Jerry Lorenzo wants to be known as a storyteller as much as he’d like to be known as a designer, and it shows. In crafting narratives for Fear of God and its diffusion line F.O.G., Lorenzo has honed in on elevating the grunge aesthetic that dominated the ’90s zeitgeist, re-branding vintage tour tees and bringing them into the 21st century alongside stacked layers and carefully proportioned outfits. The latest step in this narrative is also Lorenzo’s most audacious yet: when news broke that Lorenzo had played a part in the stylistic direction of Justin Bieber’s Purpose tour, HYPEBEAST had to know how and why he had gotten involved with one of the most contentious and popular figures in modern music and to hear the story of their collaboration.
First and foremost, Lorenzo does not want to take sole credit for the styles found onstage. In fact, the Fear of God designer makes it clear over the course of a half-hour phone call that his mission is for everyone who contributed to get their due credit and respect, name-dropping figures like Scooter Braun, the music industry maven who tapped Bieber for success back when he was but a wide-eyed tween recording covers on YouTube; Karla Welch, Bieber’s longtime stylist; and Bieber himself alongside Fear of God team members for the tour’s inspiration and aesthetic direction. When reached for comment, Welch hailed the collaborative process with Lorenzo as “symbiotic and egoless” and that the relationship between Camp Bieber and Camp Lorenzo progressed in a “nice and organic way.”
The designs found onstage, meanwhile, take equal inspiration from the aforementioned grunge movement, as well as Bieber’s recent ambitions as a skater. The creative team worked painstakingly to re-contextualize iconic rock star styles like Axl Rose’s kilt, metal merch, and oversized plaid overcoats in order to craft symbols that embody both grunge and Bieber. They are also sure to ire the wrath of comment sections from HYPEBEAST to YouTube. Lorenzo knows this. He just doesn’t care. He makes it clear in our conversation that he does not care about cool any more, only Purpose.
HYPEBEAST spoke with Lorenzo to get his side of the story, the inspiration behind the pieces found onstage, and whether or not he considers himself a Belieber.
Let’s start at the beginning: how did this collaboration come about and what was your role?
I had seen Justin on a couple of occasions and he was such a high-energy, super-positive person and he would come up like “yo, my tour is coming up in a few months and I want you to do the whole thing! I just want it to be Fear of God!” At the time, I took it as more of a compliment to what I had done up until that point. Then I saw him again a couple of months later and he brought it up again. Then maybe a month before the tour started I got the call from his stylist, Karla Welch — who’s done a tremendous job as he’s matured as a young man and his style has followed suit — and she was like “hey, Justin really wants me to meet with you about the tour and his wardrobe.”
So I took the meeting and obviously I was pretty prepared; I had all my references lined up, I had some boards of some ideas and the overall theme of modernized grunge. And she was like “oh my god! I used that word this morning in our meeting — that’s exactly what we had in mind and what we were hoping for!” And so she said that they had a lot of designers who were interested, but Justin is really into what you’re doing with Fear of God, would you like to come in and present something of how you see his wardrobe so that I can share with my team. I said something to the effect of, ‘Awesome, I’ll have something to you in a week.’
And so the very next day I flew in this sketch artist named Johnny Singer from Seattle and we probably spent 10 hours together and I went through each look that I had in my head and based off the references, and based on where I saw this thing going and we came up with 13 looks at the end of the day. Keep in mind that they asked for four or five, but I went all the way in and was like ‘This is what I think this should be.’
We pulled everything from the kilts on Axl Rose to some of the pinstripe punk pants and grunge plaid pants, and really began to take the Fear of God aesthetic and give it a new language that was modernized grunge, which was to be Bieber’s new communication. We sent those sketches over to Karla and she was like “let’s rock!” and we had three weeks to that point to produce all of these pieces. I think in the end we produced something like 80 pieces. So we made the pieces and Karla was traveling and Justin was traveling and we didn’t have the opportunity to work directly with Justin. [He] looked through it and looked at it as a whole and he took the pieces that we sent and put his own spin on it. I think one of the great things about working with him is that as a designer I may have had a certain direction or look in mind for how I wanted him to wear certain things, but he’s so confident and sure of what he wants to do with his looks. It really took on a life in and of itself, and I’m happy with the way it turned out.
Going back to the modernized grunge aspect; there’s a real sense of nostalgia: the pieces inspired by Metallica merch, Cobain’s face, the Marilyn Manson ‘Bigger Than Satan’ tee, the Axl Rose kilt. Was there an angle beyond grunge inspired by these shock jocks, scream queens, polarizing rock star figures to court controversy?
I don’t think the intent was ever to come out with something so polarizing. If you know the history of Fear of God, you know that we’ve taken these rare rock tees and printed our logo on them. It’s just a nod of respect. We’re not a graphic arts clothing brand, so you’re not gonna get a graphic tee from us, but we’re gonna give you the best version of a graphic tee, which is a rare 1990s Guns N’ Roses tee, of which there might be, like, 20 left. This super rare thing.
One of the things Karla and I threw around—it was her idea, really—was kinda like Jay Z in the old Roc-A-Fella days, when he would wear a different jersey depending on what city they were in. If they’re in Toronto, they’d have the dope-ass Blue Jays jersey; if they’re in Philly, they’ve got the 76ers throwbacks. So what we wanted to do with these rock tees was initially to hopefully have a vintage piece that speaks to a band or an icon from each of these cities that he’s visiting, in a nod of respect and acknowledgment as the tour travels. So we secured over a hundred vintage tees and I got my guy Rick Moe from Tyranny and Mutation Vintage in Seattle who helps me pull these things together.
Me and Mark Riddick came up with the logos, the Bieber logo, the Purpose Tour logo, you can kinda see the Fear of God hand on ‘em, and we started to place the different tour logos with the art of the rock tees and the Marilyn Manson one just really hit when we made it. And it immediately spoke to The Beatles’ ‘Bigger than Jesus’ thing; it spoke to his spirituality and his story of redemption, which is one of the greatest stories of our recent pop culture—of him going from a punk kid to this ascension and this level of forgiveness, and his own story of defeating and overcoming Satan and being redeemed and having faith in God. So it played on so many different things that we knew that it was a hit when we saw it.
If you know the history of Fear of God, you know that we’ve taken these rare rock tees and printed our logo on them. It’s just a nod of respect.
So you mentioned that you had a hand in the design of the tour logos; did you play a part in the merch design at all? Or were you only involved with the on-stage wardrobe?
We played a small part in the merch. We helped creatively direct his merch and tried to help give it all a singular voice. We tried to take all the vibes and give them one language to make sure you get this skate vibe, the fashion vibe, and this dark, grungy, metal vibe and make them say ‘Justin Bieber 2016.’ So we kinda helped in that way, but for me to take any credit for any of his merch direction or ideas or designs would be wrong.
You’ve described yourself as more of a storyteller than a designer; where does this latest turn as a wardrobe designer fit into the broader Fear of God narrative? How would you describe the narrative behind Bieber’s tour merch as opposed to, say, Fear of God or F.O.G.?
I don’t even really see it like that. I’m getting a bunch of different people saying ‘How cool is this really? It’s Justin Bieber!’ and I feel like there’s this whole idea of cool is so fleeting; it’s so trendy. What’s cool today isn’t gonna be cool tomorrow and by no means is this a strategic partnership of positioning Fear of God more-so than it is positioning us with someone who has the same message as us.
The message of Purpose is one that we can all look to! We’re all here trying to find purpose and understand our potential and why we’re here. And I think that’s the message that us as a team with Fear of God was so excited to be a part of, to reach so many people. And what can we do with our talents to help him better communicate his message?
And, to me, this transcends cool. This is beyond cool. I’ve seen cool and cool isn’t that cool to me anymore. That’s the reality. So what’re you giving people? What’re you telling people besides ‘Buy my cool merch!’ or ‘Look how cool I look onstage!’ It’s, like, what’s the message? And I feel like this kid gets it at 22. He understands it. That message of purpose is just one that we really wanted to attach ourselves to and we were humbled that he valued our perspective the way that he did.
We’re all here trying to find purpose and understand our potential and why we’re here. And I think that’s the message that us as a team with Fear of God was so excited to be a part of.
Independent of Fear of God, it seems like you’re more involved with the Purpose narrative and this idea of redemption and faith than the idea of cool?
A thousand percent. I mean, my kids love Justin Bieber. I can take my son to school and he knows all of his songs. I can bring him to the show and he likes it just because he likes it. There’s no other reason than he loves the music. There’s a purity in that that I see what my children like, that’s not clouded by anything other than what they’re into. And I’ve become a believer in this kid! It’s all about this story which aligns more with Fear of God than anything fleeting, whether this is a cool thing for Fear of God or not. That’s where we are with it.
Sounds like Justin made you a Belieber, huh?
I would never add the ‘b’ to it (laughs). I believe in him, but I will never add the ‘b,’ But I believe in him, as a person. I think he is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. From being able to play basketball with the kid, then the kid picks up a soccer ball, then he picks up a guitar, and he sings, and he can dance! Like… he has something there that’s God-given. And whether you’re into him or not, you have to respect that. And I respect it… lastly, my iTunes library tells me his album is my “Most Played” in my library so I will let that speak for itself.
You’ve made this transition from pre-order-only collections with Fear of God to PacSun stocking F.O.G. and now you’re designing wardrobe for the most popular singer in the world, arguably. My question is how would you respond to critics who would see this—instead of a rise—as more of a slide into the mainstream?
I don’t have a response for the critics. Like I said, what we’re trying to do is beyond surface. It’s all about the message that’s behind it. And right now, Fear of God is just as much a ministry as it is a clothing line. Fear of God is a thought and, more importantly, it’s a conviction. And if there’s an opportunity to reach more people and be honest in the approach of how we do it, then that’s what we’re gonna do. And if to you, as a critic, it makes it less cool… that’s the last thing that I’m worried about! Cool is the most fleeting thing in the world. You can look at last year and look at this year and kids aren’t Jordans and Nikes any more. Last year, you wouldn’t have in a million years thought that was possible.
It’s like, if you’re chasing this trend, this hype, I think you’ll play the game of always chasing that. And I think what we’re doing with Bieber now more-so says that we’re more concerned with our message than with your perception of what we are.
To end this thing, it’s what Justin says: “I get my recognition from God and I give him recognition.” And at the end of the day, that’s all this is about. Everything else is just noise. Everything else is just fleeting, a trend. And to worry about that stuff is to worry about the wrong things and can quickly throw us off track.