On a balmy early spring evening, an unassuming Brooklyn street has momentarily become the destination for New York fashionistas. Club kids, streetwear aficionados and folks dressed like Neo from “The Matrix” vied for a spot in the growing crowd. The reason? A fashion brand called Luar, which has become so popular in recent years that even those who are not usually used to queuing will be happy to queue.
It was worth it. Once inside, the show looked like a party, with Tony Award-nominated playwright Jeremy O. Harris and rapper A$AP Ferg in attendance, audience cheers generally porous with each model, and elegant evening wear and smart. and suitable for podium work. It then turned – seamlessly – into a real party, the kind with drinks on trays.
Luar designer Raul Lopez, speaking a few weeks after the show, is wide-eyed but smiles when told about the scrum to get in. “It’s become a thing where it’s like entering a club,” he says, addressing The Guardian via video call from her grandmother’s house. “Kids start leaking it on TikTok or whatever…and like 700 or 800 people show up.”
These numbers are testament to how Luar is a household name far beyond those in the rarefied world of fashion. That may be partly because Lopez — a queer color designer who grew up in a non-gentrified New York neighborhood — stands apart from the industry in which he operates. Rather than obscuring these differences, Luar leans on them and celebrates them – by building something radical: a luxury brand that appeals beyond the 1%.
If, in the fashion world, New York has long been shorthand for the urban sophistication of brands such as Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren, Luar de Lopez is one of many brands finally showing different points of view in this most diverse city. Other names include Willy Chavarria, the 56-year-old designer who works for Calvin Klein and is experiencing a resurgence in interest, thanks to his genderless designs and diverse street cast. And Head of State, the label founded by Taofeek Abijako when he was 17. Her collection in February was a moving tribute to her father’s journey from Nigeria to Spain and finally to the United States.
Notably, Lopez closed out fashion week — a high-profile slot usually reserved for a household name. He sees it as an affirmation. “I was born and raised in New York, [and] coming from these restless neighborhoods…to be able to exhibit my work to the world and to New York was an honor,” he says. “In a weird way, it wasn’t really about me, it was about everyone. It’s like ‘I can do it, you can do it too, you know, you just have to hustle.'”
There are other signs of success. He is one of nine finalists for this year’s prestigious LVMH Prize for Young Designers, the winner of which was announced in June. It was also awarded CDFA Accessories Designer of the Year in 2022. And sales are growing – with the Ana bag key to that meteoric rise. The first drop, in October 2021, sold out in 30 minutes, and according to Vogue Business, sales for the brand increased 140% from Spring/Summer 2022 to Spring/Summer 2023.
Launched in 2021, the classic square shape with a round looped handle has become a favorite of celebrities such as Dua Lipa, Troye Sivan and (delightfully) Patti LaBelle, but also everyday people. That’s partly down to its price – the biggest is $395 (£315). It may seem expensive – and it is – but compare it to other catwalk brands and it becomes relatively affordable in the luxury world; a Louis Vuitton Speedy will cost you £1,310, for example, while a Chanel 2.55 costs £8,530.
By Lauren Cochrane