IN CONVERSATION WITH RAUL LOPEZ
Interview by Asia Lanzi @asia.lanzi
Raul Lopez is a designer who has been making waves in the fashion world for over two decades. As the founder and creative director of LUAR, he has challenged conventions and broken boundaries, pushing for greater inclusivity and diversity in fashion. With his unique vision and style, Raul has become a leading voice in the conversation about the future of the industry, bringing his passion for design and deep understanding of the power of fashion to the forefront. In this interview, we get a glimpse into Raul’s unique perspective on fashion and creativity.
Raul, you’ve had a successful career in the fashion industry for over two decades now, including creating your own brand, LUAR. Can you tell us how you first got started in the industry and what inspired you to start your own brand?
Fashion has always been an obsession of mine. In high school, I started making my own clothes to fit into different scenes in New York and that’s when I began carving my own path in the fashion world. I started meeting people and founded Hood By Air with Shayne Oliver and from there, I started my own brand in 2010. Fashion runs in my family and while I wasn’t formally trained, having sewing machine at home allowed me to practice and develop my skills.
How has your upbringing in Williamsburg, New York, and your Dominican heritage influenced the designs and aesthetics of LUAR?
My Dominican roots have played a significant role in my designs and aesthetics, as I have embraced the diaspora take and embodied both cultures, which in a weird way are similar yet different. In the Dominican Republic, people have a different view of American luxury, which is often romanticized and fetishized. However, I have learned to merge both worlds and create a unique LUAR world that everyone can be a part of. I love people and want them to experience this world that I have created. Why not? It’s fun, cute, and chill, and everyone is welcome to join in.
How would you describe LUAR in three words?
For the culture.
Congratulations on your latest collection! Can you talk about the inspiration behind your latest collection, “Calle Pero Elegante,” and the creative process behind it?
The collection is a continuation of my last season, where I focused on my family reunions. This time, I wanted to explore the streets and pay homage to the strong female figures that have fascinated me. They were hustlers in their own way, and not in the typical sense that we associate with the word. They had a gangster essence that was reflected in the way they dressed, carried themselves, and interacted with others. I wanted to showcase their unique style and the way they expressed themselves through their clothing, jewelry, and overall demeanor. Their mere presence commands attention as soon as they enter any room.
I also wanted to highlight the immigrant experience and the hustle that is required to make it in a new country. These women, as immigrants, worked hard to build a better life for themselves and their families. They created heirlooms that could be passed down through generations, providing a legacy for their children and grandchildren. Their fashion choices were not only a way to fit in, but also to assert their presence and sense of belonging. I wanted to teach the younger generation that it takes hard work and dedication to make it, and that fashion and style can be a way of expressing oneself and building something to pass down to future generations. Take inspiration from them, and know that if they could do it, so can you. The creative process for me was about tapping into these specific moments and feelings and finding a way to showcase them through my designs.
How have your personal experiences and relationships with women influenced your designs?
A lot of the women who inspired me were either friends’ mothers or women from my neighborhood. I would see them around, and they carried themselves in a way that commanded respect. Even the guys on the block would bow down to them and be careful not to cross any lines. I’m really drawn to powerful, boss bitches who can shut down anyone who tries to silence them. It’s kind of iconic to see them walk into a room and everyone’s like, “Oooh, don’t mess with her.” So, yeah, that’s what inspired me for this collection.
In your latest collection, we saw the integration of disparate textiles and styles, which you’ve described as a way to embrace duality in your brand. How do you express this concept of duality and why it’s important to your brand’s aesthetic?
Growing up, wool suiting was a staple in my wardrobe, and I often saw it mixed with other fabrics like denim or hoodies, which was a necessity to get by. These beautiful fabrics were either attainable from vintage stores or passed down as heirlooms through generations, from hand to hand. I wanted to embrace that by mixing them with tech fabrics, silks, and other materials. I find the juxtaposition of different fabrics and textures really intriguing and sexy, even with tech fabrics. I love the way these fabrics sound, when they move. It’s a weird combination, but it works for me, and I think it creates a unique and magazine-like aesthetic.
What was your favourite piece in the SS23 collection, and why?
I absolutely love the boulder shoulders in the collection because they represent the weight that people carry on their shoulders and the things they have to endure. It’s a nod to the 80s and 90s, and I wanted to show that the shoulders are not just a part of the body, but an attitude. The shoulder pads are an expression of the weight of the world that people carry, which was also a theme in my last collection. I wanted to continue that story and depict it through similar silhouettes in this collection. I don’t usually repeat patterns, but I felt it was necessary to continue the story. So, the boulder shoulders were definitely my favorite piece in the collection.
Can you describe the inspiration behind your signature bag, the Ana Bag, and how it fits into the overall aesthetic of LUAR?
The Ana Bag was inspired by my grandmother and mother, as well as the immigrant workers who have contributed to the fashion industry. The mod handles pay homage to my grandmother, while the briefcase body is a nod to the 80s and 90s and my mother. I wanted the bag to be a statement piece that could elevate any outfit, whether dressed up or down. The bag just dresses you up and make you feel undeniably fashionable and fabulous. The reimagined LUAR bag in the SS23 collection, embellished with Swarovski crystals, builds on this inspiration and takes it to the next level. It’s like a piece of jewelry for the wearer to carry around and add a touch of glamour to any look.
You’ve spoken about building a luxury brand around community, and as a queer Latinx designer, your work is very much centered around uplifting and supporting marginalized communities. Can you elaborate on the importance of community, both in your personal life and in the fashion industry, and how this idea was reflected in the SS23 collection?
Community is at the heart of my brand. It’s a big part of who I am as a person and as a designer. I give my community access to me because they have been there for me in a way that goes beyond anything. They are my second family, my support system. When it comes to my shows, the House Dolls who are like my daughters, and then there are the House Guests, who are the models from agencies. It’s about creating a sense of family and respect. This idea of community was reflected in the SS23 collection through the casting, which featured a diverse range of models who represented different communities. It’s about uplifting and supporting marginalized communities and creating a space where everyone is welcomed and celebrated.
(In the context of the LGBTQ+ community, “dolls” typically refers to individuals who belong to a specific group or family structure within the ballroom scene.)
How does your queerness influence your creative process and the designs of your new collection for SS23?
My queerness is reflected in all aspects of my designs, from the silhouettes to the overall genderless approach. I’ve always created clothing that is unisex and hybrid. It’s now being called gender fluid, but I’ve been doing this for a long time. I wear whatever I want, whether it’s men’s or women’s clothing, and I want my designs to be the same way. The silhouettes I create can be femme or masc, but anyone can wear them. I love the duality of blending two worlds and showing people that they can wear these clothes and feel comfortable walking into any space.
As you just mentioned, your designs often challenge traditional gender norms. How do you approach gender in your work, and what impact do you hope to achieve?
My approach to gender in my designs is all about breaking down traditional norms and creating something new and exciting. I want to show people that fashion is for everyone, regardless of their gender or how they identify. I can’t wait for men to feel as free as women to wear whatever they want. I want to see a man confidently pull off a dress from his wife’s closet and wear it to a corporate office. To me, it’s a chic and masculine look, even more so than a traditional suit. It’s exciting to push these boundaries and show people that fashion has no gender limitations.
How do you prioritize inclusivity and accessibility in your brand and ensure they are reflected in your designs, especially as LUAR has been recognized for these values? How do you balance the desire for accessibility with creating luxury fashion?
For me, it’s about designing what I feel comfortable in and what I would wear. I love mixing and matching different styles, such as a sweat suit with heels or sneakers. My designs are a reflection of who I am. Initially, I was hesitant to embrace activewear because I didn’t want to be categorized, but now I love mixing luxury with basics. I’m literally in a sweatsuits right now. I believe that people who identify with LUAR also love mixing different textures, shapes, and silhouettes to create their own unique look. It’s about feeling confident in one’s own skin, and that’s something I strive to embody with my brand. I believe that LUAR cannot be any different, as it truly reflects who I am and what I value. For me, it’s not about creating a divide between high fashion and everyday wear. It’s about finding a balance and creating clothes that are accessible to everyone.
You recently won the American Accessory Designer of the Year Award at the CFDA Fashion Awards. What is the role of accessories in your design vision and why do they hold a special place in your heart? How has winning this award impacted your career and approach to accessory design?
For me, designing is not just about the clothing. It’s about the full package. Coming from ballroom, I learned that you need the glasses, the hat, the rings, the chains, the shoes, and the bag to complete the look. Accessories are crucial because they add the smallest details that make a design feel complete. It’s what I call heirlooms; they should feel like they’ll last forever. I’ve always been obsessed with accessories. I probably own more than 400 pairs of eyewear. I have drawers full of belts, hats, and everything in between. They’re essential to my collections because they complete the look and make people feel good. I think people love an accessory because it makes them look good, and why not?
Winning the award was more of a validating moment for me and my team. We’ve been hustling for a while, and it felt good to be recognized. But it didn’t change our approach to accessory design or boost our company’s success. We still have to grind and keep the business aspect going. As a designer, you have to balance both the artistic and business sides, which I’ve learned to do.
What advice do you have for young designers, especially those from marginalized communities trying to make it in the fashion industry?
For young designers starting out, my advice is to learn the business side of things. You can take a business class or learn from YouTube because knowledge is everywhere. Remember, your craft is yours, but you need to know how to monetize it. Don’t let others monetize off of you. Many people call artists a sellout for monetizing their work, but those same people are selling $250,000 paintings and come from spoon-fed families. It’s important to continue telling your story and sharing your vision with the world. And don’t forget to intern! It’s a great way to gain experience and make connections in the industry.
What can we expect from LUAR in the future in terms of both the brand’s growth and upcoming collections?
We just finished our latest collection, and there are many exciting things in store for LUAR’s growth and upcoming collections, but I can’t say much about them at this point. I’m currently a finalist for the LVMH prize, so please go vote for me and tell everyone to vote for LUAR. I have a lot of ideas, and I’m just trying to narrow them down. But rest assured, this is just the beginning for Luar.
As someone who has been open about their mental health struggles, how do you balance your mental well-being and self-care with the demands of running a fashion brand? In a previous interview, you mentioned the importance of taking breaks and disconnecting from art. Can you elaborate on why this is important and how it influences your creative process?
Well, if you don’t you’re gonna burn out. You have to take breaks to create. You can’t keep going and going without rest. In the past, I was afraid to take a step back, but eventually, I realized the importance of not stressing about things beyond my control. With my shows, I still kind of freak out, but I remind myself that nobody knows what’s coming out on the runway. So, I let things go and learn to ride the wave.
Now that New York Fashion Week has come to an end, how do you like to take care of yourself and unwind after the busy fashion week schedule?
Well, I’m still working, girl. A whole month ahead of me. Next week I need to go to Paris for work, but I like to unwind by having dinner with friends, chill and get a massage.
Well, thank you so much. It was very inspiring to hear your story. Thank you!
Bonus Question: What category did you walk in ballroom?
I walked in the category Vogue Femme, but you’d have to go pretty far back in the archives to find it. (laughs)