Designing the Perfect Language: Jerry Lorenzo on Fear of God, His Footwear Line & F.O.G.

“I felt a responsibility to reach people where they were.”

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With pre-orders for his latest collection having just launched earlier this month, and the recent announcement of his new partnership with PacSun to bring his designs to a younger demographic at a more affordable price point, we caught up with fashion designer Jerry Lorenzo to discuss the recent headlines and explore the inspiration behind the latter of the two. This time around, we were introduced to a more euphoric Lorenzo, one on the cusp of new beginnings with his wedding just a few days ahead and a more clear perspective of his place in the world of fashion.

Read below for our full in-depth one-on-one with Lorenzo for his words on being compared to Rick Owens, his new footwear line, adhering to a younger demographic with his new diffusion label and refining his overall message since fostering Fear of God in 2011.

Before delving into Fourth Collection, just saw your Instagram teaser for the Fear of God x Barneys New York collaboration. How did that come about?

Barneys is actually like the first major retailer to kind of give me a chance; it’s just my consistent thank you to them for how well they’ve supported the brand, and offering them pieces that are exclusively sold in their doors. This collection was kind of like this khaki-, desert sand-colored palette that we introduced with them. Some of our silhouettes from the Fourth Collection are in this collaboration, and they’re the first store to have Fourth Collection pieces available even before our webshop.

In your interview with GQ you touched on your growth as a designer, now wanting to convey your messages through proportions versus layering and stacking as in your earlier collections. Is it safe to say that this is how each collection starts, with a message you’ve been settling with for quite some time, and finding new ways to convey that message?

Yeah, I mean each collection just starts with the same idea. I’m constantly trying to perfect this California wardrobe. This appropriate wardrobe that has you prepared to do anything; if I’m going to the gym, or a lunch meeting, or if I’m working downtown — I want to be appropriate. But of course, like anybody, you want to be as cool as possible. In the past, I tried to do that with layering. As I’m learning more about shapes, silhouettes, pieces, fabrics and how things fall, I’m just able to kind of tell this story better. I’m not a designer. I’m just trying to get across a point of view, a proposition – a story. I’m more of a storyteller. I just started making clothes four years ago, so I’m very new in [the fashion] world and I have a lot of respect for those who’ve been in this world for a very long time.

In Fourth Collection there are your closely fitting distressed looks and familiar streetwear staples, and then there are pieces on the opposite end: more formal, looser silhouettes and softer color tones. Catering to such an eclectic audience when working in the fashion industry, is it something you often think about? Playing both sides of the fence? Or is the direction again with color, the style of fit, and so forth a means to relay that message you spoke about?

You know, the longer I do this, the less I care about what’s going on and the more I’m just trying to say what I’m trying to say. With this last collection, I probably looked at Style Dot Com or whatever was happening on Hypebeast, the least. My first collection was based purely off of what I couldn’t buy at a [luxury department store] or what I couldn’t buy at Barneys. So a lot of it was altering similar silhouettes that kind of [already] existed. And now that I have the resources; and I have a great pattern maker; and I have a new production manager that can get me the fabrics and materials that I need; and now that we’re doing denim and I can distress it perfectly to give you the perfect Joey Lawrence-, Brad Pitt-pair of jeans and juxtapose it with functional zippers at the ankle so that you can get your foot through the bottom, I’m able to just really tell this story that I’m trying to tell. And the more that I tell it, the more that I know what I’m trying to say.

It’s like when someone comes to you asking for advice, and the more advice you give them, it seems like the more you’re learning about yourself? I feel like the more I do this, the more I’m learning about myself. I’m realizing that the majority of my influences are all from high school — a time in my life when I was probably the most impressionable. The most impressionable from outside influences, and also had the most desire to fit in all these different circles.

Essentially as I dive more and more into what my brand is about and learn more about myself, it all comes down to these influences from high school. It comes from going to an all-white high school throughout the week, and then on the weekend going to an all-black soulful church, and then at home only hearing gospel music and not being allowed to play my Metallica song that I like, or not being able to play Nirvana “Smells like Teen Spirit;” not being able to do these things in my home. With this last collection, I just realized that what I’m [embodying with Fear of God] are all those things that really affected me. It’s the gospel music that you hear in the film – which is a big part of my life; it’s the relationship with God and knowing that as a kid I wasn’t where I needed to be spiritually. Even as a grownup, I haven’t been where I needed to be spiritually, and I know that I know I’m only experiencing this little bit of success because of the prayers of my parents. It doesn’t have to do with me or my talents, or how “cool” I am. [Fear of God] is this God element, and then there’s this Allen Iverson element – who to me represented hip-hop better than hip-hop. And it’s funny that people look to what I’m doing and say “Oh, that reminds me of Rick Owens,” “Oh, that’s Rick Owens.” Well, I only like Rick Owens because I first loved Allen Iverson.

I look at a Rick Owens silhouette and I see a long tank top that looks like a basketball jersey, big baggy shorts that we wore in high school, arm sleeves that Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson made cool; I see all of these elements that I identify with. And the more that I identify with that, I know that the source of that stems from a place dear to me. You know? This culture that I grew up with. This Allen Iverson, rebellious attitude and silhouette that he brought to the NBA and forced the NBA to have a dress code because he was so rebellious against that system. So it’s that, and then you juxtapose that with anything that’s Nirvana, grunge, Metallica, Pearl Jam – anything that I listened to all throughout high school. So now my brand Fear of God has all these elements. It’s the God, it’s the hip-hop culture, and it’s the grunge culture. What I’m trying to do with every single piece, is give you a little bit of that.

If I’m going to make you a flannel, it’s going to have those raw, cut-off, cap sleeves like John Bender from The Breakfast Club. It’s going to look like that grungy kid cut it off. But in order to make it hip-hop, it’s got to have some zippers on the side, it’s got to have some luxe, it’s got to have something that’s elevated – so you got the Riris on the side of it. And that’s just an example of how one piece can kind of help to communicate all of these things. My tank tops, the silhouette is [essentially] a basketball jersey – that’s what it is. You know? But it’s elevated with heather grey fabric and it’s got texture, and now our cottons are getting better. It’s a constant conversation. Every single piece has this hip-hop element of luxe, and then this element of grunge that comes off effortless but the hip-hop element lets you know that you’re not just throwing on some bummy clothes. The jeans are finished with a seam behind the knee to elevate it and set it apart from a vintage pair of Levi’s. And with every piece, the more that I do this and the more that I learn about myself, I’m able to communicate messages more clearly through my pieces. You know, I’m not trying to win a design award. I’m not “that” dude, I’m not trying to be in that. I’m just trying to tell my story to the best of my ability with the resources that I have.

Speaking of grungier distressed looks, those design cues tend to receive a great deal of flack, examples being the reception of your recent collection and Kanye’s Yeezy Season 1 and 2 collections. Do you have any words for that particular audience who tends to overlook the intricacies of distressing, or the high quality materials used to make some of these dystopian-esque pieces?

I really don’t have any comments for the “Hatebeast” kids. I feel like a lot them are just uneducated as to where a lot of these designers get their inspirations from. I’m blessed to come after Hedi Slimane who’s made grunge luxury. I’m blessed to now come after Rick Owens who’s made the Allen Iverson silhouette this goth-luxe silhouette. So now I can take my interpretation of what I think is happening in fashion, and I can take my influences from the ‘90s and I can say exactly what I want to say. And because they’ve broken down these walls, what I’m saying is luxury. “Oh, that’s a cut-off flannel shirt,” but in their minds because they can equate that to luxury, they can understand “oh, that’s luxury.” But what’s hard for them to really wrap their minds around, is if they can relate too closely to me and not to another creative director at a fashion house, it’s still luxury. I’ll often read that it’s not ok for me to be luxury, or it’s not ok for my pricing to be what it is. But they’ll go and pay whatever for something else that sits on the designer floor at Barneys. Like I said, I’m not a designer, but I will put my man hours against any designer’s man hours for how much thought, time and energy goes into each one of my pieces. I’m not the best designer, but I’m doing all that I can to say exactly what I want to say. And when you pay for a piece, you’re paying for the work that goes into it. You’re paying for the fabric, you’re paying for the finishes and you’re paying because whatever it is that you’re going to put on your body is saying something about you.

I feel like what I’m gifted at, or what I’m “good” at is knowing this story very well, and I can tell this story through clothing. I can tell this story that people can associate with through clothing, and that’s why I feel like I’ve been blessed, because they understand what I’m trying to say. Maybe they’ve seen my pieces on Instagram or on the web and never touched it and felt it, but once they do finally touch it, feel it and put it on I pray that it makes sense. You know, like I said, I’ve only been doing this for like four years. I’m only trying to perfect what I’m trying to say, I’m not trying to do anything else. I never want to leave and creative direct somewhere else, I just want to say what I’m trying to say. I’m trying to give this story of this new wardrobe that is obviously dope, it’s obviously fresh, but it’s also appropriate for your everyday. If you’re going to the movies with your girl, you can be fresh; if you’re going to the gym, you can be fresh; if you’re going to a lunch meeting – you know what I mean? I’m trying to perfect what “that” looks like.

I’ve always loved those women’s robes and overcoats with short sleeves because you can see the layers underneath, I just thought it would be dope to do a men’s coat like that. Like I said, it’s just me trying to tell this story. I’m blessed to have a tremendous production manager and business partner in Jeff; I’m blessed to have these millions of eyes on me that have taken a liking to me, and like what I do. So when I say “this is God’s brand,” I’m just saying everything is God’s. Everything is his, I’m just giving him the credit. Everything that is here was first in him, so I’m just going to come out and give him the credit. I’m blessed to wake up every day with the ability to work and come up with these ideas, come up with these pieces and put these things together. I got to give whatever I put together, or whatever credit I [receive] to who is giving me that ability. And that’s all that I’m trying to say. I’m not trying to be anything that I’m not. My responsibility is first to my family. I need to be honest in my work, I need to be honest in my life and my work needs to be first and foremost something that they can look at and respect, and know where it comes from, and know that it’s honest.

Let’s talk about your new footwear line. Three hi-tops in two colorway options?

Nothing’s safe to say at the moment. The shoes you saw in the campaign were actually our prototypes. You can expect to get a black shoe, but the sole is definitely not going to be that bright white. It’s going to be a prettier off-white, greyish tone. I don’t want to give the rest of the colors away, but from the teaser images you can expect something that’s a bit taupe-ish, a bit tan-ish, and maybe a bit greenish. The teasers of the shoes were released way before the final samples were ready. I’ll probably release some color images in the coming weeks of what you can expect to see in stores and on the web.

You know, with the shoe, it’s so funny reading the comments. Yes, if you look at the shoe it’s 1000% the juxtaposition and amalgamation of all of my favorite shoes. That’s exactly what this is. This shoe is the shoe that I felt was missing in the marketplace. There was a point when I was using the desert boot in my campaigns, but I don’t like wearing the desert boot because of the toe. I’m more of an adidas Boost runner. I love the height of the desert boot and how hip-hop it feels, but I’ve never been a Timberland or a military boot guy because I hate that round toe. So the toe on my shoe takes on this runner shape with a pointed toe, and then as you go up it gets more basketball. The interior zip is a zipper from a military boot. Then you got the classic military stripe that rises with the silhouette, and another military hit with the ankle and Achilles padding. So yeah, people are right – it is a juxtaposition of all my favorite shoes. I’ll tell you one thing it’s not, it’s not a Geobasket. That’s not in that shoe. Yes, it’s a lot of shoes, but that’s not in that shoe. It’s so funny that people can look at things and have a preconceived notion about it, despite there not being any truth behind it. I think a lot of the magic that makes Fear of God good, is that we take these classic menswear pieces and add our own take on it.

What I’m most proud of with this shoe, is the sole. To me the foundation of any shoe is the sole. I haven’t seen [our] sole anywhere. The back is thick, then it slims down as it goes to the front giving you this runner toe. I feel like that’s my proposition, this sole that falls in between a sneaker and a military boot. That’s what I’m proposing. Now the uppers are going to switch out. The upper may be something different next season, I don’t know. But the sole is really what I felt was missing, and really what I wanted to use to tell this story that I’m trying to tell. And I feel the shoe fits seamlessly with this collection; they’re everything that I thought they could be. The drawing that I took to Italy, with about 15, 30 pair of shoes with me as references, reflect exactly what you see today. The blueprint hasn’t changed. It’s been the same idea in my mind it’s always been. It’s exactly what I felt was missing in my closet.

With pre-orders for Fourth Collection having just launched on November 1 and Fear of God’s first ever footwear collection underway, what made now the perfect time to announce F.O.G.?

I don’t know if it’s the perfect time, it’s just a matter of opportunity. PacSun approached me a few years ago, but at the time I didn’t feel I was at a level where I could do something somewhere else that would be able to stand separate from Fear of God. If you look at my collection two years ago, it’s actually way more youthful than it is right now. And not to say that I’ve grown up in two years, I just have more resources and can now tell a better story. But fast forward two years and PacSun approaches me again, I felt the timing was right. I’m not going to say that a lot of my designs are in the marketplace, but I see a lot of the way that I style in the marketplace. I see a lot of brands taking what I’ve done with Fear of God as far as styling goes, building brands with it and selling their product at this lower tier. So to me, I was like “Oh, if they’re reaching for this aesthetic but they aren’t reaching these people, and they’re successful at it, why don’t I go into PacSun and really tell this story exactly how it should be told at this youthful level.”

Why PacSun? What makes this partnership the right fit for your vision of Fear of God at a more affordable price?

I just felt like now the high school or young college kid that’s not spending a thousand bucks on a bomber, but taking his Alpha Industries bomber and cutting off his sweatpants and putting on his own thermals, and layering them in his own way, is ready for what I can say at this level while not taking anything away from the main line. The two [lines] can kind of live together. I felt like partnering with PacSun was important because it’s far enough from where Fear of God sits at Barneys. And not to say that H&M was calling me or Zara, or any of those fast fashion brands that do similar collabs were at my disposal, but even if they were, the best place for me would be PacSun. The best place for this diffusion brand is in the mall where most don’t even know about Fear of God.

If you were to do a movie set in today’s time, and you were to go into a high school and create a wardrobe for those high school extras and what that high school looked like, it would look more like a PacSun than it would look like an H&M or Zara. I think PacSun represents what youth today looks like, and I wanted to be associated with the reality of how the majority of the youth are dressing, and I want to bring the most elevated idea that I can bring to them. That was kind of my thought process for saying “Ok, now is a good time.” And you juxtapose that with the negative comments I often get from kids that don’t understand why making luxury is expensive, and don’t understand why some black kid from L.A. can make something luxury a designer at a fashion house can. You know, in their mind it just doesn’t seem right or fair. Initially when I was doing this, I was just making clothes for my own closet and putting things together that were missing. But now that I have a lot of people that like what I’m doing, I felt a responsibility to reach people where they were. It was never my intention to make a super expensive brand, or make you pay for something that you shouldn’t. What you pay for in Barneys is the cost that it takes to make those pieces. So when PacSun approached me and said “Hey, we can make some similar pieces, and we have factories, and we have some ways to help you lower your price points,” I was like “Yes! Let’s do it, but let’s do this in the most elevated way possible.”

Often times the word “affordable” plays a huge part in fostering negative preconceptions about the state of quality to be delivered from brands often associated with luxe or high-end fashion. How will F.O.G. differ from Fear of God in terms of quality?

I’m not going to say the quality will be exactly the same, but I would put an F.O.G. hoodie next to any hoodie that sits in any Selfridges or any designer boutique. The construction and the attention to detail has not been overlooked at all. What’s being communicated is a more youthful take on what Fear of God is, so the overall message is different. It’s not fast fashion in the sense that I’m taking Fourth Collection and I’m dumbing it down, and giving you a cheaper version of it. I’m not taking what I put in the market two or three years ago, dumbing it down and giving you a cheaper version of it. I sat and thought about what was missing from the younger demographics’ wardrobe. I think they need a sleeveless bomber, they need a sleeveless field jacket, they need a dope camouflage military field jacket that goes with everything, and they need a bright red hoodie because it’s youthful. They need all these pieces. That’s where F.O.G. differs from Balmain for H&M. It’s a different language. It’s a different language at elevated taste and at elevated quality, but at a price that someone in that demographic can afford.

Do you find it difficult translating these messages you’re used to getting across with Fear of God into a more affordable price range?

It’s not really that challenging. It’s simply adhering to that kid from my 18th Instagram comment. Clicking on his page and seeing how he’s dressing, and saying “Ok, dude. This is what you’re trying to say. Let me help you, this is how it should look,” and giving it to him at a price that he can digest. It was more of a blessing than a challenge, because it let me create a lot of youthful designs that I would never release through Fear of God. I would never do sweatpants for Fear of God. It’s not luxe enough and it’s not grunge enough. Yeah, I do cut-off shorts because it’s kind of grungy – it looks a little punk, it looks a little do-it-yourself. But a sweatpant for me could live at F.O.G. I would never do a bright red hoodie for Fear of God, but I like bright red hoodies. A bright red hoodie gives me Daniel from The Karate Kid, it gives me E.T., it gives me youth. F.O.G. just provided me with another platform to get out more ideas, which is just a blessing. And at the end of the day, if you’re too cool to go into PacSun to pick up some pieces, then this brand isn’t for you.

The description for the F.O.G. Instagram page paraphrases Psalms 97.2. Any correlation to the voice of F.O.G. as a brand?

Yeah, I mean it’s “fog.” F.O.G. is fog, it’s cloudy – it’s fog. It’s the foundation of Fear of God. You know, when I was living with my parents and we were reading this scripture, for the first time I just saw God as this really cool figure. This cool figure that has this mystique around him that causes you to be in this solemn awe, causes you to fear him and causes you to respect him. I wanted to tell that image that I had of him in my head through clothing.

It’s been shortly over a year since the release of Fear of God’s Third Collection, and within that year not only have you developed a new apparel collection and ventured into footwear, but also designed an additional apparel collection for a newly found diffusion label. Creatively, do you feel in a “zone” so to speak?

Am I in a zone? Man, I’m just comfortable with what I’m trying to say now. I’m comfortable with whatever my proposition to this clothing thing is, and I’m not attempting or trying to do anything other than take care of my family in doing this. That’s the goal. Being able to wake up, wearing my cut-off sweatshorts and my inside-out vintage tee every day of my life, and not have to go work for someone – that’s how I measure success. So, am I in a zone? I’m just at peace with what I’m doing, I’m at peace with the partnerships that I have and I’m grateful.

What can we expect from both Fear of God and F.O.G. moving forward?

You can expect F.O.G. be a consistent player in the market, and you can expect Fear of God to continue to be a more limited ready-to-wear brand.

Keep up with Jerry Lorenzo on Instagram and be sure to stay tuned to our site for the latest news on F.O.G. and Fear of God.

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