More confident! Bolder! Louder!
Luci & Dona’s postmodern fantasy
He holds up a stiff metal cage wrought of rainbow-hued crystal. “I think this is a really mass-market piece,” says Josean Vargas-Rodriguez, half of the team behind Luci & Dona. To which I respond, with astonishment, “Mass market?” But Vargas insists. “It’s really mass-market because of the many ways you can wear it! Look—you can just put it over a white button-down shirt. You just have to have that emotional connection. Our embellishments, our crystals, our trims really draw you into the fantasy.”
Though Luci & Dona’s gender-nonspecific extravaganzas may be a postmodern fantasy, Mikey Vargas-Rodriguez, Vargas’s partner and brand visualizer, says the creations have deep roots. “We love classic things, but we want to recontextualize them,” he explains. “Glamour can be rhinestones, but it can also be an Hermès double-face cashmere coat. We look at old references—’60s Balenciaga, Jeanne Lanvin couture—and try to strip things down, to make it in a new way.”
A visit to the Luci & Dona studio in downtown Rochester, where the spring 2020 collection is on resplendent display, offers compelling evidence of just how far you can twist and stretch the notion of “classic.” Here we find examples of the kind of high-gloss elegance that’s rarely seen today. The pair offers an unabashed tribute to the notion that you can be a literal shining star. The eye lingers on crystal streamers welded into 3-D panels; an extraordinary black gown, made of what could be gigantic spaghetti tubes, defies description. (Okay, here’s a try—is it the gorgeous offspring of an octopus and a Venus flytrap?) But there are also catsuits patterned in blown-out herringbone checks and peach satin frocks with balloon sleeves that happily acknowledge their couture heritage.
“Neither of us is exactly from fashion capitals,” Vargas says, laughing. “I mean, I’m from Puerto Rico!” Vargas graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with a bachelor’s in education. Michael holds a degree in graphic design from RIT. Could this be why they have such a deep understanding of the transformative power of clothes, the desire to become another person just by slipping into something fabulous? “More confident! Bolder! Louder!” As Josean puts it, “It’s definitely occasion dressing—but the occasion could be you in your room posting on social media.”
Words & styling by Tanvi Asher
Photography by Greg Hollar
Model Brie Wigent
Hair by Amanda Torres of Amethyst Salon