Jerry Lorenzo is designing with intent
A week on from Fear of God’s huge first runway show at the Hollywood Bowl, we meet a Jerry Lorenzo laser-focused on building the next era of American design.
Jerry Lorenzo said everything he wanted to say with the show.
Speaking backstage in Los Angeles, where he’s surrounded by family – his children, wife Desiree, and his impeccably well-dressed father, former Major League Baseball player and coach Jerry Manuel Sr – Fear of God’s founder believes the intention behind his brand’s Hollywood takeover was clear.
“For me, I’ve never believed in just speaking at every opportunity. [But with the show] I really felt like I had something to say.”
Finishing, just minutes before we speak, with a Fourth of July-worthy fireworks display, set to a soundtrack of Ray Charles’s version of America the Beautiful, it felt like a big brand, grappling with big themes, within a big country: the complex beauty of America, and the cost of the freedom it now affords Lorenzo.
“My dad told [me] stories of his grandma picking cotton. Now I have the luxury of having staff who bring me fabric books and I get to pick the cotton,” says the 45-year-old designer. “There’s a freedom and a luxury that comes from a lot of pain.”
As far as displays of American luxury go, the brand’s runway debut was about as impressive as it gets. Taking place at the Hollywood Bowl (“the last place in LA that feels iconic”) and featuring performances from Sampha and Pusha T, it elevated Lorenzo’s neutral, wearable pieces to a higher level, teasing a sneaker as part of a new adidas line, Adidas Fear of God Athletics, as well as women’s footwear for the first time. Ten years after Fear of God’s inception, the show placed the brand within the lineage of both American fashion and the American dream, more generally – a promise of freedom that fuels hope and progress.
“Ray Charles is singing from a deeper place, and that promise means a lot more to someone like Ray Charles than the next guy – you feel that in his voice,” Lorenzo says when we speak again a few days later. “But the pain and the cost that allowed for Ray to get close to that place of freedom never changed his love for America.
“I think that’s also what I was trying to communicate. You’ve got to see the whole picture,” Lorenzo continues. “And although there’s a lot of pain in the history, it doesn’t mean that we love this country any less. I wanted to really paint that picture in a way which understands that beauty and love comes from that. Not anger and violence.”
How do you feel, a few days removed? Has it sunk in?
Not yet. I mean, yesterday we had to set up our showroom and merchandise the collection. I had other interviews. I’m still in the dawn of everything. I do hear that the show did what we intended it to do. Everything that we do has a level of intention that we pour into it. And so we’d expect the product, the execution, anything that we touch, to carry that responsibility through. We poured enough intention into the show to know it would do what it was intended to do. There’s no intention to do something that makes me excited or fired up. It’s more the egregious feeling of humility that I have the opportunity to do this.
And so, if I do have that opportunity, what am I going to say with this platform? If I don’t have anything to say, then I’m not going to say anything at all. I felt really convinced of a feeling, and a message, and a narrative that needed to be told. Fortunately for us, my craft as a designer is only getting better, our teams are only getting better, and our resources allow for us to communicate at a higher level.
Did the show feel cumulative, like part of a decade-long journey? Or did you treat it as a one-off moment like any other?
I think every collection has been informed by every experience of my life to date. This is just another 10 years, on top of the first 35 years of my life, that goes into informing this collection. And again, there are so many different ways to look at it. If you look at it from just a craft and design standpoint, obviously 10 years later, we’re better than we were when we first came out of the gate. The team and our resources have also improved. The vocabulary that we get to play with has expanded and we have more words to use in the story.
My goal is for each collection to be better than the last. There wasn’t an intention of celebrating 10 years. It just so happened that it landed on the 10-year anniversary.
What’s the most significant way that the brand has changed, and what’s the most significant way it hasn’t?
The most significant way that it hasn’t changed is that we’re still saying the same thing. It’s very much like a [product and furniture designer] Dieter Rams approach. We’re still saying the same things, I’m just a lot better at saying them. I’ve improved from a creative and a design perspective. But I’m not saying anything really different from what I set out to say. This show was more of a love gift to that kid who bought that long T‑shirt from me from my first collection and saw something that not everyone else saw. Just in a white T‑shirt.
This is me saying: “Hey, I’m keeping my promise to you and delivering on it. [You should] know that what you were becoming a part of, and what you believed something to be, has become what you believed it to be.”
It’s funny you use the word “promise”. Thinking of that word in the context of how American the show felt, what do you think the American promise is?
I think the American promise is the luxury of freedom that we’re all chasing. And freedom has a cost. I wanted to make sure that we don’t lose sight of [the price that’s] been paid for us now to have this luxury of freedom. That was the context of the story, of the score of the show.
The last fashion house to show at the Hollywood Bowl was Calvin Klein, 30 years ago. Where does Fear of God sit in that pantheon of American design, and is there a thread that connects American designers?
I think American design, just like European design, just like any other design, is informed by the region or the country itself. I think Calvin Klein’s America, [because it’s] 30, 40, 50 years ago, and Ralph Lauren’s America, and my America 50 years later, are different. There’s a different texture to it. I’m just communicating a little bit of a more nuanced and mixed bag of textures and trying to, in an elegant way, thread them all together.
I’m a Black designer, but I would like to be mentioned as an American designer in the same way that Calvin and Ralph are. My experience is different, what I’ve been exposed to is different. But what I’ve been exposed to is also different from the Black person next to me.
This is just my point-of-view on American fashion. It’s just my personal take based on what I’ve been exposed to, based on my experiences, based on my life here in America.
Is there something specific that you think you can improve? Something that you want to reach or are working towards?
I just want to be the best version of myself. I believe that we can always get better and always learn something. I don’t think that there’s a place of all-knowing. If this collection is better than the last, I’m happy. If my team is better than it was last year, I’m happy. It’s really that simple.
I love that God has given me a gift that I can tick all my life experiences off. The gift is that I can take that and put it through a product. From a pair of sweatpants to a pair of basketball sneakers, it goes through all of the same perspective. And sometimes those perspectives are millimetres. If the shoes are a little bit too bulky, or if it’s too slim it says this. But if you hit all the bases, that gives you the emotion that you’re chasing. You’re chasing that feeling.
You know when you’re a kid and you put that thing on on Christmas morning that you’ve been chasing? That feeling. Is this shoe, these sweatpants, this overcoat, this blazer going to give you that feeling? And sometimes there’s not an exact science to understanding how to get there.
I think that’s why so much of what we do is just instinct and conviction. That’s really all that we have. Our faith is not based on algorithms or trend cycles. It’s based on something deeper.