Enter The Arcade | Lula Laora AW23

The continuous call of trends pushing fashion consumerism keeps us following and buying but also losing a sense of individuality. So, it’s always refreshing to see a designer creating to the beat of their own drum, one who advocates for slow fashion and asks us to embrace our uniqueness through an environmentally conscious lens. London-based designer Lula Laura Velasco does just that. As her designs reflect her fantasies, imagination and her personal take on dressing, she asks us to explore ours for her AW23 collection entitled ‘Arcade‘. The collection film and aesthetic blends fantasy with reality as the designer enters the digital realm to discover new dimensions and possibilities in design. Lula explained this choice of theme, “Something that has never changed since I’ve been a child is my excitement whenever I get into an arcade. It’s amazing how you get to enter a digital world and become a digital character straight out of someone else’s mind. I had been dreaming of creating my digital worlds and characters to accompany them, and last season was the birth of my metaverse universe.”

The St Martins alumnus launched the brand in 2018, intending to subvert fast fashion, offering pieces made to order and created to extend that exploration of identity with neutrality at the brand’s heart. With each collection, she invites us to examine, experiment and celebrate our personal style through expressive wardrobe choices that reflect our authentic selves, encouraging us to fantasise and even become different characters. This season the designer explores contrasts from decadent to delicate, with stunning creations with gothic undertones tempered with softer silhouettes and palettes. Her deep appreciation of film and music has influenced her approach, allowing her to dress artists like Slipknot’s frontman ‘Clown,’ and Ashnikko and Yonaka.

It was also a love of dressing up and particularly costume that inspired Lula to move into the fashion design sphere, which seems particularly fitting for the AW23 collection, where the Arcade theme moves through various worlds, with the first representing nature and life on earth. “I have always been movie obsessed and particularly interested in costumes. They carry so much information about someone, a time period, history, culture, and so much more. To see how a character gets brought to life only using fabric was fascinating to me. In everyday life, I feel the impact our clothes have on us is huge.”

Clothes are a second skin, and I believe that if you are not comfortable in them, that will reflect on your mood and the way you communicate with people.

Lula’s love of stories and fantasy brought to life is a common thread throughout her work, with this collection perhaps the strongest representation of that. She explained that she feels exploring different characters, worlds, and ambiences is essential to stay in line with who you are and where you are going. “Even if I feel our core stays pretty much the same throughout life, everything around us shifts and varies. I believe that even if exploring these fantasies can be intimidating, they’re always so much fun and beneficial.” And for those who choose to wear the designs, Lula hopes to create a sense of happiness and peace, to be comfortable with themselves, as this will, in turn, make their approach to themselves and others a more positive one.

AW23 includes catsuits and puffa jackets along with theatrical collections that the designer created using power mesh, velvet, PVC, denim, cotton and satins. Many of the designs are created using upcycled materials, and with the made-to-order service, each piece is as unique as the wearer. “For our SS23 collection that’s currently on our E-shop, most of our pieces are made in upcycled motocross gear; hence they’re all one of a kind. The whole of our production is local, and our screen prints are made with eco ink. Some of our fabrics come from abroad as it is impossible to find everything you need in the UK only, especially trims and hardware.”

As with previous collections, the brand adheres to gender neutrality for AW23 though Lula is quick to dispense with labels around the collection’s inclusivity, “For all the garments we create, we try to have as much flexibility and ways to adjust the pieces because regardless of your body shape, we want every one of our items to be as adaptable as possible.”

My vision isn’t to label certain pieces as gender-neutral but for everyone to feel free to wear any of our pieces, whether it has a feminine or masculine shape.

The second world evoked by this collection is one of biomechanics and the fusion of flesh and digital, and that of the Swiss artist H.R. Geiger. With AI becoming ever-present, the digital world will naturally change the face of fashion in the coming years. Lula is happy to embrace this in her future designs.I think the digital world will allow us to have an extremely realistic vision of a design, as crazy as it might be, without needing to toile or make anything 3D. I feel it can be a catalyst for design development and help us become even more limitless. I will definitely be exploring more of this in the coming collections.”

The final world in ‘Arcade’ centres around the hardcore gaming aesthetic, taking inspiration from Lula’s favourite Anime, Sailor Moon and games like Mortal Kombat and Dead or Alive 3. It’s a collection that offers total freedom of movement, and that stands for sustainability and self-expression whilst being a fusion of past and present. And in doing so, it’s an encapsulation of fastidiousness, fun and forward-thinking. By utilising materials from her previous collections, she ensures that every garment has value. Breathing new life into old pieces, Lula safeguards the environment while keeping her brand contemporary, and the appliance of artisanal techniques ensures that heritage methods and design codes remain an inherent part of all she does. “I think hand drawing is crucial as it gives a character/charisma that digital tools just can’t offer. Mixing the traditional with digital is like taking the best of both worlds. I feel that the digital world can make things go faster and be more accurate, but nothing can ever replace craftsmanship and its eternal beauty. Craftsmanship is like history; it carries so much knowledge. I don’t see it ever being replaced.”

Lula’s bold but refreshing creations render pieces that will resonate with all who love to be playful with their wardrobes and diverge from the mainstream, and with both ready-to-wear and streetwear offerings under the eponymous label, there will be a garment that resonates with all tastes and expressions whatever your fantasy, race, desire, or gender. The choice to take the collection into the digital realm to aid the design and inform the aesthetic while also utilising traditional techniques demonstrates the dynamism of this talented young designer. 

Thanks to Lula for taking the time to talk to us and to Poppy and Charlie at Village PR for making it happen.

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Words: Leigh Maynard

Collection and Lookbook Credits:

Creative Director – Laura Velasco
Shoot Coordinator / Production – Nina Comer
Studio Manager – Caitlin Baverstock
Design Assistant / Illustrator – Annabel Stewart
Studio interns – Noam Anidjar , Coco Corbisiero

Accessories Developer – Nora Mehenni 
Jewellery – Winter House
Photographer – Kim Lang
DOP – Maxence Ewers
1st AC – Filip Adamczweski
Gaffer – Massimo Filippi
Spark – Mary Kalecinska 
VFX Team – Axio, Maoris Creantor, Loris Mantello, Anthony Carlone 
Digital Artist (worlds) – Andrew Totah
Makeup Artist – Chantal Amari
Hair Stylist – Jenny Green
Nail Artist – Suki