Sometimes, the best way to get what you want is to make it yourself. For designer Jerry Lorenzo, that was a hoodie tailored to L.A. weather, and in creating one, he laid the foundation for his label: Fear of God. Drawing on hip hop and rock signifiers alike, Lorenzo energizes the staples, adjusting the levels and upping production values across the board. Though Fear of God is lumped in with other streetwear brands, it stacks up against almost any designer menswear label in terms of quality of fabrication and clarity of expression. In just four collections, it’s earned a dedicated fanbase and an impressive roster of celebrity devotees, including Kanye West and Justin Bieber. In fact, Lorenzo played a part in designing merch for Bieber’s still-in-progress Purpose tour. We met up with Lorenzo at Toronto boutique Nomad during a Purpose tour pop-up event to learn more about his methods and aspirations.
Fear of God is still a young brand but you’ve made a really quick, powerful connection with your audience. What do you attribute that to?
I think I made a quick, powerful connection to myself. I started Fear of God with the conviction that three or four pieces that were missing from my wardrobe and I was convinced that I wasn’t the only one that needed these pieces in their life. After putting a collection out and you see a response, you see that people are, indeed, looking for the same things that you’re looking for, it just creates this greater belief in yourself. If I’m getting any stronger or growing at any type of rapid pace, it’s at the same pace that I’m looking deeper and deeper inside for my inspirations and where I’m finding the answers and solutions for clothing right now.
Was there one specific piece that really started the whole thing?
Yeah, it was the pullover short sleeve hoodie with side zippers. I live in L.A. and I love to layer but it’s hard to do that when it’s 75 degrees every day. I couldn’t find a short sleeve hoodie. It was either a long sleeve hoodie or sleeveless but nothing that really fell at the elbow. I didn’t like how all my other hoodies were grabbing my waist, so I wanted to have zippers on it.
I felt like the zippers were also a little hip hop, a little hood, and the cut-off sleeves were grunge, they were raw. Everything that Fear of God communicates is this raw grunge mixed with this Allen Iverson, hip hop comfortability. That short sleeve hoodie was the first piece that had everything in it that I wanted as far as my direction.
You mentioned Allen Iverson just now. I think for a long time basketball players and athletes didn’t get the respect they deserved in terms of being drivers of fashion culture. Now, it’s started to change a bit. The other week, Russell Westbrook showed up to a game in a Vetements long sleeve. Do you think the impact of athletes on fashion has changed over the years, or is it just that media has finally recognized it?
For us, these are our heroes. Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan — these are guys that we want to be like. We emulate them at the park and we want to do any and everything that they do. Whether that’s dress like them, whether that’s play like them, or whether that’s, like Allen Iverson, practice like them.
Now that I understand fashion, I look at Rick Owens and, to me, those are Allen Iverson silhouettes, those are Allen Iverson proportions. The arm sleeve and even the du-rag that Rick Owens used in one of his women’s shows — all that to me is coming from Allen. I wasn’t necessarily a fan of Allen’s oversized look, but I was a fan of his perspective. His, “I don’t care” perspective. His, “I’m going to wear braids at a time when no one wears braids, I’m going to wear what I want when I want,” perspective. This whole point of view that caused the NBA to get a dress code because he was that influential.
Thinking of Fear of God, I want to have a piece of that non-conformity. That you’re dressed, and you’re appropriate, but you’re not conforming to a dress code. You’re not conforming to how they want you to look at a certain event. You have your individuality. How do I communicate that in a chic way? That’s what I’ve always tried to do.
Do you think some of those barriers, some of those dress codes, are starting to disappear?
100%. You just mentioned Westbrook. He came to the game in a Vetements oversized long sleeve tee and LeBron came in a suit to the same game. Almost anything is acceptable as long as you present it in the right way.
Kanye at the Met Gala in ripped jeans.
That was a moment for me. Him being at the Met Gala in my jeans was such a moment, because so much of what I want to do is to be at a place like the Met but not conform. I’ll put the thought and the man-hours that went into those jeans against a bedazzled dress that someone else has on. It’s the same amount of work, it’s just a different platform that the idea is living on.
Those were Fear of God jeans?
Amazing, I thought the whole thing was Balmain.
No, those were my jeans.
You’re starting to see things like Kanye wearing ripped denim to the Met Gala and people respecting it instead of acting like it’s a strange idea. You don’t have to be the dude in the suit made of insane Vicuña wool anymore.
What’s winning right now is a perspective. People want to be attached to a strong perspective that’s founded on conviction, not on trends. We’re convinced that the pieces that we put into the market are missing and that people want them. We have a point of view. Our point of view is Allen Iverson, Kurt Cobain, and Jesus sat in a room and said, “What are we going to put out in 2016?” That’s who we are. Every piece that we put out checks that box.
When Kanye wore those jeans, I think he knew it was important to say, “Hey, someone without schooling or training, who’s from the streets, his perspective on denim is as important as someone’s that went to whatever fashion design school.” We all have perspective, but as long your perspective is founded on a conviction, I think that’s what matters. I think that’s what he was saying. I was proud to have a small part in that.
Fear of God really connects with young people. What does that mean to you?
What I’m trying to do is honest. It’s honest to the point where I’m blatantly telling you I’m not inventing anything — this is a bomber jacket. You can go get an Alpha Industries bomber, but if you want something that has a little bit of a drop shoulder, silk lining, a bit of an elevated feel, and you appreciate those details, then, hey: this is what it looks like. Know that the cost of me bringing you this idea is expensive, and thus the garment is going to be expensive. I honestly thought that that percentage of people that understood that would be small, but every day it’s growing. It’s extremely humbling.
Do you think that reflects a general change in perspective on the consumer side?
Yeah. We’re here today at the Justin Bieber pop-up tour, and obviously everything here is very logo-based, and there’s a different story around that, but I think when you talk about fashion consumers in general, they’re going away from logos, going away from some of the bigger graphics. They’re trying to communicate their fashion IQ through proportion, color, fabrication, and texture.
You mentioned transparency — you’re not claiming to re-invent any garments. You’re saying, “This is a bomber, and here are the things that make it my bomber especially.” I think people appreciate that, too. I wonder if teens and younger adults connect with the brand because they like that honesty?
I would love to believe that. I don’t know how true that is but I would love that to be the reason people connect with it, that the people that are behind it are honest. When Fear of God came out, there was a promise of what it was going to be. I feel like every year, every collection we’re just trying to keep to that promise, and hopefully we’re doing a good job doing that.
As you mentioned, we’re at one of the stops on the Purpose pop-up shop tour. It’s not just Justin Bieber that’s been putting more of a focus on the gear these days. Why do you think musicians are taking more of an active role in connecting fans this way?
I think the tour merch is one of the last physical things that you can grasp and feel and hold that an artist can give you. 90% of the people here that have Justin’s album have it on iTunes. It’s not something that you can touch. It’s not a CD, it’s not a tape. This is just another way that an artist can put something in your hands that communicates what his music communicates.
Tour merch has been a recurring motif for you throughout your work. Where did that impulse come from?
The impulse came from when I realized that I was starting clothing line and I didn’t know how to make a graphic tee. I knew my gift was fit, proportion, and silhouette, and not graphics, but I did know what the best graphic tee looked like. To me, that’s a vintage tour tee. Just looking in my closet — old Metallica, Pearl Jam, Pushead art. Metallica tees have consistently been a staple in my wardrobe and to me have never felt out of date. They always felt relevant. So, I feel like tour merch is one of the last things that graphically can stand the test of time.
I want to ask you about the PacSun collaboration. What was the genesis of that collection?
They asked me to collab two-and-a-half years ago, right after I started with Fear of God. I felt like it was too soon. I didn’t want to water down what I was doing.
Then, right after, they started a brand that looked very similar to my mine instead of collabing with me. So, they approached me again and I said, “Hey, if this stuff is doing well and it looks like mine, but it’s not really mine, I can do this in a way that’s more authentic.” Obviously, there’s a market that doesn’t have the money to spend $200 on a t-shirt but still wants this aesthetic. I love the opportunity to try and reach them, too, and PacSun provided me with that opportunity.
Does it mean something to be an American designer in the world of fashion today?
It might mean something to fashion, but it doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m not trying to be in Paris with a fashion show. I’m not trying to break down barriers into this fashion world. I’m trying to get across a perspective and to speak to a customer, whether that customer lives in the U.S., or Canada, or anywhere around the world. I don’t really think of the fashion industry. We’re not even on the fashion calendar. We drop our collections when they’re ready. It could be October, it could be August.
If you could project into the future, 10 or 20 years from now, what do you hope your legacy will be? What do you hope people will think of when they hold up a piece of Fear of God from 2016?
I started Fear of God at a time when I was doing a lot of things that were not very godly, whether that was me partying a lot, or whether that was me not living the way that I should have been living. I hope that by the end of this, my life will be a good example. When people hold up a piece, it’s not about that piece, it’s about, “Wow, that was an inspirational guy that really lived the life that he promoted.” That’s what I hope the legacy would be.
God wants us to be excellent at everything that we do. Whether I’m working in fashion, or in sports, or a 9-to-5 somewhere I think God wants us to have a spirit of excellence. I think that clothing is just the platform for my message. Next year, Fear of God could be selling furniture and couches. I don’t know what the platform is going to be, but I know it has to be excellent.