Mona Lucero has a name in this town, but I have a feeling she would have gained one wherever she settled, even in what might be called more cosmopolitan coastal, urban or even global realms. In the eight years since she opened her Mona Lucero Design Boutique, an urban community of shops and restaurants and general development has sprouted up around her and, through it all, she's been there, composed and quiet and classic in her 15th Street Lower Highland storefront, slowly building said name into a local style empire with a euro beat.
Mona comes from an art background, and it shows in everything she does. Which is why she's become, at least in my eyes, our grand-dame of fashion design. Style isn't just a profession for her; it's something she intuits. Her work as a designer comes from a deeply personal yet well-researched place that she's cultivated over many years.
What inspires Mona? "Whatever is going on culturally. I spend a lot of time looking for things on the Internet and YouTube, and like to think I have a global view of style and culture. Also, fashion and art are, to me, similar processes. But you don't have to sell art to be a great artist. In fashion, you do. I like to have both in my life." To that end, she creates both practical clothing, like her bread-and-butter denim a-line skirts, and impractical, as in pieces she doesn't really expect to sell, which are more like artworks in fabric.
In the store, she's gearing up for the holidays, loading up on new lines, including her feminine Parisian-girl blouses and skirts, whimsical ballet-inspired "La Fontaine" crinoline/tutu skirts, wraparound snoods and big, blowsy fabric corsage pins for jacket or coat lapels. But you'll also find some Mona favorites that clearly cross that divide between functional wearables and wearable art: for instance, a silky long dress she draped over the form without a pattern and gathered at the sides, with a ruffled front panel painted by Denver artist Jason Appleton. "It's almost like wearing a canvas," she says. "And you don't have to be skinny to wear this. It fits almost any body type."
And in the back, there's "Modern Geisha," an evening gown, ruffled about the bottom, with a removable obi sash and shrug, and "Free Speech, Free Thought, Free Will," another gown made from a stiff, paper-like fabric on which she's drawn diary sketches with colored pencils, all topped off with a safety pin brooch.
As for designers she looks to for inspiration, Mona says, "My taste is all over the place, from classic to out there: I like Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana and everyone loves Alexander McQueen. As for more classic designers there's Schiaparelli, Moschino -- styles that are classic, but still fun. And of course, Issey Miyake." Though it's not necessarily one she favors over others, Mona does think Denver has a specific look: "Jeans, cool sweaters over a shirt and a casual shoe, like loafers or sneakers. We do that better than everyone else." And it's a uniquely American look, she adds, that is sought after in Europe and abroad.
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She, however, leans toward a more eclectic look. Mona's personal style right now is driven by layering, especially of accessories, jewelry and stacked necklaces, including those by her favorite local jewelry designers, Amy Kahn and Gemma Huang. On top of those favorite pieces, she'll layer anything from big plastic breads or costume jewelry to simple chokers made form hardware store ball-chains. Her favorite color palette these days is black, white and red -- very classic -- and simplified or dressed up as the occasion warrants. To work in the store, she might dress in a practical manner, but it's a different story for one the art openings she frequents.
"People do react to what you're wearing. For an opening, I might do something very visually oriented that people into art will be excited about. If my mood is quiet, sometimes I'll wear something quiet, or sometimes I'll wear the opposite: something to get the energy going." Mona doesn't go out to shop much; a lot of her basics she buys vintage or thrift, and she also wears clothing from the boutique's racks.
Today, Mona costumes herself perfectly from head to foot in Mona Lucero (well, at least to her shins). Playing dress-up, as any grown woman with half a sense for fashion should, she's donned an upstyled cardigan that's like a fitted blazer with an embroidered crest and vintage buttons from her collection. Underneath, a white Cosabella lace top peeks through, setting off her blue and white patterned crinoline skirt. And there are her necklaces, including pieces by the aforementioned Amy Kahn and Gemma Huang, a beautiful timepiece on a chain that was a gift from her sister and chokers of hardware-store ball-chain. She's also wearing a pair of favorite earrings, clear dangling crystal balls she found in Colfax pawn shop years ago, and on her feet, black patent booties from DSW. It encapsulates Mona Lucero style in a single shot, and it's damn cute, too.
Mona will host a trunk show with Marnie Yates Jewelry and Vintage Renewal repurposed pillows from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, November 12; the annual must-see winter fashion show she dubs an "art event" is planned for December 11 and sports a "Fellini-esque" theme that promises to be smashing. Mona Lucero Design Boutique is at 2544 15th Street; call 303-458-0090.