Raul Lopez has always been inspired by “boss bitches.” As a Williamsburg, Brooklyn, native, the founder and designer of the New York brand Luar spent his childhood in awe of the women who were legends in his neighborhood. “They were Gs,” he recalls. “My mom always said that the man could be the head of the house, but the woman is the neck. I want to bring that era back.”
And for Luar’s fall 2023 collection, Lopez did just that. Titled “Calle Pero Elegante,” which translates to “street but elegant,” the show honored these “gangstresses” and the outfits that made them shine. “I wanted to pay homage to classic silhouettes and give them the Luar twist,” he says. Think broad shoulder pads, exaggerated belts, and bold outerwear. One item in particular, a jet-black floor-length fur coat, reminded me of my grandmother’s own. And that was exactly the point. Its purpose in the collection was to represent one of the many cultural artifacts that get passed between generations in Latin and Black communities. “For a Caucasian family, it’s a diamond ring or a pearl necklace,” he says. “For us, it’s a mink. My mom took my grandma’s fur that she probably got at a thrift store, but it made them feel like they’d made it. These are sustainable heirlooms in my community. This is what we do.”
A self-described “proud Latino boy” of Dominican descent, Lopez first rose to prominence in 2005 when he co-founded the streetwear brand Hood by Air with his friend Shayne Oliver. After five years, Lopez left the label to venture out on his own, eventually founding Luar (his name spelled backward) in 2017. From the start, Lopez has looked for ways to represent his heritage in his work. “It’s not just [about] being Dominican,” he says. “It’s also the nails, the hair, the way we dress, and the way we carry ourselves. We have our sass and we have our pizzazz. We know how to stand out. We know how to walk into a room and shut it down.” His intention with Luar is more of the same.“When you wear Luar, you’re going to get eyes [on you]. I like to make people feel confident and comfortable in their own skin, and I want people to feel powerful when they wear my stuff.”
One way that he instills power is through accessories. His hit Ana bag, carried by Dua Lipa and Troye Sivan, recently helped net him the CFDA award for American Accessory Designer of the Year. (The purse is named after his grandmothers, mother, and sister.) Lopez crafted the style so that it can be propped up on a table for all to see. “She’s definitely a conversation starter,” he says.
His CFDA win felt like a win for his family, too. “[I get] to represent for these immigrants who came here from the Dominican Republic,” he says. “And since I wasn’t able to go to fashion school, [the award] was like a diploma to show to my parents: ‘Look, all these years of you talking shit because I didn’t become a doctor or a lawyer. Here’s the damn diploma. Go put it on your mantel.’” (The trophy is, indeed, currently at his parents’ house.) Even landing the coveted closing slot at New York Fashion Week, previously the domain of Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford, “felt like it wasn’t really for me. It was more for the community,” Lopez says. “Luar is everybody. Without them, there’s no me, and without me, there’s [no them]. It all works together. It’s very harmonious.”
When Lopez says his work is “for the culture,” he isn’t just paying lip service. “I’m not about the clickbait shit,” he says. “I live the culture. I am that girl and I’ve been that girl before it was a trend. And in the good words of the philosopher Shereé, ‘Who gon’ check me, boo?’”
This story appears in the October 2023 issue of ELLE.
Juliana Ukiomogbe is the Assistant Editor at ELLE. Her work has previously appeared in Interview, i-D, Teen Vogue, Nylon, and more.