Raul Lopez on Latino Ballads, Meryl Streep, and LUAR SS23
On Sunday night at The Shed, LUAR creative director Raul Lopez presented “LA ALTA GAMA,” an SS23 runway show that served as an unapologetically glamorous homage to the Dominican designer’s roots. Lopez treated guests to a real show, from the entrance mob (family members, friends, fans, and industry insiders were all vying for a seat), to the high powered collection featuring deconstructed suiting and elegant gowns adorned with sparkles and Vanjie swag. On the catwalk, models carried “Ana” bags in new silhouettes and colors (hello, cobalt), and stopped to pose in front of spotlit oval mirrors just to show how much they were feeling themselves. To find out about the inspiration behind Lopez’s energetic NYFW show, we call up the designer for a quick chat about Latino ballads, teenage bedrooms, and Hollywood icons.
ERNESTO MACIAS: Hola, how are you doing?
RAUL LOPEZ: Aqui tu sabes!
MACIAS: How are you feeling? Are you still riding that high from all the reactions to the show?
LOPEZ: Yeah, it’s really nice. Everyone’s really been reaching out and just expressing how good it felt to be there. It felt like an actual reunion. It took, like, 35 minutes to get everyone to sit.
MACIAS: Everyone was there, all the right people. How many hours have you slept since?
LOPEZ: Not much really. I still have anxiety.
MACIAS: What was your last meal?
LOPEZ: My last meal was shrimp scampi and oysters Rockefeller.
MACIAS: Oh, oh, come on. Fancy. Okay. Love that. So let’s get into it. You opened the show with this song “Llama Por Favor” by Alejandra Guzmán. For the people who speak Spanish and are Latino and know of her—it’s a very emotional, almost heartbreaking ballad. Tell me why you chose to do that.
LOPEZ: Exactly what you said. I feel like as Latinos growing up—it doesn’t matter what background—your mom, your aunt, or your grandmother definitely played it on Saturday or Sunday to clean the house, or if they were gathering. It was just like, a form of connecting. The music of Alejandra Guzmán is so emotional. You know how Latinas are, they want to feel it. They want to feel sad. It just immerses them in this experience, even if it’s just cleaning or mopping the floor. They want to feel fab, you know? Growing up, my mom used to play that song all the time. She was obsessed with Alejandra Guzmán and Ana Gabriel—all these really powerful Latina women of that era. I wanted to pay homage to that. Also the memory of her mopping the floors on Sunday, burning incense in that house, and I’m in bed so over it. I have to go to school all week, and now it’s Saturday, and this woman is blasting music and cleaning and I can’t rest. [Laughs]
MACIAS: It was a very direct nod to Latino culture, and it set the tone, really, for the entire show.
LOPEZ: So the whole experience at the beginning was to make everyone get transported into my bedroom on a Saturday. That’s why all the lights were off and the opening was really emotional. I wanted to lead everyone to the back and then make the point that it was showtime. With me, it’s hard to pinpoint why I do it unless I explain it. But if you know you know. When you came up to me and you were like, “Girl, Alejandra.” I was like, “Exactly.” The DMs went off! Everyone loved it.
MACIAS: It was so much fun. So “LA ALTA GAMA,” does it have a meaning beyond the literal English translation of “high glamor?”
LOPEZ: It’s this Dembow song that a dude named made Rochy RD made. He started making money and he’s like “bring me champagne, bring me seafood towers.” It wasn’t really nouveau riche, but it is nouveau riche-ish. It’s just ignorance. It’s like, “Oh, I got money now, I want to show off.” I feel like that was the thing also with my family. It was like, they’re mopping floors, they’re doing whatever they’re doing, being a superintendent in a building, but the mindset was, “If I’m coming to the reunion. I’m going to look fab, so they can think the glow up is real.” And they probably all lived in a bedroom.
MACIAS: In your show notes, you mentioned something about celebrating the immigrant experience. And I feel like what you’re talking about is very much a part of that. You might be suffering, or doing something to survive, but when you get with your family, you want to celebrate and look good while doing it.
MACIAS: It’s something that you’ve been doing over and over. And why do you feel like it’s still necessary in today’s world to embrace your duality, being Latino, being Dominican, and then also being American and feeling both at the same time?
LOPEZ: Being Latino in America—you know how it is, the whole cliche thing. A lot of us are under-appreciated and underprivileged. But it’s also a way of just voicing, “Yes, I’m American, I’m first generation, but my parents are Dominican.” I’m always going to pay homage to them because they came before me and because of them, I’m here. Obviously, I am American, and I am from New York. So I want people from Dominican Republic, Latinos, and everyone from everywhere to know that there’s space for all of us. It’s not just about, “Oh, I come from this upbringing. I’m never going to make it. My mom doesn’t have money. My dad doesn’t have…” No. If you want it, you need to put your mind to it.
MACIAS: That’s very important for all the kids that are watching you. How would you describe the collection in three words?
LOPEZ: Elegant, fab, and iconic.
MACIAS: I also particularly loved the casting. It was very androgynous. It’s something that is part of your brand, you’ve leaned into genderless fashion pretty heavily. Why is that still something that you keep pushing in every collection?
LOPEZ: Right, I put cis men in heels. The more I keep doing it, they start to let dudes do it. I feel like they’re becoming a little more understanding that it’s not about, “Oh, I’m a straight dude. Don’t put me in heels” It’s more like, “Who cares? All the models actually love me. They actually hug me. I’m a family person. I love to build community. Everyone is welcome. I think with the whole thing with my shows, it’s always a reflection of myself. I wear women’s clothes, I wear men’s clothes, that doesn’t define anything. It’s not just trying to be like, “Make everyone non-binary, or gay, or queer.” No. For me, you don’t need to say anything. Just keep it cute and keep it new. If you don’t have anything good to say, then don’t say it.
MACIAS: Who do you want to see wearing this collection?
LOPEZ: That’s a good question. Obviously, Solange, she’s a good, good, friend. Actually, you know who I want to see in one of the looks? Meryl Streep. [Laughs]
MACIAS: Oh, work. She would tear in one of those black dresses.
LOPEZ: I would like the young girls, obviously, like a Kylie [Jenner]. I want it to hit every note where it’s not just, “Oh, this is for this type of person.” I want the grannies and the young girls to get into it. Like all the kids.
MACIAS: And Meryl Streep.
LOPEZ: She’ll be walking next show. [Laughs]
MACIAS: Do you think that “THE ALTA GAMA” lifestyle is for everyone?
LOPEZ: It is definitely a state of mind. Like I always say, luxury is not about how much money you have. The majority of my closet is thrifted. For me, it’s just how you carry yourself, how you present yourself to everyone. You need to put your best foot forward when you come in. You need to shut it down. For me, luxury has evolved, in comparison to past times when in order for something to be luxury, it had to be a high-end designer. Now, because of the boom of fast fashion, the girls are wearing SHEIN dresses with Prada shoes.
MACIAS: That all starts in the streets. And you took it to another level with this show. You also partnered with Diageo as part of their initiative, “Fluidity is Freedom,” why did you decide to partner with someone and how do you feel about it now that the show is over?
LOPEZ: I love them because they like genderless fashion, they’re cool with the whole thing. When Fidel [Gomez Torres, LUAR’s Product Manager] was like, “Oh, you’re gonna do this thing with Diageo.” I was like, “Okay, let me hear what they do.” I don’t partner with anyone unless it makes sense. Because money, I can get from anywhere, but it has to make sense with my brand. If it doesn’t make sense—I know my followers and I know how people are. Buchanan’s is amazing. Dominicans love Buchanan’s. If we go to my mom’s house, we have it in the bar.
MACIAS: Right? I’m Mexican and at every party, the Buchanan’s comes out. It’s a Latino party staple. So now that the show’s over the after party happened, how do you feel about the reception from both your fans and the people who have always doubted you?
LOPEZ: I’m going to be doubted to the day I die, so I don’t even care. I don’t thrive off of that. Especially right after my show, you going to get the DMs, the calls from everyone, and the ones that were never there and looked down on you. But it’s cool. My teachers doubted me, I’m not going to go back to school and be like, “Look at me now.”
MACIAS: Right. You’re doing what you want, and it shows.