“Walking out at the end of my show with my mum where people were literally crying was a proud moment,” says Luar creative director Raul Lopez. “I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life – it was almost like receiving that fashion diploma I never got.” After an 18-month hiatus from the industry, the Latinx designer and Brooklyn native returned to the scene with a critically-acclaimed collection at New York Fashion Week, as well as a new It-bag that went viral.
Having co-founded the cult-favourite New York label Hood By Air with Shayne Oliver in 2005, Lopez is no stranger to the world of fashion. Together the pair of designers brought forth a gender-fluid and inclusive aesthetic that changed the game forever. Then, in 2017, Lopez left HBA and ventured out on his own to launch Luar (Luar is Raul backwards, FYI). But just as the pandemic hit, the designer decided to take a serious break in the Cayman Islands for the sake of his mental health. “I felt like I was on a never-ending hamster wheel, until I crashed,” says Lopez. “It was a moment of realisation where I knew I had to prioritise my well-being.”
Fast forward to this year, Lopez returned to New York Fashion Week with a vengeance and delivered an elevated collection that put him back on the map. But, the star of the show that sent social media into a frenzy was the little boxy leather bag – named Ana – that was seen on a handful of models. Since then, the bag has been spotted on the likes of Dua Lipa, and Troye Sivan. “I always knew it was going to be a hit,” explains the designer. “I took the time to make sure it was perfect, because it’s so special to me.”
Here, Vogue caught up with the designer on his eponymous label, how it feels to have launched an It-bag, and why it’s so important to take care of your mental health in the fashion industry.
Where does your interest in clothes come from?
“It came from my mum, who was in the industry back in the ’70s. She was a seamstress, like a lot of immigrants that came from the Dominican Republic, and worked in factories, so there was always a sewing machine in the house.”
Luar’s spring/summer 2022 campaign featuring the Ana bag in all its glory. DANIELLE LEVITT
You started Hood By Air in 2005 with Shayne Oliver, which became an iconic moment in fashion history. What compelled you to start your own brand?
“Shayne and I grew up in similar environments as minority queer kids from Brooklyn, so he’s always understood me on a deeper level. I’m so proud of everything we accomplished together at HBA, and we started a movement that’s so incredibly inclusive, but it was time for me to tell my own story.”
How would you describe Luar’s aesthetic and ethos?
“Luar is for someone who feels comfortable in their own skin, and can express it through their clothing. It’s for everyone, and you could find specific pieces for certain people, but it’s getting more refined as I age, and this season I felt like I truly opened up more, because I’m more confident in my true self.”
How important is commercial success to you?
“Extremely important. You need your money-makers [in order] to become sustainable, and this won’t happen if you’re just a kooky designer with a new silhouette that all the publications are going crazy about. Sell your art, so you can make more art.”
You took a three-season hiatus from NYFW – why is it so important to take a pause and what did you discover during this time?
“It’s crazy that I hadn’t had a break for all of those years. I was depressed and my mental health was deteriorating. In a way, the pandemic was a gift because it taught people that they can actually take a break. You can always come back; it’s not that serious.”
With the new season, came a new bag, which everyone can’t get enough of. How does that make you feel, and was it your intention to create such an impactful accessory?
“I’ve had the idea to make that bag for 10 years and it’s named after my mum. It’s a good bag and made extremely well. I remember showing Telfar [Clemens] the design and he was like, “Bitch, you’re about to hit it out of the ballpark.” When the bag dropped, we went for dinner and popped champagne. We grew up together, so to have my friend – whose work I truly respect – be proud of me, was a highlight.”
Dua Lipa and Troye Sivan have broken the internet by carrying their Ana bags. Who else would you like to see wearing your pieces?
“I think people like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian would be incredible, as it feels right. But I also want to see people like Meryl Streep, Diana Ross and Michelle Obama wearing it, too. Also, everyone went wild for that photoshopped Jane Fonda picture that I posted, so she’d be great of course.”
There’s a lot of pressure to keep up in the fashion industry. What are you going to do next to maintain a healthy balance?
“I didn’t control everything for the first time this season, and it really showed me that this is a healthier way of working. From now on, I’m going to chill and do things at my own pace.”
What advice would you give to your younger self knowing what you know now?
“Get an accountant and go to business school, period.”