new york label luar is all about pure street couture fantasy
For The Post Truth Truth Issue, the designer talks Hood By Air, growing up in Williamsburg and the importance of representation in fashion with i-D Contributing Editor Paloma Elsesser.
Raul Lopez grew up in Los Sures – the southside of Williamsburg, Brooklyn – at the heart of a poignant melting pot of cultures, where a Hispanic diaspora shared blocks with the Hasidic community. An area of Brooklyn hit hard by poverty and crime in the 70s and 80s, it has now become a hotbed of latte art and succulents, which Raul appreciates. Raul now luxuriates in the neighborhood that, as a young gay kid, he used to be fearful walking through, but always will call home. In 2006 Raul co-founded Hood By Air with Shayne Oliver as a response to the lack of representation they saw in fashion. He eventually broke off to start LUAR. He wanted his new brand to reflect his truth; he wanted to create an orgiastic fantasy collaged together from his life, to invite others into this fucked up, street couture fantasy he knows so well.
Paloma: Hey, Boo. I’m so happy I get to do this with you. When we met 10 years ago I didn’t even fully understand your involvement in Hood By Air, but I just felt like, Raul runs shit around here. You used to carry this little purse around and it had a big ass knife in it. I was like, these are the most fucking fab gay people I have ever seen in my life.
Raul: I’m screaming! You know I always lived for you sis.
I loved how you pulled this community of queer and brown and strange kids around you. The way you combined the fashion and the hood.
Growing up in New York, and coming from a Latino household, you had to have that tough skin. You had to be ready to fight. I went to high school in Flushing, and it was so multicultural, they were Koreans, Dominicans, Latinos, Indians. I wanted to wear all their looks at once. I looked nuts!
You went from trying to fit in to finding your niche. And now that’s your strength. I see the honesty in all the things that you reference in Luar.
That’s the key, to be true to yourself. I always remember this moment. This 60-year-old gay man hanging around Christopher Street. He said: “You know honey, you look crazy, but don’t ever change because that’s what is going to make you, you.” I was like, damn bitch you right. He’d been through some shit, more than I’ve been through. It was really nice to have this moment with him, this respect. I respect everyone the same way I respect myself and I want to be respected in the same way.
It comes from knowing what it feels like to feel isolated, and the empathy comes from that struggle and that exclusion. We’re privileged to have come out of that and to be able to extend that to other people, like that man who sat down with you when you were young. That stretches into the community you’ve created in New York.
Shayne and I met on Christopher Street when we were teenagers. I used to have to get dressed on the train and head up to Christopher Street, because I couldn’t leave the house wearing what I wanted to wear. I used to stuff it in my backpack. Shayne was one of the only people I ever saw who was as weird as me. Then I started going downtown, hanging around the Lower East Side and I started meeting all these fashion people. I met Angelo Baque and the Supreme kids too. Those kids were real skater dudes, but they were never derogatory to me. Me and Shayne would be really pushing it, and they realised that we got it. The mindset back then weren’t the same as the mindsets we have now. These kids were growing up like savages on the street. I come from a place where its not cool to be gay, which is crazy, because we live in the capital of the free world but its not free at all. In New York if any normal person doesn’t shout at me in the street I got to go home and change because I knew it’s wasn’t a look.
Homophobia was totally normalised. A lot of people don’t understand the things me and Shayne went through, the fights we got into. I had to pay a lot of dues to be able to just exist in the street in the way I wanted to.
I grew up in LA I never saw any queerness, any brownness. When I moved to New York, it was like I was exhaling. This big sigh of relief, like I wasn’t feeling isolated anymore. I found myself among all these other anomalies. What was it like growing up in Williamsburg, before gentrification?
We all came from this crazy urban dystopia. I grew up in the hood but at the end of the day that’s not who I am. Like Williamsburg I’m a little more polished now. I love a safe neighbourhood. Not to judgify the past, but I want my people to be able to walk around during the day and be safe, not just exist at night like vampires.
You’ve ascended from mother to granny.
I don’t drink or do drugs, everyone’s like ‘You’re a granny, you’re so boring’. I’m a fucking granny so what, I love it! There are so many kids who’ve been in my circles, and have fallen really hard due to all the recreational things they do. You don’t need to do all this to fit in. I never did. People are gonna like you if they like you.
Working in fashion, I only want to be in spaces with people who believe in me the way my friends believe in me. Now, as a 27-year-old woman, I feel like I earned it. I’m a model, but my success as a model, I think, has as much to do with my mind.
Luar has been a journey too. It’s been tough. I mean Luar is my name backwards, it’s such a reflection of myself. Every season is a chapter in my life and people can like it or not like it.
You’re doing an incredible job with Luar. It’s hard for people like us to win.
They categorise me so much, but Luar is not a thing for me to fit into the box you think exists. This is me. Who I am. My story. It’s not for you. It’s for the culture. I remember speaking to Kerby, of Pyer Moss, recently, and he said he used to see me and Shayne sneaking into the FIT library to steal the art books to do our research for HBA. That’s where we came from.
Photography Deirdre Lewis.
Styling Sydney Rose Thomas.
Hair Evanie Eausto using Amika.
Make-up Kuma for NARS Cosmetics.
Nails Etsuko Ehimatani.
Photography assistance Gregory Wikstrom.
Styling assistance Milton Dixon.
Hair assistance Michael Tubolino and Aava Mihaljevich.
Make-up assistance Ayana Awata.
Casting director Samuel Ellis Scheinmann for DMCASTING.
Models Johan at Midland, Shaylan Simon at Red and Jillian Medina at State.
All clothing LUAR.
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.