As we dive head first into a new year, of course, the rumor mill is swirling among purse aficionados as to what styles will trend in 2023?
Triangular bags, mini shoulder baguettes, and loud pops of color are great and all. But don’t you think it’s time we moved on to something, well, more sensible again? In fact, The Cut proclaims that the post-pandemic world is in the midst of a vibe shift. And in the last two years, this transition – in aesthetics, lifestyle, and pop culture – has become all the more apparent.
The pillowy comfort carries of the early-2020s, for instance, paved the way for a sense of unbridled optimism and opulence, witnessed in the form of blindingly-logoed Y2K pieces and dazzlingly-bejeweled crystal and sequin numbers. When paired with peak-athleisure OOTDs, these festive arm candies are sure to have all eyes on you (and effectively help ease some of your COVID-induced frustrations too)!
But the downsides of the last decade’s casualwear culture aren’t entirely few. Are you going to college, pilates class, the club, or your workplace – who can really tell? Instead, the industry insiders have spoken: for the coming years of the 2020s (starting with 2023), the more under-the-radar, the better, and business-chic is back, baby!
And designers high and low, from Miu Miu and Prada to Celine and The Row, have delivered – unveiling sleek, borderline briefcase-like silhouettes. As we get back to our normal workplace routines, our hunt for that perfect work bag is likely to resume. And no one anticipated this need better than indie designer Raul Lopez. With his hit, the Ana Bag, Lopez has won the collective hearts of the fashion industry, and his creation has even been dubbed the next Telfar tote!
The Origins of Luar
You might think that gender-fluid fashion is a recent phenomenon. But it’s actually been decades in the works within the black community of New York.
Having had no formal fashion training, a young Raul Lopez began to delve into his love of style after being taught to sew by his seamstress mother. By 2005, he had co-founded the inclusive NY-based brand Hood By Air with designer Shayne Oliver. Not only did their joint label go on to become a formidable pop-culture force, but through it, Lopez found himself in the middle of a bustling fashion scene.
Their aesthetic was, by the era’s standards, simply revolutionary. It was actually the glamor of the noughties that Lopez wanted to tap into. The notorious low-rises, the Paris Hilton-Esque excesses, and the cultural sensation known as MySpace all served as a tremendous inspiration to him. Thus, in 2017, Lopez’s independent label, Luar – a reimagined version of the designer’s first name – came into being around the same time as a slew of other creatives of color were finding their footing in the industry, like Telfar Clemens, Brandon Blackwood and Kerby Jean-Raymond (all of whom Lopez remains close friends with).
With references to his Dominican origins and his Williamsburg-based New York upbringing, Luar’s narrative is one of progressive luxury. Of course, the nods to the sparkling aughties are all there – faux-fur trims, asymmetric leather outfits, deconstructed suits, and baggy jeans-tank top combos. But at Luar, the references are loaded; all underlined with a subversive subtext of the black and gender-nonconforming counterculture.
It didn’t take long for Lopez’s vision to gain exposure. His dresses and accessories were seen on the likes of Rihanna and Solange Knowles, and the late-2010s were, understandably, all about the Y2K obsession.
But what with the mounting expectations from up-and-coming creatives and the hamster-wheel of churning out new designs every season, Lopez increasingly found himself suffering from burnout. So, at the start of the pandemic, he jet-setted to the Cayman Islands for a much-needed hiatus.
The Rise of the Ana
Although Luar’s original vision was groundbreaking, much of its recognition can be traced to the last two years. And Lopez attributes his recent unprecedented success to two things – his break from the industry and his Ana Bag.
In fact, just because he was on a hiatus doesn’t mean he was frittering away his time. Instead, the designer used this interval to extensively study the strategies of one of the most well-known powerhouses of American fashion, Michael Kors.
The contemporary fashion giant counts the Dominican Republic among its loyal fanbases. And Lopez, having been exposed there to the brand’s ubiquitous monogrammed flats, purses, and charms, was struck with the idea of introducing a luxury purse to his lineup at an entry-level price point like that of Kors.
Plus, his ability to predict the next trend helped. He not only (rightly) foresaw an increase in demand in the handbag category during the pandemic but also came up with a silhouette that was fool-proof.
Thus, Lopez’s triumphant return during the SS/22 New York Fashion Week saw models strutting along the runway with a boxy leather trapezoid featuring dramatic, circular handles. Dubbed the Ana bag, after his mother’s maiden name, the carryall is an eclectic mix of the round-handled purses of the 60s and briefcases of the 80s. A reference to the handbags that his grandmother and mother carried, respectively – the two most important women in his life – it was released in neutrals, neons, as well as embossed exotics and priced at an affordable $235.
Seen on the likes of Dua Lipa, Troye Sivan (who wore a black version to the Met Gala), Patti LaBelle, Julia Fox, Charli XCX, and more, it’s also worth mentioning that the Ana sold out within two and a half hours of its first drop last year!
The Next Telfar?
Given the Ana’s tremendous success, it comes as no surprise that the bag has already gained a reputation as a gender-inclusive, downtown status symbol. And HighSnobiety writer Alex Pauly has proclaimed the purse “the Kelly of Crown Heights.”
If that sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. Having captivated the New York audience with his newest creation, the trajectory of Lopez’s Ana closely resembles that of one his closest peers, the OG Bushwick Birkin – the Telfar Tote. Not only does it bring the designer’s background into focus – having been described as a “wearable reflection of community” – but, like Telfar, it isn’t limited to a specific demographic or audience. Lopez himself says it all, “Luar is for the culture. It’s for everyone.”
And because of the Ana’s immense reception, high-end stockists, like SSENSE, Nordstrom, and Moda Operandi, are racing to scoop it up. In fact, Lopez himself purportedly showed the Ana’s design to Clemens in its pre-launch stage, and both designers continue to take pride in each other’s work. Plus, like many of their contemporaries, the two share similar notions of luxury, where something isn’t necessarily expensive. Rather, it’s the joy and meaning which can be derived from it that truly matters.
But it’s not just the Ana’s social relevance that has risen it to an it-bag status. At the end of the day, it’s a highly functional bag that’ll accompany you to work and to the party afterward. And for stylist Mel Reneé Leamon, it’s the perfect purse that “speaks to the New York creative professional.”
After all, it isn’t every day that one wins the CFDA Accessories Designer of the Year award like Lopez did this November courtesy of the Ana’s success.
Ultimately, it is indie designers like Lopez who are spearheading the current vibe shift. Their medley of cultures, backgrounds, and generations is driving the latest trends, and authenticity is paramount.
But this transition isn’t something to be intimidated by. Everyone has their place in the world, and it’s our love for handbags that unite us. And despite the hefty social narratives, fashion needn’t be so serious either, as Lopez himself says, “now I can wear a bag with everything and dress myself up and have fun!”
featured image via @luar