Fear Of God: Luxury Streetwear For The A-List

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Fear Of God: Luxury Streetwear For The A-List

Words by Mr Dan Rookwood | Photography by Mr Brad Torchia | Styling by Mr Nicolas Klam

2 August 2017

Meet Mr Jerry Lorenzo, the cult designer who counts Jay-Z, Mr Kendrick Lamar and Mr Justin Bieber among his devotees.

Mr Jerry Lorenzo doesn’t look like your stereotypical Christian. And that is exactly the point. With his tattooed arms, diamond-encrusted gold chains and blacked-out Mercedes G-Wagen, he could be mistaken for a hip-hop artist. Albeit one who wears super-rare vintage rock band T-shirts (he has amassed about 500 from flea markets and eBay) and very expensive jeans he has designed himself. But what is very clear when you spend an afternoon with him and his family is that he is a God-fearing man and the name of his brand, which arrives on MR PORTER this week, is literal.

Los Angeles-based Mr Lorenzo, 39, is one of a select band of designers – which includes Mr Demna Gvasalia at Vetements, Mr Gosha Rubchinskiy, Mr Virgil Abloh at Off-White, Mr James Jebbia at Supreme and Mr John Elliott – who are turning the fashion world on its head with their luxury streetwear.

If you follow Messrs Kayne West, Justin Bieber, Kendrick Lamar, David Beckham and Zayn Malik (or for that matter Rihanna, Beyoncé and Mses Kim Kardashian West and Gigi Hadid), then you’ll already be familiar with Fear of God’s aesthetic because they are all devotees. Last year, Mr West defied the Met Gala’s strict white-tie dress code by turning up in a pair of ripped Fear of God jeans and blue contact lenses. When Jay-Z was in the recording studio laying down his recently released album, 4:44, he wore a silk Fear of God baseball coach’s jacket personalised with “CARTER” across the back. And Mr Lamar is currently channelling his “Kung-Fu Kenny” persona on his DAMN US tour in a yellow Mr Bruce Lee-inspired Fear of God tracksuit.

It’s hard to think of a brand that has more mega-influencer endorsements, and all without paying anyone a penny. This has given Mr Lorenzo (709,000 Instagram followers) and his brand (942,000 followers) a powerful platform from which to spread his message. “There’s a responsibility that comes with that following,” he says. “I don’t take that lightly.”

Since launching in 2013, Fear of God has established a trademark aesthetic with an emphasis on layering and reworked proportions. Oversized silhouettes are combined with more fitted pieces because “all slim everywhere is sort of too rocker, and all baggy is a little too hip-hop”. Mr Lorenzo remixes American classics with his signature spin – extra-long tees, short-sleeve sweats, drop-shoulder varsity jackets, oversized denim shirts, denim-collared flannel shirts, alpaca-lined hoodies, drop-crotch sweat shorts, slim-fit sweatpants and jeans with zips at the ankles, and lots of mesh. He has also introduced footwear. His references span an eclectic databank of 1980s and 1990s movies, music and sport, from Mr Kurt Cobain of Nirvana to The Breakfast Club to controversial NBA star Mr Allen Iverson.

If that sounds like a cross-cultural mash-up, that’s because it is. “There was always this weird juxtaposition of influences and tastes and likes,” says Mr Lorenzo. “Growing up in a black home and going to a black church on the weekends, [I was into] everything those kids were interested in, whether it was hip-hop, or church music, or gospel, or whatever it was. But then playing basketball for a predominantly white high school, I liked all the same things those kids liked, whether it was Metallica or Nirvana and rock and grunge and all those things of the 1990s.”

It might seem odd that such a committed Christian would be so into hard rock, but Mr Lorenzo sees no contradiction. “I love God and I’ll be the first to die for Him, but I do like Nirvana, I do like Metallica, I do like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and Guns N’ Roses,” he says. “It’s a part of what has influenced me. Whether or not I listen to Metallica, that can’t say anything more than how I live my life, and that’s where I’m at. That’s where my focus is at.”

Mr Lorenzo is self-taught and doesn’t consider himself a designer per se, but is more of a cultural sampler who mixes together nostalgic aesthetics to create his own streetwear. He has no formal design background and likens his start to a struggling artist, hustling mix tapes. “You put out the best that you can with the resources that you have, and there’s no backing.” He self-funded everything with money he saved from his club nights. “All you have is your idea and the resources that you have access to to realise your idea,” he says. “I knew it was missing in the market. The purest form of originality comes from a place of not having. That’s when you’re forced to create from a deeper place, and that’s street.”

There’s a responsibility that comes with my following. I don’t take that lightly

The prices, however, are very much at an aspirational, luxury level. This he justifies by pointing out that the fabrics, hardware and construction are all premium. All the apparel is made in Downtown LA and his footwear is produced in Italy, where workers are treated and paid well. It would be morally wrong, he says, to try to produce it cheaply in Asia. (Partly to address the accessibility issue, he now has a separate line, FOG, which is more democratically priced.)

Mr Lorenzo does not design in seasons, nor does he adhere to a fashion calendar. He just releases his ranges when he thinks they are ready (we’re now on the fifth collection). He does not put on catwalk shows. There is no machine behind the brand, no PR, marketing or advertising. At the time of writing, he has just 10 full-time staff. He has no investors to answer to. “That is luxury to me,” he says. “Luxury is being able to wear cut-off sweatpants and inside-out T-shirts every day and make my own schedule and see my kids when I want to. I’m very grateful that I can do that.” He doesn’t work for The Man, but he does work for The Man Upstairs. And that’s where the name of the brand comes in. “I like the juxtaposition of what Fear of God means,” he says. “To me, Fear of God is about the reverence and respect and a peace that you have in knowing God. The flip side of that is if you don’t know Him and if you’re not in a relationship with him, then there is a fear of Him and His power.” His brand is about more than clothes, he says. There is a greater purpose, a higher inspiration. “At some point, you have to be about something.”

While at college, Mr Lorenzo worked “the lowest jobs on the totem pole” at Gap and Diesel, on the shop floor and in the stockroom. It was valuable real-world experience. “Working in retail, you know what’s missing and you know what people want, what people are looking for,” he says.

He always thought he would follow his highly respected father into baseball. Mr Jerry Manuel – aka The Sage, one of the few black major league managers – led the Chicago White Sox and the New York Mets after a modest career as a player.

Luxury is making my own schedule and seeing my kids when I want to

Having graduated with an MBA from Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, Mr Lorenzo used his father’s connections to land a job in sponsorship at the Los Angeles Dodgers before moving to a sports agency in Chicago where he looked after talent and began to mix with celebrities. That’s when he decided to drop the Manuel family name. “I didn’t want to dirty up all my dad had fought to build for us,” he says. “I would hate for someone to google Jerry Manuel looking for my dad, but instead see a picture of his son with a bottle of Grey Goose in his hand at a party.”

He ended up managing Dodgers player Mr Matt Kemp, which necessitated a return to Los Angeles. Part of that job involved managing Mr Kemp’s image, doubling as his stylist, but Mr Lorenzo struggled to find what he was looking for: refined casualwear that was smart enough to go out in, but not too dressy. He started designing some pieces himself, garments such as short-sleeved hoodies or elevated tracksuits that said “I’m not going to the gym”, which he had made in the newly resurgent garment factories of Downtown LA, learning as he went. Before long, he had enough for a small collection.

Around the same time, his reputation was growing as the host of JL Nights, “legendary parties four or five nights a week”, attended by LA’s in-crowd – musicians and models, actors and athletes – many of whom became friends. “I knew if I made something, I could get anyone to wear it because I was providing the parties for everyone to go to, and these people were not out of reach,” he says. “They were genuine relationships. They were friendships that I had fostered over years, and so I had access to tons of influencers.” He didn’t grow up in a household of hard-nosed hustlers, so he has always avoided the hard sell. “I’m trying to make something that’s so good I don’t have to ask someone to wear it,” he says. “I don’t have to ask a Kanye or a Justin or somebody to wear it, they just want to wear it. That’s the mentality, and I guess that comes from throwing parties and having to get the same people out multiple times in a week. You never want it to be like a favour that they’re coming out just because they want to support you, but because they want to come have a good time.”

It doesn’t hurt that one of the earliest adopters and supporters was Mr West, who sought out Mr Lorenzo in 2013 after seeing a mutual friend wearing one of his super-long T-shirts from his first collection. He immediately flew Mr Lorenzo out to show him the entire line, loved it and hired him on the spot to work with his creative company. Within a week, Mr Lorenzo was in Paris helping with Mr West’s A.P.C. collaboration, the start of a lasting partnership that has led to him designing merchandise for the Yeezus tour, the Yeezy line and Mr West’s personal wardrobe.

I’m trying to make something that’s so good I don’t have to ask Kanye or Justin or somebody to wear it, they just want to wear it

“Kanye is the hardest-working person I’ve ever met,” says Mr Lorenzo. The two are now good friends: Mr Lorenzo and his wife were invited to Mr West’s wedding to Ms Kardashian. “Kanye is his own person, he beats his own drum. If he doesn’t understand something or if he doesn’t quite get it, he’s going to do all that he can to put all of his resources into figuring it out. I think one of the best things that I could ever take away from him is work ethic and being able to push yourself beyond barriers.”

More recently, Mr Lorenzo has worked with Mr Bieber to help define his look for the Purpose tour and help design the singer’s merchandise – tees, sweatshirts and hoodies interspersed with purposeful Biblical references – which sold out immediately. Mr Bieber is also a well-documented believer. “Kanye, Justin and I all have the same foundation, which is Christianity, a spiritual understanding and a respect for the higher power being God,” says Mr Lorenzo. “As I’m growing stronger in that area, I feel there’s more of a purpose in my relationship with those guys beyond clothing or culture and all those things that we all thought were cool.”

Like Messrs Bieber and West, Mr Lorenzo has also had to battle his demons. His faith was tested by the intoxicating LA nightlife he himself created. It all came to a head two years ago, shortly after he married his long-term partner, Desiree, when he had a dramatic “come to Jesus” realisation. “I was struggling with alcohol,” he says. “I had started this brand, Fear of God, with good intentions, but wasn’t necessarily living it. I was dealing with a lot of stress and not handling it well. I knew that I no longer had the power to control myself. I had tried to stop [drinking] so many times. I came to the end of myself and had an encounter with God. My life really switched around. I’ve been sober for almost two years now.” He has since left the nightlife behind and prefers to shoot hoops with his six-year-old son and “best friend”, Jerry Lorenzo Manuel III, and play in the pool with his four-year-old twin daughters, Liv and Mercy, at their family home in Encino, suburban Los Angeles. He seems like a great father.

Mr Lorenzo is determined to use his position as a high-profile Christian to prove that faith and fashion are not mutually exclusive. When he launched a collaboration with Vans sneakers last year, he saw the opportunity to set an example. “We had between 75 and 100 pairs of these sneakers that were supposed to be given to celebrities and influencers,” he explained to Fast Company afterwards. “I was getting hit up by more people than I had shoes. I didn’t really know where to make the cut-off. The people that were so thirsty for the shoes were people that didn’t need them. At the same time, the shoes were selling for $100, but getting resold online for between $500 and $700. I felt like the value or the purpose of the shoes was lost. I thought, ‘Man, if I’m in a position to give, how dare I give it to someone that doesn’t need it?’ I work in Downtown LA and we pass these homeless people [on Skid Row], sleeping in tents and sleeping bags, as we come into work every day. We were in a position to give and were ignoring these people around us. I just told my staff, ‘We’re going to pack up all these shoes and clothing and give it to people who need it.’”

He copped some flak for filming this act of charity and putting it on social media. “I felt as if it was necessary to record that and share that,” he says. “We live in a day and age where negativity is celebrated constantly. I just feel like people needed to see some good. I felt the responsibility to share something positive. If you’re someone who takes that as self-promoting, then that’s OK, but I thought that more people would be encouraged to go do something good. I know my mission. I know where my heart is. I know who I answer to.”

For all the hype surrounding Fear of God, there is also some hate out there. Some people don’t appreciate Mr Lorenzo’s religious convictions, some have accused him of borrowing too heavily from other designers, others are just upset that they can’t get hold of items before they sell out. Do the negative comments get to him? “Yeah, 1,000 per cent,” he says. “It cuts. I’m human just like everyone. Having these followers and the accessibility is a gift and a curse. The gift is I don’t have to take an ad out in Vogue or put a billboard up. The gift is I can speak directly to my audience. The curse is they can speak directly back to me. It comes with it, and it hurts, but you got to take it on the chin and keep going.”

He has to. He is on a mission, a man of the cloth. At the most basic level, Mr Lorenzo started Fear of God to supply the missing pieces in a man’s wardrobe. On a more profound level, if you want to go there, he truly believes it can help fill the missing pieces in life. He draws an analogy between sewing clothes and sowing seeds. “I would feel so empty if I was making clothes just to provide a solution for your wardrobe,” he says. “I needed something deeper to give you. I needed something deeper that could change your life.” He’s obviously not saying that wearing his clothes will do that. “I’m saying if you follow me on social media, and if you see what I believe in, and if you look up some scriptures that I’m sharing, or you see the type of father that I am, or you see the things that I’m standing for, then you can find something beyond the clothing.”

In Fear of God We Trust