Raul Lopez left New York City for the Dominican Republic to start his own line, Luar Zepol, after breaking with his longtime label, Hood By Air, which was just as infamous for the brashness of Lopez and his partner, Shayne Oliver, as it was for their clothing. As young designers with loads of momentum and collections made up of goth kilts and oversized sheer tees, Hood By Air started slowing down when, as Lopez believes, large fashion houses began ripping them off, parading their city street style on gilded runways in Europe. The legacy of young minority gay men’s culture in New York being pinched by bigger fish is nothing new. The story of Madonna aping “Vogue” from queer life and ball culture being the most notorious example. But in our confessional, emotional Behind the Music-era of artistry, the way people discuss and are haunted by their hardships is much different.
For Lopez, talking about starting fresh with Luar Zepol also conjures old demons:
I couldn’t do Hood By Air anymore. I just needed to shift away from it a bit. I love Shayne, he’s a genius, but at this point we have different visions. I’m happy with what we did. Growing up in the hood, you always wanted to step out, but you felt like you couldn’t. And Hood By Air did that, you know? We took urban silhouettes and shaped them into an avant-garde type of feel that kids in the hood could appreciate. But then somebody who’s in the art scene or in the fashion scene could appreciate it as well.
But I want something new. I want Luar Zepol to be a lifestyle brand. I want big things. It’s still art for me. We don’t need to do, like, scented candles or anything, but I want to make things for people to buy. With Hood By Air, we got copied by so many people and never got credit. By, like, big houses! I’m not going to name names but we never got credit. We made some money, sold at stores, but every single thing came out of our pockets. We were not some big luxury brand. And people just turned around and made our look their entire aesthetic! It was by people who never lived it. We grew up in the ball and vogue scene, and we wanted to be the new face of fashion with that kind of energy.
My friend gave me this book called, like, Ten Rules To Being a Human Being or something. It’s from Chicken Soup for the Soul, I think. And it’s all about lessons. I learned from Hood By Air. You really need to reach for the stars. It’s not about gay style or urban style, it’s just about style. People are always going to look at me and think, Oh, you know, that’s gay style, or that’s hood, because people are just not progressive. But I don’t feel that I’m one thing. I want every type of guy to be able to look at Luar Zepol and say, “I need that.”
Hood By Air didn’t really show at fashion week or do the typical thing, and I still think I won’t. It’s too pretentious, and it’s just not me. There are just some rules I will never play by. This is the real me. Luar Zepol even spells my name backwards. I’m taking my time. I want this to last.