collaboration, as well as new bag styles.

“I’ll tell you like Diddy says: the sky’s the limit.”

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