Mona Lucero on Why Color and Flow Matter in the Pandemic

Mona Lucero Designs
Mona Lucero Designs Mona Lucero
As upbeat music blared from the speakers, models in flowing, colorful caftans, dresses and tunics floated down the runway at designer Mona Lucero's recent show at Denver Fashion Week. The spirit suited the crowd's mood and excitement to finally be out celebrating fashion after a year of pandemic lockdowns.

And Lucero was the perfect designer to contribute to the night's energy. A fixture of the Denver fashion scene, she's been designing her own collections since 1993 and has owned two boutiques in the metro area.

Even during the pandemic, when everyone was suddenly stuck at home or covering their faces to go out, Lucero kept designing. Her motto: "Keep dressing up."

"You have to do that for yourself," she insists. "Even in dire times, you can still put on something with color or a print. Those things make you feel better."

She discovered that one way she could help keep people safe from COVID-19 while still looking stylish was to make face masks.

"I wanted to contribute in a way to keep people's spirits up," she says. "They were practical and necessary, but I made them really colorful. I wanted people to know they didn't have to wear those blue surgical masks. You can still accessorize."

Lucero's designs are known for being colorful and eclectic. She attributes her love for exploring shades, tones and tints as part of her heritage. "I'm Mexican-American and Native American. My family is from New Mexico. Color is something that's always been around me. I'm just drawn to it. It's not really a conscious decision," she says.

Her education in fine art and sculpting is also a strong influence on her work, especially recently. Her collections feature her own abstract paintings, drawings of shoes, and even her beloved shop cat, Vincent, printed on scarves used as the fabrics for the clothes. She says she plans to incorporate more of her artwork into future designs.

"I've always incorporated art in fashion throughout my career," she says. "I'm making that more of a focus going forward."
click to enlarge A Mona Lucero caftan. - MONA LUCERO
A Mona Lucero caftan.
Mona Lucero
Another recent focus for Lucero is creating caftans — ankle-length, free-flowing garments with loose sleeves. She says the inspiration came from listening to music from the 1970s, a decade when caftans became wildly popular, thanks to designer Halston. She's also been thinking a lot about global warming.

"It's getting hotter, and people are going to want clothes that are loose and cool to wear," she says. Interestingly, her timing for caftans also came along during the pandemic, when people looked for comfortable clothes to wear at home and still be somewhat fashionable. "I think about the late 1960s and ’70s, when women wore caftans during parties at home and looked glamorous in them."

Another influence on her clothes is politics, which she admits she follows closely on social media.

"I did a collection with the words 'love,' 'peace,' 'truth' during the 2016 election year, and it was a direct result of what was happening," she says. "A lot of what I create has meaning behind it, but I don't necessarily say it directly." She adds that she was going to use dark colors for her showing right as things were opening up again from all the stay-at-home orders, but she felt people needed a break from the darkness. "I went with brighter clothes that were more playful and feminine. I just felt people needed that after going through so much."

Lucero's personal style also draws from decades past as she mixes vintage with modern pieces and her own designs.

"As a designer, people always ask me if I'm wearing anything of mine. So there's a little pressure to do that," she says. "I have to dress up, because I have to inspire people. If I don't have fun with clothes, people will say, then why do you expect me to put the effort out?"
click to enlarge Fashion designer Mona Lucero. - E J CARR
Fashion designer Mona Lucero.
E J Carr
She's currently preparing for Fashion West, a two-night event on August 15 and 16 that features hairstylists and fashion designers from the western region. She plans to offer an entirely new collection. A sneak peek on her Instagram shows a few outlaw looks, with cowboy hats, ponchos, denim and, of course, colorful scarves. Lucero says the jumping-off point for the collection was an old cowboy hat given to her by a friend, and it evolved from there. "The cowboy look comes and goes in Denver. I've not really been into it until recently. I've done ponchos for a while, and I always love using wools and denim. I was going to show this collection in the summer, but the clothes are actually more suitable for the fall."

Lucero says what she loves most about being a designer isn't always about creating the work. It's about the people and the fact that fashion design is really a business of getting to know people, making clothes for them and styling them.

"As a designer, I work with people constantly," she says. "When clients come in and try on clothes, I talk to them and learn about their lives. I work with the models at the shows, and I get to know a lot of people in a broad age range. Plus, I meet the people who work behind the scenes at shows and the audience. It's such a blast!"
click to enlarge Mona Lucero Design - MONA LUCERO
Mona Lucero Design
Mona Lucero
Whether it's caftans or ponchos, Lucero is adamant about giving people inspiration and clothing so they can keep dressing up, no matter what.

"A lot of people think fashion is trivial. But it's really about expressing yourself," she points out. "When it's done through clothes, that's called style, and it makes you happy. I think it's super important that people get that. If not, it's pretty hard to live on this planet without those things in life."

Mona Lucero will show at Fashion West, 5 to 11 p.m. Monday, August 16, at ReelWorks (formerly Exdo Event Center), 1399 35th Street, $30-$75,
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Kastle Waserman is a freelance contributor to Westword covering music and culture. Prior to Denver, she lived in Los Angeles and worked as a staff editor/reporter for the Los Angeles Times covering music, nightclubs, lifestyles and fashion. She’s been published in the New York Post, Women’s Wear Daily and Fodor’s Travel Books.
Contact: Kastle Waserman