Behind the Curtain: Jerry Lorenzo, the Interview
Behind the Curtain: Jerry Lorenzo, the Interview
- Words Lawrence Schlossman
- Date September 11, 2017
Ahead of our sale with Jerry Lorenzo, launching this Wednesday, September 13th at 12pm EST, Grailed is pleased to present an exclusive interview with the Fear of God designer. Conducted in Los Angeles at the brand's studio and headquarters, our conversation touches on a variety of topics, from keeping one's beliefs in an often faithless industry to the legacy Jerry hopes to leave. Enjoy the rare look behind the proverbial curtain of one of today's foremost American fashion talents below.
Photography by Nicholas Maggio.
We were talking about social media beforehand a little bit and how you're this new breed of designer that’s also the face of their brand—guys like you and Virgil. Can that be a little weird for you at times? Have you gotten used to it?
I think I've gotten used to it and I think I've found a freedom in it where initially I was a little like I felt the pressure and I felt the responsibility that came with it and now I've just found a freedom in it, you know? I found a freedom in being myself. I found a freedom in promoting family instead of promoting myself out partying with the cool kids. It's helped me and forced me to just kind of be who I am 100% of the time.
Who is that person? I know that’s a loaded question…
Yeah, I mean, that's a fully loaded question [laughs]. I mean, I'm a father and I'm a husband.
That's how you see yourself first and foremost?
Yeah, yeah. First and foremost and unlike a lot of designers before me—there’s very few of me—I'm a guy's guy. I like to go to the ballpark. I like to go to basketball games. I got a grill for Father's Day. I will put my turkey burgers up against anybody’s. I do stuff that American dudes like to do and in finding the freedom in myself, what I'm trying to do is, provide that freedom for my consumer, like, "Yo, you look kinda funny with a dad hat." Honestly, the best hat is a New Era fitted. It's a classic.
It's that perspective that you're kind of trying to impart.
Yeah, I'm trying to give him a freedom to be himself and still feel like he can be chic and elegant. You can wear something oversized and a luxury fitted cap and still be a guy's guy and still be chic and still be elegant. That’s what I'm trying to do with the brand.
I think it's really interesting that you’re talking about being this “guy's guy” and how Fear of God is like an all-American fashion brand similar in feel to Tommy, Perry Ellis and, obviously, Polo. Is that how you see Fear of God?
It's Americana modernized. It's the modern picture of our culture. Fear of God is the modern picture of American culture. All of my references are references from the ‘80s and ‘90s of my heroes, whether they're Kurt Cobain or Allen Iversen or John Bender from The Breakfast Club. These are American idols, you know what I mean? These were icons from different subcultures that now—fast forward 20, 25 years later—are now merging into one. I'm painting the picture of what this looks like. No, it's not hip-hop. No, it’s not it's not rap. No, it's not rock. No, it's not grunge. It's all of these things combined.
Is your goal to have Fear of God up on the Mount Rushmore of American fashion brands? Do you want to be that big?
I just have an interest in being able to put out my ideas at the luxury of when I want to. My brand is not on calendar.
I mean, it was by ignorance. I didn't know I had to be on a calendar right out of the gate, but it's worked out. It's been good for us.
Have people tried to fit you into that, like, fashion amateur box?
Of course, but I take it with a grain of salt. I don't care. One of the things about Fear of God is that it's 100 percent conviction and intuition. So when someone comes and tells me what I need to do, it doesn't even really go through my train of thought.
You're still gonna do what you wanna do.
I'm doing what I believe to do, you know what I mean? I think believing and wanting are two different things. I'm doing what I'm convicted of. Having conviction is a different level of understanding of what you're doing.
These words, “belief” and “conviction,” I don't know if there are any other fashion designers that would use terms like that in an interview. I know a lot of that is based on your personal faith and how much that informs the brand. In that way, I feel like you’re almost operating in a different space. How does someone like you, whose life is extremely faith-based, balance said faith with the industry and business? Those are things that don't always line up.
At the end of the day, as much as I'm trying to propose an idea, I am just as much trying to provide for my family. Yeah, I have ideas of how I want to do things, but at the same time I know that this has to work financially. I have to make a business out of this. I think I do an okay job of balancing.
Fear of God is independently owned, right?
From your perspective, what is it like being an independent, but still wildly successful fashion designer in 2017?
I don't look at the fashion industry. I'm not even looking at other fashion houses. I'm looking at other business owners. I'm looking at people that are doing their own thing. That's who I'm looking at. That's who I consider as my peers.
You're looking at the macro versus micro, so to speak—the bigger picture.
I still have this chip on my shoulder with fashion as a whole. I know that they really don't want me here.
You have the healthy distrust of an outsider. Do you think that gives you an edge?
100 percent. It wasn't until I realized that I needed to be outside of fashion to get into it. There was a time in the beginning when I started the brand that I was over-consumed with everything that was happening—every idea, every runway show—just over-consumed with what was happening within it. I realized that and was like, you know what, let me take a step outside of fashion. Let me dig into the things that I know build who I am—the spiritual things and my family—then let me give to it. So yes, I feel like my outsider's perspective is what's helping me take American culture and mix it with this modernized proposition of what I'm trying to say fashion is. Through that I want to help free up this kid that I think I once was.
So, when you design, you’re thinking about who you were at certain times in your life and what you were into back then?
Yeah. I am, at the end of the day, the only research and development that we have for this company and I go off of my shopping habits. When I had $1500 in the bank, I spent $1200 on some Rick Dunks in 2006. I was that kid.
You lived it.
I lived it. I was there. I know that if I can make a product that can make someone feel the way that those Dunks made me feel back in '06 or Jordans made me feel in ’91, I will be successful. I was in junior high and high school when Michael won his championships. There is a different level of emotional contact there from what kids who grew up with Retros feel.
Isn't that the best kind of success, just knowing that there's a kid out there who's gonna spend their entire paycheck on something—regardless of whether or not that's a responsible financial decision—because it's worth it for that person?
Yeah, it's worth it. I don't think it's irresponsible at all. I turned out okay. Americans are going to buy what makes them happy. That's what everyone is working towards. I’m also constantly beat up about pricing on social media.
How do you respond to someone who thinks Jerry Lorenzo doesn't care about how expensive his prices are?
I think about excellence. I think about wanting to make the best drop crotch basketball short. I don't care how much it costs. I'm going to use the best resources that I have at my disposal to construct the best possible short. People need to understand that costs a lot of money in development and sampling and everything. The process is extremely expensive. The process to get to the IP, and then to execute the IP at a luxury level is extremely expensive. And, at the end of the day, you have to pay for the idea, the IP. The track pant that spurs the track pant craze, you have to pay for the IP of that pant and the piece that directs the market.
You’re in favor of pulling back the curtain and meeting the Wizard of Oz, so to speak. I think that’s interesting considering the sale itself you’re doing with Grailed. There's this idea of proudly showing off your recipe with references and samples and all that kind of stuff. Is there more to the motivation behind that?
I think it gives context. I think it educates on the process and I'm finally at a place where I'm comfortable enough of what I'm proposing that I could care less that you know where it came from. I'm not worried about it getting ripped off because I know that when I find a L.A. Gear sneaker at the Rose Bowl, no one else sees what I see when I see that shoe. That's where I know that God has blessed me with some type of vision in some things, but I think it's cool to let kids see it and let them understand.
To connect the dots on their own.
Yeah, and understand just how real and how and tangible it is.
Everyone needs a blueprint.
You need a blueprint. I found a freedom in that because my design process is 100 percent me digging into my childhood, me thinking about the things that I used to wear in high school and me shopping at the Rose Bowl, waiting to find those pieces that pull on those emotions, pull on those chords. I don't sketch. I didn't go to fashion school. My experience is completely working retail. I worked retail all through grad school. Even when I had a corporate 9-to-5, I was working retail on the weekends. Being able to learn what people were looking for and interfacing with people all day and understanding what people are looking for when they shop is one of the most important skills you can have in business.
Do you think there's a big difference in value of coming up with your own idea versus building on top of something that already exists? Do you think that one is necessarily better than the other?
I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. I think it depends on the story you're trying to tell. My story is the American wardrobe, the American closet. I’m just trying to put the pieces together for you: a varsity jacket, a bomber, ripped up jeans, a flannel. I'm building from pieces that I have an emotional connection to. That's who we are as Fear of God. A conceptual brand or design house is maybe building from another starting point. But I'm comfortable in telling you what my starting point is.
Do you ever get worried that you're going to exhaust this American wardrobe idea? Is it an unlimited resource in your opinion?
I feel like it's unlimited. I can make you a thousand different hoodies. The proportion's gonna change, the shape is gonna change, the details are gonna change, but, at the end of the day, it's always gonna be a hoodie and you're gonna need a hoodie.
Back to the topic of your faith for a second, do you ever get blowback for it? Has a retailer or anyone ever asked you to, in so many words, tone it down?
Yeah, but it doesn't matter to me. I know what I'm called to do. I know what I need to do. I gotta do what I gotta do to sleep at night, you know? I have to live with myself. There was a long time in my life where I wasn't doing that. I think everyone has to come to a point in their life where you have to make a decision. What are you gonna be about?
Are you making this brand about God, but you're still at Liv in Miami ‘til 6 in the morning. Like, who are you dude? I had to make changes. A lot of it was me trying to stunt, like every other guy. But I’m a father and husband now. I’m this guy who loves God and is humbled by the opportunity he's given me. I grew up thinking my only job would be in baseball 'cause that's what my dad did. I'm just humbled that I get to do this, so I'm going to share that with you too.
What's next for you? What's the next challenge? The next calling?
I don't know man. I'm enjoying doing what I'm doing right now. I’m enjoying the fact that I get to work on projects that honor my dad, like the New Era collab.
What does your dad think about all this?
I think he thinks it's cool. It's good for me. We all want to make our fathers proud. I never could do that on the baseball diamond. I didn't have those gifts. I didn't have the skill set to do that, man.
The hand speed was off [laughs].
Yeah, the hand speed, everything was lacking. It's cool that I'm doing something I never thought that I would do that makes him happy, and I'm able to do it in an authentic way that still is true to my brand. It's not taking away from it. Hopefully, it's only adding to it. Then, if no one else thinks it's cool, I'm still happy because I did it. That’s kind of what I’m trying to do in a nutshell with every piece that I make it. If it all breaks, at least I'm happy.
Is Fear of God your legacy?
I hope not. I hope my legacy is simply how I lived my life. I realize that and I'm fearful that my legacy is wrapped up in something, to me, as empty as fashion. I'm fearful that my life is remembered by being the cool guy. I just want it to be how I lived my life. “I sat with Jerry for an hour and he's a good dude.” That's what I want my legacy to be. Man, I'm glad I got to hang out with Jerry.
Who are some people you look up to?
My father. My brother, who's battled and beat some things in his life. I've had teachers that have imparted things on me that I still carry with today and pastors that I look up to. Normal people…
That lead by example?
That live an honorable life. The person you can call and count on.
It’s all bigger than clothes, bigger than money, bigger than all that stuff.
When I go, I can't take Fear of God with me. The only thing you take with you is the things you’ve given away.