Jerry Lorenzo: new American luxury
Meet the designer behind Fear of God and a new Zegna collaboration
The day I sat down to write this feature on Jerry Lorenzo, Joe Biden was announced as the president-elect of the United States. Lorenzo, the founder of American streetwear brand Fear of God, marked the occasion on Instagram by posting a black and white photograph of US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. His picture caption ended with, “we’re humbled the doors have finally opened”.
He embraces change: this year alone, Lorenzo has launched two new high-profile collections. There’s his seventh collection for Fear of God and a collaboration with Ermenegildo Zegna, the Italian luxury house. To Lorenzo, both marked a coming of age of sorts, as Fear of God has branched out from its roots in luxury sportswear for the first time to embrace tailoring.
Lorenzo and I first met in November 2018 at his downtown LA headquarters. Then, his demeanour was quiet; softly spoken, he presented his sixth Fear of God collection. Lorenzo - who is handsome, works out regularly and wears his hair in long curls - first established his independent business in 2013. In a mere seven years, he has grown the brand into a global success story. He has previously stated his ambition, as “to build what Ralph Lauren has built”.
Lorenzo is the son of major league baseball player and manager Jerry “The Sage” Manual. Growing up, he moved from city to city, as his father’s profession took him to work with different teams, setting up homes across California, Florida and Chicago. Because of the constant change, he became used to being an outsider, as well as what he describes as “the black kid at a white school”. The upside of this nomadic life was that he got to experience many different youth subcultures, from hip hop to skaters to grunge, all the while amassing stylistic influences he would later pull from when designing Fear of God.
The Lorenzo family attended church on Sundays; while on the move, a deeply religious Christian upbringing imparted Lorenzo with a sense of roots, while establishing an ethical framework in which to navigate. With plans to work as a sports agent, Lorenzo graduated from Loyola Marymount University – a private Jesuit and Marymount research university in Los Angeles – with an MBA. Alas, it seems that his calling was always fashion. While studying at college, he tells me he worked in various stores, from Diesel to Dolce & Gabbana. All perfect training grounds for his future profession. “I always had a knack for what people were looking for in their closets,” he says.
Modern suiting: Jerry Lorenzo teams up with Ermenegildo Zegna
By 2012, Lorenzo was managing some of the top names in US sports – including Dwyane Wade, Matt Leinart and, later, Dodgers all-star Matt Kemp – while also building up a fashion portfolio. “I was doing styling and continued to notice there were lots of things missing from the market,” he says.
If he couldn’t find something he was looking for, he would go to downtown LA’s Fashion District. There, he would custom-order oversized T-shirts or a hooded sweater with capped sleeves and side zippers. The latter would be what eventually became a Fear of God staple. Concurrently, he was also busy as a Hollywood nightclub promoter which allowed him to rub shoulders with rappers such as Big Sean and Kanye West as well as a budding designer from Chicago, Virgil Abloh, then West's creative director. West snapped up Lorenzo to join his design team, working across collections for A.P.C and Yeezy.
Fear of God’s debut collection launched in Spring 2013, with just 12 well-crafted pieces made from flannel and French terry cloth. Hero pieces included ripped pants and zip-up hoodies. The collection fused Lorenzo’s personal style with details borrowed from all-American subcultures. Today, Lorenzo sums it up as “a hip hop approach to fashion, and the flannel more of a Kurt Cobain thing. It was this thing I had been doing all my life, having grown up a black kid in a white high school”.
Taking his first collection to Paris, Lorenzo intended to sell to international buyers and stores, but found he had little understanding of seasonal commercial schedules and the fashion industry’s strict timings. However, he had conviction in his product. “This is an American idea,” he says of Fear of God’s USP today. “It’s not to be boxed in as one genre, as luxury or street. This is just American.” Abloh (now men’s artistic director of Louis Vuitton) was at the time launching his Off-White collection and introduced Lorenzo to Barneys’ buyers. Despite initially declining his collection, the now shuttered department store eventually decided to break some rules and find space on their floors for Fear of God.
To Lorenzo, there’s meaning behind his business’ dramatic name. “I felt that the world didn’t need another cool clothing line,” he explains. “I felt without a foundation, a purpose or message behind, it was kind of corny to be so wrapped up in the coolness of the clothes. If I can build this thing around something I really believe in, then it makes sense to fight for this thing, because it’s rooted in something real.”
An apparel and footwear collaboration for Nike debuted at the same time but at a lower price point. Nike’s brief was to design a fully-formed collection nodding to the lifestyle and game of basketball. Fear of God was the first designer brand to create a new shoe mould for Nike, and Lorenzo brought in the last he had obsessed over in Italy to create five new Fear of God sneakers – adding new sleeker proportions to a design loosely based on the archetypal 90s basketball trainer, the Jordan. For Lorenzo, who played basketball at school in the 90s, this was the ultimate accolade. He talks about his love for Air Jordan in glowing terms: “The basketball sneaker was the foundation for whatever it was that you wore. You could have on the coolest designers in the world, but it was your basketball sneaker that defined your level of cool, you could have on a pair of Jordan’s and that’s all you needed.”
In March this year, Lorenzo’s collaboration with Ermenegildo Zegna was presented in Paris. To Lorenzo, the event marked coming full circle, as had previously cast aside fashion's established traditions, scheduled and capital cities. He had been introduced to Italian designer Alessandro Sartori, Ermenegildo Zegna’s artistic director since 2016, by a mutual friend. The two hit it off. “We had similar visions, this gap in between what was happening culturally within fashion and what’s historically been happening, from a suiting and tailoring perspective. Understanding it’s hard to go from sweats and a hoodie one day to a perfectly tailored suit the next.”
“I kind of brought the new silhouette and proportions,” says Lorenzo of the partnership. In his designs, he also referenced the Ermenegildo Zegna company archives, researching looser cut tailoring crafted in the 1940s and in more recent decades. “A lot of my inspiration comes from late 80s early 90s,” he says. “I hate theword ‘oversized’ – a generous fitting blazer and a baseball cap, a graphic T-shirt.” A tribute to Lorenzo’s regular athletic American sportswear references, tailored jackets are lapel-free, witha looser fit and drop shoulders. Pants are worn pleated and loose. Sartori described the result as “a perfect mix of the excellence of Ermenegildo Zegna’s sartorial take”, elaborating, “and the sophisticated leisurewear of Fear of God that naturally blend together merging and reinventing silhouettes and proportions.”
While he was in Italy, Lorenzo used the time to forge new relationships with local factories. These he returned to when producing tailored pieces of his Seventh Collection which debuted in September. “As we’re building what I like to call American luxury, I like to put the best categories in the best hands in the world.” He tells me that 30-40% of the collection is now made in Italy, including tailoring, footwear and accessories. Denim, sweats and hoodies are made closer to home. “I think we are up there in the world when it comes to landing those pieces so I’d like to keep those here in LA, keep it honest.”
Lorenzo’s approach to fashion has always been guided by his own needs and experiences. Today, he explains a recent move towards tailoring as simply a practical solution to a problem he had in his personal wardrobe. “When I want to go to a teachers’ meeting for my son and I just have hoodies in my closet, maybe that is a problem. I’m 40 years old,” he says, before describing his line’s wide range of target client. “Obviously, my customer is maturing but I also wanted to reach a younger customer. I feel that there are men that are currently wearing tailoring and suiting and probably want to get a bit more comfortable with it and want a little bit of a different proportion,” he ponders. “I think we’re able to kind of land a plane there.”
As we finish our Zoom call, Lorenzo sums up his career to date. “I’m getting better at what I’m doing. I’m a self-taught designer. I’m getting better at what I’ve been trying to say the last seven year,” he explains. “Now I feel more optimistic, because I think it can only get better from here.”