On a stormy day in early spring, an unassuming studio in Brooklyn momentarily became the place for a cast of New York fashion characters to patter and peacock; friends and chosen family in synchronicity. Fiffany looked like a club kid in a slinky cut-out dress, Austin and Maahleek simulated glamazons in glittering evening gowns and Alexis was like a Matrix-obsessed streetwear aficionado. Sporting sumptuous faux-fur coats and beefy, hooded evening gowns, they landed full force, with a touch of tenderness – and every garment was Luar.
Luar is known well beyond the fashion sphere, perhaps because it’s a “true reflection” of Raul Lopez, a third- generation Dominican designer with Brooklyn attitude. He’s a queer person of colour who grew up on the south side of Williamsburg, which at the time hadn’t yet been gentrified to the point of parody it’s reached today. “It was gritty and shitty,” he says. Still living in the same Los Sures apartment building that he grew up in, Lopez has always stood out. Speaking to 10, he explains, “My upbringing in Williamsburg was pretty tough. Being raised in a very Latino machista household and being a flamboyant gay boy, people didn’t understand [me]. I was looking for a safe haven and tribes that would bring me in and accept me and I just started drifting into the streets to find friends and community. Blood isn’t always thicker than water. You can find chosen families that will be for you and ride for you.” Rather than obscure his differences, the designer leans into them, celebrates them and those of his peers, in turn constructing something radical: a luxury label by and for underrepresented, historically oppressed people.
The collections that gush out of Luar are faithful reflections of New York’s melting-pot status; a bold, gritty, body-confident interpretation of codes from wealthy, white Americana seen through the lens of working-class Brooklyn and the Latinx community he grew up in. “For me, it’s about looking at these spoon- fed families with generational money and trying to crack their code,” Lopez told WWD. “I’m trying to build this world where class, in a weird way, starts to blur out. It’s more about how you present yourself and not where you come from.”
Building off his own memories – of his aunties and mother, who would hit up second-hand thrift stores in search of affordable fabrics to use to sew their own dresses, “mimicking what they were seeing on the streets in these really high-end stores” – Lopez’s collections emulate and elevate what the powerful working women who surrounded him in his adolescence were wearing. “I have a photographic memory,” he reveals, “so if there are things I really love, like images from my family’s [photo] albums and just seeing them at reunions, I can just find them [in my head] and look at the stuff that they were wearing to get super inspired.”
It’s clothing that, apart from its vivacious opulence, exudes a feeling of warmth, tenderness and nostalgia, all in honour of the people who’ve crossed Lopez’s path over his 30-something years of looking in on every echelon of New York society. “I think that’s my purpose: to share the stories of these individuals who helped shape the brand and me, from my mannerisms to the way I speak, the way I carry myself, how I dress, even the way I put on a show.”
Raul Lopez, the Brooklyn-based, founder and creative director of Luar
His primary goal is giving back tothose people who have built him upand inspired him, to trans housingorganisations and immigrants,and to the exceptional creativecommunities that have coalescedaround him. “Community is asimportant as my breath,” he says, “There is no bigger inspiration.” That community dynamic is marked by his “house dolls”, aka the Luar models, whom he thinks of as his family, his girls, his “daughtas”, many of whom he knows from NYC’s ballroom scene or Christopher Street – where the Stonewall riots, which transformed the gay liberation movement, took place – and who endearingly refer to him as their “gay father”.
Lopez is part of a “vast and diverse” group of kids who come from all walks of life and “co-exist” in Brooklyn or downtown Manhattan. “They’re part of who I am and Luar’s whole aesthetic. If it wasn’t for my community, for my family, I probably wouldn’t have as much inspiration. I design through people, from people, for the people,” he tells 10. “And they’re gonna continue to be [my inspiration] because these are the people who I break bread with and hang out with.” He adds, “A lot of people talk about communities and all these boxes they wanna check off, but the real tea is, are you really doing this? Like when the lights turn off and the doors close, are these people sitting at your table breaking bread with you, or are you just doing it for the camera?” With that in mind, Lopez wants the label to feel a bit like an AOL chat room or the “YMCA of fashion”, where people don’t know each other, but eventually become friends. “My community rises with me,” he says. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at if it wasn’t for them. Period.”
Before Luar, Lopez established Hood By Air with Shayne Oliver. He launched Luar Zepol (his name spelt backwards) in 2011 but stepped back from fashion in 2014, taking a three-year hiatus. After relaunching as Luar, he took another pause in 2019, before making his comeback in 2021. Approaching the business differently, he introduced the Ana bag, which pays homage to his family (it’s named for his mother, grandmothers, sister and nieces), who emigrated from the Dominican Republic in the mid-’80s. Luar’s Ana bag was imagined like an heirloom that could be passed down through generations. “In these families that we come from, we don’t really get the pearl necklace or the diamond ring, but you do get the pocketbook [handbag],” he laughs. “You might even get the mink coat or your dad will have some Jordans or Air Force 1s for you, but a bag is a statement.” Frequently seen slung over the arms of cool girls and boys in Brooklyn and beyond, from Dua Lipa to Julia Fox, that bag won him the 2022 CFDA Accessories Designer of the Year award and secured him a spot as an LVMH Prize finalist a year later. “It’s so crazy ’cause as a kid who was not allowed to go to fashion school, to be recognised and acknowledged by these people is really beautiful,” he reflects. “It’s like telling these kids who look like me that, if you hustle and you bustle, you can make it to where I’m at. A lot of people think this was overnight, but this is 10-plus years in the making.” This February Luar closed NYFW – a prestigious slot usually reserved for bigwigs like Marc Jacobs or Tom Ford.
New York has long been shorthand for the uptown sophistication of brands like Ralph Lauren and Tory Burch, but a shift in the zeitgeist has finally placed voices with a new and unique cultural power at the forefront of the city’s fashion scene. Telfar Clemens (Lopez’s best friend and creator of the ‘Bushwick Birkin’), Willy Chavarria (with his genderless designs and diverse street-casting), the late Stephen Sprouse (whose famed graffiti adorns Louis Vuitton bags) and Willi Smith (who pioneered “street couture”), alongside Lopez’s Luar, are part of a lineage of New Yorkers demanding to be seen and heard on their own terms. Their successes allude to a changing fashion landscape with emerging designers rewriting the definition of luxury as something deeply personal, but at a price point that feels within grasp. Lopez has the future of American fashion at his fingertips.
AUSTIN QUIROZ, ARTIST AND COMPOSER
Austin Quiroz, 26, floats through the fashion and music scenes in Brooklyn like a ghost – ever-present, yet rarely captured on camera. Of Dominican descent, his main gig is as a gender-fluid model and Telfar’s muse, but he also makes videos, most notably the behind-the- scenes reels for Lil Yachty and Kodak Black’s straight-talking track Hit Bout It. Quiroz met Lopez at a popular and now defunct nightclub called La Marina where he was working at the time. “Raul used to always come there and I loved his style. So I went up to him and he told me that he knew my dad,” he laughs. “I view him as my godmotha’ and he views me as his godson. He gives space for other family members and I to build our own legacies.”
VIVIEN YI, CHOSEN SISTER AND BEST FRIEND
Vivien Yi, a first-generation Korean American and a trans woman, met Lopez at a club through a mutual friend when she first moved to NYC, like much of the Luar community.“ Raul’s the type of person [where] in the first 15 or 30 seconds of meeting them you just automatically have a bond,” she says. The pair have become much closer over the years, with Yi even attending Lopez- family Thanksgiving celebrations. “I always have an open door at his family’s place, a seat at the table,” she says, adding, “and he’s definitely a part of my family, too. I love him to pieces. Anytime I hear his name, I will show up and show out 110 per cent for him.”
Jesusmaria Guerrero is a cat-loving, guitar-strumming, Dominican model with the kind of wide eyes and chiselled features that leave a lasting impression. He’s known for his elegant presence and his catwalk swagger is in high demand.
MAAHLEEK, ARTIST, MODEL AND CHOSEN SISTER
Growing up in an Afro-centric household, the model and stylist Maahleek has always been submerged in a melting pot of culture. He refers to himself on social media as an “Indigenous alien” and a “Multi-faceted sissy”, with his distinct style pulling from Japanese, Afrofuturist and Americana codes. Maahleek met Lopez at a rooftop party in Brooklyn in 2021. “It’s always good when you meet people who actually aren’t trying to put up a front, [who] actually genuinely support and see you,” he says. “He calls me ‘sis’, so I guess we’re sisters now. He checks up on me and whatnot; it’s a sisterhood.”
IMAN HILL, MUSICIAN AND ARTIST
Iman Hill, 25, refers to herself as hip hop’s Mona Lisa. She is a trailblazing Black trans musician, model, advocate of the Black trans community and photographer/videographer (she shot Luar’s SS23 show) whose work centres on community. Hill met Lopez at a cookout for Black trans women last year and since then, the designer has become her “fairy god-auntie”. “Every once in a while, Raul will just wave his wand and it’ll be boppity boppity boop and then magic happens,” she laughs. “He’s living proof [that] you can be successful and still be approachable. Gone are the days of Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld, these mystical creatures that you only see once a year at these big-time events. I think [Raul] is almost single-handedly changing that narrative.”
FIFFANY LUU, ACTOR
Appearing on TV shows like Guy Code and Law & Order: SVU, Fiffany Luu loves to be on camera. A gorgeous amalgamation of Taiwanese, Thai and Vietnamese heritage, she’s also a model and muse to Lopez, who she met through mutual friends. “I love when Raul comes for a sleepover [and] to decompress, watch TV and order food. It’s therapeutic!” she says. “He has always been inspirational to me by being his authentic self and staying true to himself under any circumstances. I’m his muse for life.”
ALEXIS DE LA ROSA, ACTOR AND DJ
Queer, Dominican-American model, actor and DJ, Alexis De La Rosa, aka DJ Delabae, spends his nights scratching the decks at edgy underground nightclubs like Paragon in Bushwick and H0L0 in Queens. “I first met Raul back in 2017 at a Maricón Party – a party dedicated to the queer Latin community,” he recalls. “Since then, he and I have grown into becoming each other’s confidantes and sources of endless support and laughter. Raul has been instrumental in shaping the person and artist I am today; he’s given me the courage to pursue my dreams and overcome many obstacles. I am so grateful to have him in my life.”
LUAR: RIDING WITH RAUL
Photographer DANIEL WEISS
Fashion Editor MISS CLAIRE SULLIVAN
Text EMILY PHILLIPS
Talent MAAHLEEK, ALEXIS DE LA ROSA at Select Model Management, JESUSMARIA GUERRERO at Society Management, IMAN HILL, FIFFANY LUU, AUSTIN QUIROZ, and VIVIEN YI
Creative director MATHEUS LIMA
Hair and makeup NAT CARLSON
Photographer’s assistant ROMEK RASENAS
Fashion assistant CLAIRE WISEMAN
Production JENNIFER BERK
Location LIBERTY STUDIO
Additional interviews TAHIRAH HAIRSTON