Through delicate lines and fabulous silhouettes, the Peruvian illustrator captured the elegance and beauty of 1930s fashion. VOZ reminisces on the work of the multifaceted artist.
Illustration by Luza for Harpers Bazaar, October 1926
All images courtesy of the Luza Archive.
Reynaldo Luza is amongst the select group of Peruvians who have had a huge impact on worldwide fashion. But you probably hadn’t heard of him until now. It was only five years ago that I became aware of his work and immense contribution to fashion publications between the 1920s and 1950s. I was sitting on the floor of the Central Saint Martins library going through the Harper’s Bazaar archive, when suddenly in the November 1940 issue I came across a story titled ‘An Artist Collects the Native Fashions of South America.’ That artist was Reynaldo Luza. I was intrigued, to say the least. Having travelled from Lima to London to have this exact issue of Harper’s Bazaar open on page 76 in front of me felt serendipitous. Seeing a fellow Peruvian have such an impact on an industry I was barely dipping my toes in gave me a strange sense of security. He had been there to see it all, he had lived through it all, and he had kept a record of it all in the form of illustrations, photographs, paintings, and writing.
Luza’s nephew, Carlos Garcia Montero Luza, recalls the first memory he has of his uncle was when he visited Peru for the inauguration of the International Airport of Limatambo, which he had been commissioned to decorate. “He came to my parent’s house and that is when I had a close look at him,” Garcia Montero Luza tells me, “A 45-year-old man, dressed in a light-coloured linen jacket, a pastel pink shirt [and a] colourful tie. Hair combed with gel, very tall and cheerful… he talked about New York, smoked Lucky Strikes — which he kept in a golden cigarette case and lit with a beautiful lighter — [and] he drank whisky with ice… he looked like a movie star and dominated the scene. [He was] a cosmopolitan cultured man. He was a winner.”
In 1978, a few months after Reynaldo Luza’s death, Carlos Garcia Montero Luza was told by a friend of Luza, Luis Alberto Sanchez, that he had been working on a book where he shared his memories of fashion throughout the 1910s until the late 1940s, a period he had described to his nephew as “the best years of his life.” In the book, he talked about the most talented designers, illustrators, and artist of the time — most of which he had met and some of which were his close friends. The series of written drafts was recovered and published in 2015 by his nephew and grandnephew Carlos Garcia Montero Protzel —who works as an art consultant and curator— with the help of the editorial group COSAS and the backing of the BCP (Credit Bank of Peru). Two more books were published in 2016 and 2017 as part of the collection, featuring his unseen photography and his paintings.
Luza with one of his portraits.
Cover of Vogue illustrated by Luza, February 1921
Illustration by Luza for Harpers Bazaar, February 1927
Luza’s intention when writing the memoirs was to keep a record of some of the greatest years in fashion of which there was little left. “He decides to write them during his last trip to Europe, where he encountered that the past he knew no longer existed. Many of his renowned friends had died, others were impoverished, or had simply disappeared,” says Garcia Montero Luza, “in contrast, Reynaldo Luza was at his prime in Peru. He was deeply moved by this. It made him very melancholic.” When flipping through the pages of the trilogy of books Luza’s immense talent is palpable. His attention to detail and ability to capture the elegance transmitted by the garments made his illustrations more than mere records. This is evident when looking at the exquisite silhouettes he portrayed and through his use of thin and carefully placed lines. Luza was able to capture the essence not only of what the designers created but of the women these creations were made for.
“These memories begin in 1911 when I hadn’t yet turned 18,” writes Luza. The artist was leaving Lima to study architectural engineering at the Catholic University of Lovaina in Belgium. Previously, in his native city, he had already worked as an illustrator for select magazines and most importantly he had been the winner of a drawing contest judged by Julio Málaga Grenet. Luza won the chance to exhibit his work alongside fellow Peruvian Málaga Grenet’s, “Imagine what it does for a 17-year-old artist to exhibit his work alongside one of the century’s most renowned Latin American artist,” comments Garcia Montero Protzel. Luza had not only gained immense notoriety within Peru but also had a glimpse into what life as a successful artist could look like. He started his journey to Belgium through Panama by train, as the canal was yet to be inaugurated, and travelled through Antilles in an old French boat, until finally —after a month-long journey— Luza arrived at Saint-Nazaire. “In the Gare d’Orsay, I felt helpless. I was a South American mushroom in the middle of a Gallic garden,” writes Luza. During the few days he spent in Paris he stayed in Hotel Florida, which was close to the Madeleine and home to many South Americans, making him feel at ease.
Although his stay in Paris was short, and a simple stop on his way to Belgium, his time there was crucial in nurturing his love for art and illustrations. He remembers sitting in Café de la Paix and being drawn in by the “enormous and wonderful adverts of beautiful colours” placed on the building in front of him, “I came closer to look at them and the signatures of Cappiello and Fabiano remained embossed in my memory,” recalls Luza. The illustrator’s first encounter with Art Nouveau occurred at the renowned Chez Maxim’s, “More than liking the [detonating] décor, I was confused by it. I can only repeat what I read in an article about Chez Maxim’s. According to this story, two distinguished characters were at the bar and one told the other, ‘This Art Nouveau is really quite ugly, but one has to admit it is very nice.’”
Illustration by Luza for Harpers Bazaar, (date unknown)
His time in Lovaina —where he avidly collected humour magazines, like Le Rire— came to an end as the war began in 1914. He returned to Peru with his precious collection of publications, “I especially liked everything that was ostentatious and frivolous,” Luza recalled. Amongst his collection were fashion magazines with illustrations by Drian, Paul Iribe and his favourite, Xavier Gosé, who often drew the covers of Fémina and Les Modes. He would devour every magazine he purchased and innately learnt about the power illustrations had to convey emotions and messages. Luza left Europe as an era ended and only three years after his arrival, but what he witnessed of the Belle Époque remained embossed in his mind forever.
Once in Peru he played a crucial role in Colónida, a literary movement led by the multifaceted Peruvian writer and artist, Abraham Valdelomar. Colónida was a reaction against the academic and elitist literature that existed within Peru at the time. It took place between 1915 and 1916 and resulted in a literature, arts and social sciences magazine by the same name edited by Valdelomar, and whose contributors were young poets and writers such as José María Eguren, Enrique Bustamante y Ballivián and Manuel Gonzáles Prada. Luza was the artist of the group, and often illustrated the magazine’s covers. The “gothic children,” (as they were called) were known to meet at a café called Palais Concert in Lima, a renowned place of gathering for illustrious characters. “Colónida was a pre-avant-garde of [Peruvian] literature,” Garcia Montero Protzel states, “It was one of the most joyful stages of his early life.”
During his time in Lima, seeing the covers of Vogue’s illustrated by George Plank and Helen Dryden influenced his decision to travel to New York in 1918. He wanted to pursue an artistic career in the place where these magazines were created. “With or without a reason, I was able to travel to New York in the midst of war,” Luza recalls “[…] a reckless act, one of the most adventurous of my life.” Once in New York, he started working as a collaborator for a fur fashion magazine. However, he kept his gaze directed at Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar —the latter would often feature Erté’s exquisite illustrations on their covers, which impressed Luza. He describes these two publications as key elements in propelling his decision to begin his career as a fashion illustrator. “They were my teachers without realizing it,” Luza says, “[they] would pile up in my modest bedroom and helped me familiarize myself with the work and names of the most renowned artists specializing in fashion in Paris and New York.”
Through an unexpected encounter with a stranger who knew someone who worked at Vogue, Luza found himself in their head offices. His first job was to illustrate designs from a store on Fifth Avenue which were urgently needed for the next day. “I spent all night working feverishly,” says Luza, “a few days later I received a cheque for twenty-five dollars to my name singed by Vogue,” a considerable amount for the time. Luza then worked assisting Harry Freeman, who worked under Heyworth Campbell. The latter was the artistic director of Vogue and Vanity Fair at the time, and who Luza credits for opening the doors to the exclusive world of fashion to him, “Mr Campbell […] taught me everything a fashion illustrator should know” Luza recalls. The Peruvian artist would usually draw accessories and decorative motifs for the magazine until eventually in 1921 he illustrated two covers. A major accomplishment for the young illustrator, who only a few years before thought working at Vogue was an impossible dream.
Cover of Harpers Bazaar illustrated by Luza, March 1929
Illustration by Luza for Harpers Bazaar, October 1924
Luza completing an illustration.
In 1922 Luza officially stopped working for Vogue and transitioned to Harper’s Bazaar. A few months before he had met with their editor, Henry Sell, who after seeing his work had commissioned him to do a few illustrations for the magazine featuring fashion figurines, something he hadn’t had the opportunity to do at Vogue —where he still did not have a set salary or position. “This did not amuse Mr. Nast, who immediately called me into his office. He welcomed me with the issue of Harper’s Bazaar opened on his desk,” says Luza, “he manifested his surprise, but with his usual kindness, he did not seem angry.” After this, Luza signed a contract with Harper’s Bazaar as a permanent part of their team. He maintained amicable relationships with everyone at Vogue, including Condé Nast who would often invite him to his Park Avenue penthouse and who also introduced him to Benito when the Spaniard has just arrived in New York and entrusted Luza to help him settle in.
Luza described Harper’s Bazaar as a democratic working environment. He started as an illustrator and was a part of the magazine’s New York art staff. But when Main Bocher left Harper’s Bazaar to become Vogue’s Paris fashion editor Luza was offered the opportunity to relocate to Paris and take Bocher’s place. “I was warned that it would be a six-month trial period,” Luza recalls, “additionally, I was told I was chosen amongst other artists not because I was the best but because the others hadn’t accepted the proposal due to different personal reasons, and mainly because they did not speak French.” Despite the hectic circumstances that resulted in his return to Paris —a place Luza has longed for since his brief visit during the Belle Époque— he accomplished extraordinary work which secured his place in the magazine for over twenty-eight years.
In Paris, his job initially entailed illustrating the collections presented by Parisian based designers, but he eventually became a crucial member of the team who would alternate between the French city, New York, and London to work on different projects and contributed to British Bazaar. He not only worked as an artist for the magazine but would often propose and direct his own projects. His study of South American fashion published in the magazine was one of his greatest successes. In 1940, the war provided the opportunity —and created the interest— to look for fashion inspiration elsewhere than Europe. Luza saw this as a chance to showcase South American fashion to the world. Working in association with the now-closed luxury department store Bonwit Teller, he embarked on a three-month-long journey through South and Central America to carefully document the traditional costumes of their Indigenous communities. His illustrations and notes were published in Harper’s Bazaar November 1940 issue and exhibited at Bonwit Teller. This was not only a great opportunity career-wise for him but also a personal venture. Luza declared his motivation for this project was “to give satisfaction to a sentimental and patriotic wish” he had had for a long time. “I was told that the ladies of the Peruvian high society, usually reluctant to anything autochthonous, changed their attitude after the success of the exhibition in the US and little by little incorporated changes to their wardrobe,” Garcia Montero Luza comments.
Illustrations by Luza of South American traditional garments for Harpers Bazaar, November 1940
During his time in Paris, he met and became close friend with some of the most talented artists of the time such as Barón de Meyer, Sem, Erté and Jean Patou. His relationship with Schiaparelli however was perhaps the most significant, not only personally but professionally. “I drew the first sweater that Elsa brought to Paris as a novelty, …” says Luza, “for this reason she always kept a visible affection towards me. I always helped and collaborated with her.” Luza was very involved in the presentation of the bottle of her ‘Shocking’ perfume, decorated her beauty salon in New York and put her in contact with friends of his who would later work as representatives of her perfume business in the US. More importantly, Luza was crucial in introducing Schiaparelli to Peruvian traditional garments and the colours found in the Peruvian Andes which influenced her creations. Specifically, her Autumn 1935 collection — featuring accessories inspired by the Peruvian and Bolivian chullo (bonnet)— and her famous Shocking Pink — inspired by the pink visible in the Peruvian Andes’ flora and traditional garments from the region. “He was like an ambassador of Peruvian culture in a time where that did not exist,” comments Garcia Montero Protzel.
On March 15th of 1940, his rarely seen photography was published in Harper’s Bazaar in a story titled “Arrived Safely… Good Crossing”. Using his Rolleiflex camera Luza documented the journey of fashion and press representatives, including himself — whom Carmel Snow had personally invited — aboard a ship headed from New York to Paris. They would be attending the presentation of the latest fashion collections, which went ahead despite the commencement of the war as a final effort to keep the French fashion industry alive. “We worked intensely for a month, countless amounts of material was sent for our magazine,” says Luza, “today, many years later, it was well worth it to live through that great experience.” His photography was never published or exhibited during his lifetime, except for this occasion and once in 1937 in Paris.
Luza’s grandnephew who came across negatives of his photographs while looking through the body of work he left behind has since devoted himself to studying this less-explored side of Luza’s work. In his photographic collection —which includes images taken in Peru, Mallorca, and New York—we can see Luza’s innate talent for capturing lights and shadows in a naturally striking manner. Luza had also been one of the few who had witnessed Baron de Meyer’s photographic techniques which certainly helped inform his knowledge on the subject. “I am convinced that photography was like a logbook to him, a tool that allowed him to register everything that caught his attention,” Garcia Montero Luza tells me, “As an artist with a background in architecture, his photographs were true works of art, in which the camera replaced the paintbrush.” When looking at his photographs, one can see that fashion was still his main subject of interest. “He wanted to understand garments ethnographically speaking, he wanted to understand culture. [Luza] always kept an eye on fashion,” comments Garcia Montero Protzel, “[Additionally,] he is living through [artistic avant-gardes], therefore many of pictures are influenced by Bauhaus [and] Surrealism.” His archive provides a rare look into a period where photographs were not abundant in Peru, “even less so [images taken] through the eyes of a multidisciplinary modern artist,” comments Garcia Montero Protzel, “it has the potential of becoming a very valuable archive heritage-wise for Peru.”
Photograph taken by Luza in the archeological site of Puruchuco.
Photograph taken by Luza in Spain.
After many years of collaborating and making invaluable contributions to Harper’s Bazaar, Luza decided to return to Peru in 1950. “He saw that great opportunities existed for him to undertake a series of personal projects [in his country],” comments Garcia Montero Luza. In Peru, he dedicated himself to decorating the houses of the country’s upper-class families, as well as important institutions, and was often commissioned to paint the portraits of distinguished ladies of Peruvian society. During this time Luza was the ultimate arbiter of good taste in Lima.
He also continued to explore photography and painting. In the latter, he often depicted the dunes of Cañete. His admiration for them was rooted in his childhood memories of trips to the province in southern Lima, where his father worked as administrator of the sugar mills owned by the British Sugar Corporation. “His connection with our country’s dessert must have emerged, [during the various days he spent] crossing these arid landscapes” comments Garcia Montero Luza. He recalls witnessing Luza’s obsession with capturing them once while travelling by car through the South Pan-American Highway, which cuts right through the dunes. In the middle of the journey Luza demanded the car to be stopped, “Reynaldo rapidly walked towards the sandy terrain carrying his notebook, until he disappeared amongst it” Garcia Montero Luza recalls, “I went looking for him and found him making quick sketches. As we returned to the vehicle, he told me he had seen some beautiful dunes which he had to record as surely a few hours later they would have disappeared.” A few weeks later in Lima, Luza shared with his nephew colour tests of the sketches he had done of his sandy muses, which he would later convert into an oil painting. Luza recognised the dunes’ sculptural qualities and saw in them a great subject to portray, abstract, and make his own. “His decision to return to his homeland was extremely wise,” comments Garcia Montero Luza, “he spent the rest of his life surrounded by his family and was able to carry out his personal projects with great success.”
Since Reynaldo Luza’s death in 1978, his nephew Carlos Garcia Montero Luza, and grandnephews, Diana and Carlos Garcia Montero Protzel have dedicated themselves to keeping his legacy through the creation of the Luza Archive. “We have been fundamentally concerned with making my uncle Reynaldo’s work known to the new generations, as it had practically fallen into oblivion,” says Garcia Montero Luza. They have presented his work in 25 exhibitions and have published six books about Luza’s multifaceted career. Through donations —from the Luza Archive— and auctions Reynaldo Luza’s work lives in private and public art collections —including the MALI (Lima’s Museum of Art), FOLA (Latin American Photo Library) and Es Baluard Museum of Contemporary Art of Palma in Mallorca.
Illustrations by Luza for Harpers Bazaar, (date unknown)
In 2021, Luza’s nephew has dedicated himself to highlighting the importance of a series of costumes Luza designed for the film “Los Puentes de San Luis Rey,” “which are extremely beautiful,” comments Garcia Montero Luza. Meanwhile, his grandnephew, Carlos Garcia Montero Protzel, is focusing on his photographic archive, “I want to continue researching how Luza looked at Peru,” he comments. The Luza Archive is vast and has yet many cabinets and shelves left to explore.
“Without pretending to write my ‘memoirs,’ I decided to write these pages that, in reality, are the "memoirs" of others, justified by the world that I was lucky enough to see,” writes Luza in the opening lines of his book. Luza transports us to this world not only with his writing, but through his illustrations, photographs, and paintings. He was a true connoisseur of fashion, art, and beauty who had impeccable taste and was undeniably talented in any field he ventured in. True elegance and beauty are difficult to convey, and this was a skill he mastered. Reynaldo Luza’s name is definitely one you should know.