No Fear: How Jerry Lorenzo Built Fear of God
No Fear: How Jerry Lorenzo Built Fear of God
- Words Marc Richardson
- Date March 19, 2020
On the surface, Jerry Lorenzo is full of contradictions.
He grew up immersed in baseball but parlayed that into a career in fashion. He is deeply religious, but works in an industry plagued by vanity. His brand, Fear of God, was not built for mass-scale commercial success, but is tremendously successful. Lorenzo works with some of the biggest names and brands in fashion, but Fear of God remains wholly independent.
It doesn’t make sense, really. Lorenzo, however, has made sense of it, fashioning success in a unique way. It’s the modern fashion world, his way, on his terms.
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Jerry Lorenzo Manuel took a circuitous route to fashion. Growing up, his dad—with whom he shares a name—was a professional baseball player, then a manager. Even though his dad was a professional athlete, Lorenzo didn’t grow up lavishly. When he was completing his MBA at Loyola Marymount, he was working a retail job, in the stock room room of a Diesel store. There, Lorenzo developed an uncanny mastery of the brand’s various fits—something which surely helped him when he would later develop his own denim. That wasn’t a catalyst for his shift to fashion, though. Lorenzo felt like he didn’t fit in, he told Milk Made back in 2014—he had been stuck in the stock room because he wasn’t “cool enough.”
So, after graduating, Lorenzo returned to what was familiar: baseball. He handled off-field sponsorships and partnerships for the Los Angeles Dodgers, before heading to Chicago to work for a sports management agency. In 2008, Lorenzo returned to L.A., to manage Dodgers star Matt Kemp, but also throwing “JL Night” parties that would come to attract rappers and athletes. Lorenzo was responsible for overseeing Kemp’s appearance and found that some of the garments he wanted for Kemp were hard to come by. That’s when he decided to turn to actual garment production. “I did it for him, but also for me,” Lorenzo told Complex’s Karizza Sanchez, arguing that if there was, “something missing in [his] closet,” then other people must be looking for it, too. Lorenzo continues to approach his work like this, looking for gaps in his own wardrobe—the things that he wants to wear but that nobody else is making.
Lorenzo took the profits he made from JL Nights to fund production. The first piece that he wanted to make, in 2011, was a short-sleeve hoodie with zippers on the side. He drove around L.A., trying to find French Terry, someone who could actually make the piece and some RiRi zippers that would give the garment a luxurious look. There are few places better suited to that pursuit than Los Angeles, arguably North America’s biggest hub for apparel manufacturing. Unfortunately, it’s also a place where a young entrepreneur who knows nothing about the industry is more likely to get taken advantage of; Lorenzo ended up sinking tens of thousands of dollars up front into factories and individuals who promised him specific fabrics and patterns. For Lorenzo, who was newly married and had just become a father, it should have been death knell. Thanks to JL Nights however, it was a lesson that Lorenzo could afford to learn. As he explained to Complex, Lorenzo was driven by the belief that “what [he] was going to do in the end was way bigger than what [people] were taking from [him].”
From there, Lorenzo began working on a handful of other pieces—ones that he felt were missing from the menswear industry’s collective offering. Lorenzo is careful to not call himself a designer. He’s not a classically-trained fashion designer, nor does he come from an industrial design or architecture or even art background, like some of his contemporaries. He doesn’t sketch either. Instead, he fashions himself as a curator and cultural sampler—though a “fixer” might be the best catch-all term. Take the elongated T-shirt he made after the short-sleeve hoodie, for example. Lorenzo was fond of some designer long T-shirts, but found the sleeves too fitted, while Rick Owens’ signature T-shirt was too drapey. So, he fixed the silhouette, creating something that wasn’t new—but different. In Lorenzo’s eyes, it was more masculine and, crucially, had a neckline that was a touch wider, allowing gold jewelry to shine—something gleaned, perhaps, from the athletes and rappers he was hanging around.
The T-shirt became part of the foundation for Fear of God, a name born from Lorenzo’s religious background and Oswald Chambers’ devotional book My Utmost for His Highest. While the name is undeniably Christian, Lorenzo has been clear that Fear of God is not a Christian brand. The inspiration Lorenzo took from Chambers’ book came from the description of a God surrounded by darkness, something that, in Lorenzo’s eyes, made God cool. So even that was, to some degree, aesthetic in nature.
By 2012, Lorenzo was rounding out the rest of his inaugural collection. Already, though, some notable personalities were wearing his creations. Through his wife, Lorenzo got a long sleeve T-shirt and short sleeve hoodie to Big Sean, which led to Kanye West seeing Lorenzo’s work and approaching him. At the time, West was in the early stages of his pivot to fashion, working on a collaboration with Jean Touitou’s A.P.C.—he offered Lorenzo a chance to consult on that project. It would blossom into a prolific relationship that saw Lorenzo work on tour merch, Yeezy, and various Donda creative projects.
Bear in mind that, at this point, Fear of God didn’t really exist yet—the groundwork, though, had been laid.
By 2013, Lorenzo was known to be in Kanye’s orbit, alongside the likes of Big Sean, Don C, Kid Cudi, and Virgil Abloh. When Fear of God launched, in February of that year, it did so with the pieces that had been seen on Lorenzo’s famous friends at the center of the collection. It was—predictably—a smashing success. While Lorenzo’s numerous co-signs played a role, his ability to create a new pocket within which Fear of God could thrive—rather than just screen printing graphics on blanks—paid dividends.
Lorenzo had come from a world of professional sports, threw parties that attracted Los Angeles celebrities and hung out with rappers. Even still, Fear of God wasn’t typically braggadocious in its aesthetic. Lorenzo’s inspiration was, to some extent, antithetical to that, informed by a luxe sensibility, yes, but also by grunge and counter-culture. A blend of influential figures—spanning Kurt Cobain, Allen Iverson and The Breakfast Club’s John Bender—were who Lorenzo was looking at. Fear of God blended high and low—Lorenzo’s lifestyle with his nostalgic love for the grunge heroes of his 1990s upbringing. The First Collection saw that channeled through sleeveless plaid flannel shirts (which have become one of the brand’s signature pieces) and drop-crotch sweatpants, but, more importantly, in how the collection was styled and marketed with a tangible feeling of anti-establishment angst.
That carried over to the Second Collection, which released in December 2013. Though still typical of a young brand trying to find its footing—there wasn’t much in the way of intricate pieces—the collection did solidify Lorenzo’s vision for Fear of God. The idea was—and remains—clear: Play with layering. Lorenzo has called Fear of God a “solutions-based” brand, and while that’s a nod to filling gaps in the market, it’s also a reference to the modular dressing that Lorenzo champions, predicated on interchangeable pieces.
Lorenzo’s vision was evident from that Second Collection, but so, too, was his relative disdain for the traditional fashion calendar, preferring instead to set his own pace and schedule. The inaugural collection was called a Spring/Summer 2013 offering, but Lorenzo embraced a new nomenclature with Second Collection—which didn’t quite fit into either Fall/Winter 2013 or Spring/Summer 2014—and the Third Collection didn’t release until nine months later, in September 2014.
Part of that owed to Lorenzo’s then-ongoing work with Kanye West, on the A.P.C. collaboration, but also on the merchandise for West’s Yeezus Tour, which saw Lorenzo tap into his knowledge of and passion for vintage T-shirts. It also owed to the fact that Fear of God was not built for immediate mass success. Lorenzo was still learning the ins and outs of production, working with an incredibly small team, while trying to accommodate increased demand. He decided—rather wisely—not to rush collections. “It’s ready when it’s ready,” he explained to GQ as the Third Collection was set to launch.
That patience paid off, as Fear of God really came into its own after the Third Collection. By 2015, the brand not only had a distinct aesthetic, but it also had pedigree, with stockists like Barneys—which, at the time, was a huge deal. The production, too, was getting better. While Lorenzo had once contented himself with using shiny RiRi zippers to up the luxe factor, he was now sourcing fabrics in Italy and Japan. On the other hand, Lorenzo was also making a savvy move to make his clothing more accessible. As Fear of God was moving into bonafide luxury brand territory, Lorenzo partnered with PacSun to create a more affordable diffusion line, F.O.G.
While selling thousand dollar jackets at Barneys was cool, it was important for Lorenzo that there be accessible options. “I have more family members that shop at PacSun than at Barneys, to be frank,” Lorenzo told The Cut, “I wanna be where my cousins can go see me and be proud of me.” F.O.G. and Fear of God were quite similar, with an overarching aesthetic that tied together the first PacSun-exclusive drop with the Fourth Collection, which released near-simultaneously in late 2015.
That has come to be a strategy for Lorenzo and Fear of God, as evidenced by a 2016 entry into footwear at two very different price points. After teasing it for months, Fear of God finally introduced the Military Sneaker in June, 2016. Crafted from Limonta nylon and outfitted with leather finishing, a side zipper and a ripple sole, the Military Sneaker infamously took over 100 samples to perfect. When it did release however—with a $1,000 price tag no less—it did to much fanfare. Only two months later, Fear of God unveiled much more affordable footwear, in collaboration with Vans and sold exclusively at PacSun. The all-over print Vans Era would go on to become one of the most sought-after Vans sneakers in recent memory, fetching absurd resale prices.
Around this time, Lorenzo was also working with Justin Bieber on the merch for the Canadian singer’s Purpose Tour. The work Lorenzo had done on the Yeezus Tour had been a catalyst for the reshaping of the concert merch industry, leading to the creation of Bravado, an arm of Universal Music Group that oversees merch. Lorenzo and Bieber, who had bonded over religion, made for a formidable duo—with one bringing an encyclopedic knowledge of vintage tees and an eye for fashion, and the other bringing a massive following.
Between the Purpose tour merch, the PacSun diffusion line and getting into footwear, Fear of God, as an apparel brand, took a bit of a back seat in 2016. The brand’s Fifth Collection finally debuted in the spring of 2017, over a year after its predecessor. At the time, Lorenzo told Highsnobiety that it was, “the best representation of what I’m attempting to propose to fashion.” The 96-look collection was certainly all-encompassing, with everything from shearling-lined denim to sportswear-influenced satin pants and jackets (including nods to his father’s baseball career) to leather jackets and proper coats. It was commercially viable, but also still deeply personal for Lorenzo.
The Fifth Collection was accompanied by further collaborations with Vans, namely on a pair of unique silhouettes, the Mountain Edition and Slip-On 47 V, as well as projects with New Era, READYMADE, Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar. Lorenzo also added new footwear silhouettes that riffed on archival classics from Rick Owens and Kris Van Assche, but also pulled inspiration from Jordans and other iconic sneakers. 2017 showcased the best of Fear of God, and Lorenzo’s ability to pull inspiration from seemingly disparate sources before synthesizing it into products that resonated with his customer.
By the end of 2017, Fear of God had become a veritable force in menswear—at both the luxury and mass-market levels. Jerry Lorenzo had more than just the right connections; he had five increasingly solid—and broad—collections under his belt, a slew of partnerships that made financial sense, but also helped turn Fear of God into an accessible cultural entity. But Lorenzo also understood the importance of not losing focus and, as streetwear reached its peak in 2018, Lorenzo decided to shutter F.O.G., the diffusion line, and replace it with Essentials.
While F.O.G. was just a more affordable version of Fear of God, Essentials was created to properly segment what Lorenzo was making. The offering was different, though could be mixed and matched with main line garments. Essentials is exactly what the name implies—simple pieces in primarily muted tones. If that sounds an awful lot like Yeezy, it’s because it is—there’s even footwear on offer! Before you knock Essentials or Lorenzo, though, we’d be willing to be that’s more of a testament to the influence that Lorenzo may have had on West. Whether or not it’s been acknowledged, Lorenzo had been one of the most influential people when it came to streetwear’s rise to luxury adjacency. Sure, he had been helped by Kanye’s co-sign, but the success of Fear of God—and its signature aesthetic—certainly have as much claim on the “modern luxury streetwear” space as Virgil Abloh’s Off-White does.
Since being introduced in early 2018, Essentials has blossomed into a force of its own and represents fans best and most consistent opportunity to get their hands on Lorenzo’s pieces, with more regular-occurring drops and more palatable prices. Still, the basics brand is selling out consistently on primary market retailers like SSENSE—who have online exclusivity for the time being—which is truly astonishing given that it’s a basics brand!
After focusing on launching Essentials, Lorenzo brought Fear of God back with a Sixth Collection that debuted in September of 2018, through a short starring Jared Leto and a 100-look editorial. Inspired by traditional Americana and heavy-duty workwear, the Sixth Collection played with layering in a slightly different way, with shorter, boxier T-shirts, belted denim and a robust offering lightweight jackets. It also saw Lorenzo introduce a partnership with Nike.
It’s yet another way in which Lorenzo and West’s evolutions in fashion have been intertwined, with many chalking up Nike’s willingness to let Lorenzo design a new silhouette—something the company has been notoriously stingy about—to adidas’ boom circa 2016-2017.
Equal parts performance shoe and luxury sneaker, the Air Fear of God 1 was introduced alongside a range of co-branded apparel. While not quite as “luxury brand sneaker” as Lorenzo’s Fear of God footwear, the Air Fear of God 1 does share some similarities with his preferred silhouettes, namely with a higher cut and a lacing system that creates a cinch just above the ankle. The sneaker was originally released in two colorways—black and bone—but a handful more followed, as did variations on the silhouette, namely the NIke Air Fear of God “Shoot Around”, Raid and Moccasin. The sneakers enjoyed initial success thanks to rapid sell-outs, inflated resale prices and on-court wear courtesy of P.J. Tucker.
The partnership has also seen Fear of God lend its hand to the Air Skylon 2, while Essentials and Converse teamed up on two-tone Chuck Taylor All-Stars. While those heritage silhouettes haven’t had the same commercial success as the Air Fear of God, they have been well-received, and play to the duality that Lorenzo has sought to achieve with Fear of God: For every hard to come by, expensive release, there is a more affordable and mass-market option.
Perhaps that’s how to best explain Fear of God’s upcoming collaboration with Ermenegildo Zegna. With a Seventh Collection yet to drop, Lorenzo’s fans have had to content themselves with Essentials releases and footwear—that is to say, fairly entry-level drops.
Enter Fear of God for Ermenegildo Zegna, which debuted in March 2020, at Paris Fashion Week. In Lorenzo’s eyes, the partnership represents a coming together of two brands that seek “to create the modern man’s wardrobe […] rooted in freedom, sophistication, and elegance.” It also marks a partnership between the brands that are arguably the standard bearers for American and Italian luxury in the menswear realm. Following in the footsteps of other luxury-meets-streetwear partnerships (Supreme x Louis Vuitton is perhaps the most widely publicized example), this collection should prove to be the synthesis of Zegna designer Alessandro Sartori’s tailoring with Lorenzo’s knack for designing with the modern man in mind.
While by no means the end of Fear of God’s run, it represents a pinnacle—the culmination of everything Lorenzo has been working towards since he first set out to find some French Terry and some RiRi zippers. Many consider working with Nike to be the gold-standard for brands, but, it’s even more remarkable that Lorenzo has gone from working in a Diesel stock room to working with one of the most revered menswear labels in the world, without any formal training. It’s another apparent contradiction—something that doesn’t quite make sense, but that Lorenzo has managed to make work thanks to his eye, his will, his desire and—fittingly—his Fear of God.