It’s not surprising that Raúl Lopez’s spring Luar collection was inspired by travel; on Instagram he’s known for his #BRB hashtag, which he usually posts along with a selfie from his plane seat. It’s likewise not surprising that he was inspired not by an exotic locale, but by “El Hoyo” ( “the hole” in Spanish), a humble neighborhood in the Dominican Republic. “It’s a very rural, rough neighborhood, but it’s so beautiful and I enjoy going there,” he said at a preview the day before his show shut down New York Fashion Week.

In the car to drop something off at a friend’s house in the DR, he drove into an uncanny scene that would seem strange to anyone not from el Caribe. “On the left side, everyone’s drinking, hanging out, blasting dembow from these loud crazy speakers; and on the right, there’s a church, but the disciples bring the chairs outside, and this woman has set up a podium outside, and she’s preaching with a microphone, like just on the sidewalk.”

Standing in the middle of that scene, Lopez had an aha moment. “This song is playing and the guy is screaming ‘Socorro, I’m with God, and I’m with your enemy but I’m dying in a sea of hate and as soon as I’m trying to come out of this water, you’re pulling me back.’ And I feel like [the people in the street] are in this weird vortex, trying to move forward—some to find god or others to get out of the hood—but then they get pulled back.”  

What’s most surprising is that from this melange came Lopez’s most streamlined and mature collection to date. The butter yellow boxy jacket that opened the show had rows of fully functional rouleau buttons that wrapped around the arms and could be unbuttoned to form a short sleeve jacket. It was worn with a matching pair of shorts that could be unbuttoned to become a panty, and white sheer hose—a mainstay of a certain church look for Caribbean women—and golden sandals. 

Lopez’s experiments with tailoring were exciting this season. A series of long tailored jackets with wide peak lapels appeared to be worn over draped skirts in the same fabric but were in fact all one piece—a fact that was only obvious as the models walked away and you noticed an elaborately draped back. It hinted at the tension Lopez was exploring—the wanting to move forward but getting pulled back by circumstances or by human temptation. Further pushing this point were the button-down shirts worn underneath the suit, in classic banker stripes, which featured an extra long collar that stood out against the neck—mirroring the motion of actually being pulled back by the neck. 

Lopez experimented with new techniques and materials this season, like the Luar “L” logo hand-embroidered on a series of eveningwear pieces and the all-over embellished skirt worn with a draped jersey halter top attached to sunglasses (yes, that means Luar sunglasses are likely to make an commercial debut soon). A semi-sheer striped black cotton—a sly callback to guayaberas—that he used on a draped sleeveless gown with an asymmetrical gather at the waistband had silver embellishment trimming the armholes based on the “‘hugs and kisses’ necklaces that the girls wear.” (A version of this dress done in a khaki light wool suiting was more conservative but just as cool and seemed like it would look great on almost anyone.)

Other standouts included the separates made from “crackle vinyl,” meant to mimic the cement floors that are typical in the houses in this Dominican Republic neighborhood. It looked particularly glamorous on a shirt with that same rouleau button detail along the sleeve and the bodice, tucked into a high-waist mermaid skirt in a shade of warm cement gray, and a little subversive on a shirt in a cooler shade of gray tucked into a pleated skort and worn with a long white tie. Paired with sneakers by Nike—one of the sponsors of the show—and black socks, it was an unhinged take on the classic door-to-door religious uniform, except this time the Ana bag took the place of the classic briefcase. 

“I think this season I was more refined with the hand embroideries, the fabrics, the suiting, the crepes… I just feel like I’m evolving into my true self,” Lopez said. “This marks the 10th year that I do an actual runway show, and I was thinking how all this hustling and bustling really paid off, because it’s such a beautiful thing to be a New Yorker and be recognized in the city. And it kind of sets the tone of having to show out when I do a show.” He paused for a second, “but who knows what next season will bring? Maybe I’ll go back to being crazy.”

This article was originally published on Vogue Runway.

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