Standing inside of Everywhere, a boutique off East Burnside that's home to a small group of local labels, Lupe Gallardo wears dirty vintage trainers and a faded Kingdom Hearts shirt. In Kingdom Hearts, a massively popular early-2000s PlayStation game, a coterie of Disney characters are remixed into a proto-anime world. It could be an avatar for her clothing line, Lupe's Grocery Store—Gallardo gleefully mashes up the names and styles of today's major fashion brands with a cartoon fantasy world.
"I grew up watching a lot of TV, and it was definitely an escape," says the Portland designer as she pulls one of her favorite recent pieces off a rack, a teal-and-white depiction of Jenny the Teenage Robot next to graffiti text script that reads, simply, "Lupe."
Gallardo is the creator and founder of Lupe's Grocery Store, a new and fast-growing Portland fashion label, which sold its first piece in 2018. The 24-year-old, self-taught artist uses clothing as her canvas, working sometimes with vintage—old Tommy Jeans, puffer jackets and Burberry coats —and other times plain T-shirts and sweatpants, upon which she airbrushes kaleidoscopic interpretations of a digital childhood spent watching The Powerpuff Girls, Dragonball Z, Aeon Flux, and Akira.
"There was nobody in my life who could tell me or show me how to express myself," Gallardo says. "Any expression I did was because I just felt the need to do it. That's why you see so much cartoon stuff in my work—that's something I saw a lot as a kid."
Gallardo was born in Los Angeles and moved to Portland at 18. Her work is bought, sold, shared and disseminated almost entirely through Instagram. Looking through her account reveals a sophisticated and fast-evolving style. One T-shirt depicts Lola Bunny from Space Jam set against text meant to reference the iconic Harajuku brand A Bathing Ape—only here it reads "A Bathing Lola." Another depicts Casper the Friendly Ghost floating across an air-brushed Nike logo, next to the word "Air" in the style of Off-White designer Virgil Abloh, whose pieces sell for thousands of dollars on the resale market. It's at once sentimental and self-referential, and blurs the line between art and fashion.
A collaboration early in Gallardo's career with noted local Portland label Heir and online vintage psychedelia roadshow Deadhead helped Lupe's Grocery quickly grow an audience. Gallardo created a long-sleeve shirt emblazoned with Lisa Simpson from the seminal 1996 episode "Summer of 4 Ft. 2," swathed in Grateful Dead Jerry bears. The photo on Gallardo's Instagram has 450 likes and counting—huge numbers for an artist in just her first year of work. "When they shared it online, so many people fell in love with it," she says. "I got commissioned to make like six shirts that first night. I was just blown away by that."
From there, the requests kept rolling in. Today, Gallardo maintains a packed production schedule for buyers around the country. An original Lupe's Grocery Store piece takes two to three weeks to complete and costs about $100. Soon, that may seem like a bargain.
Lupe's Grocery Store's strongest pieces are adorned with a kind of self-invented iconography. That includes a pair of plain white socks, adorned in shock pink with the label "Lupe Vuitton" next to a set of symbols: a heart, the interlocking Coco Chanel C's, and a radioactive isotope. The socks cost $20, while an actual pair of LVMH socks, from sub-brand Givenchy, retail for $160. Elsewhere on Gallardo's feed, "Lupe Vuitton" adorns sets of gray sweat suits and T-shirts. The effect is something like fashion fanfic.
Gallardo shrugs off any deep meaning behind the Lupe Vuitton concept: "I just like it." But there's something delightfully transgressive about the idea: a luxury brand with a sense of willful art fuckery.
Gallardo's output is evolving to include murals, including a recent installation at Open Gallery in which she created a floor-to-ceiling Technicolor street art bombscape of the Powerpuff Girls set amidst twinkling moons and stars. Select panels of the mural were made from Gilden T-shirt blanks, meaning you could physically take a piece of the work home and wear it. The cumulative effect of the piece—which Gallardo built across a four-day installation period, scrambling up and down ladders in a respirator mask—evokes the vivid, chaotic palette of an early Diego Rivera work, if the great master of Mexico City had instead been a '90s Angeleno kid raised on Red Ropes and Nicktoons.
"In middle school I used to draw all over my pants, on my bedroom walls, and on my furniture," says Gallardo, holding a pair of her own custom jeans with dramatic "LUPE" script airbrushed down the right leg. "It's no surprise to me that I'm doing what I'm doing now, like I'm in seventh grade again. It feels like I'm home."
SEE IT: Find Lupe's Grocery Store on Instagram, @lupesgrocerystore.