Fear of God designer Jerry Lorenzo’s new collection taps blue-collar jobs, God and his former Midwest life for inspiration

Fear of God designer Jerry Lorenzo photographed in downtown Los Angeles.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

The day of the official release of Fear of God’s sixth collection, label founder Jerry Lorenzo stood thoughtfully in his downtown Los Angeles showroom gazing at the pieces he made, quickly pointing to boots and pants that he wanted his team to take to New York Fashion Week. The new collection, which will drop at retailers worldwide and online in December and early 2019, features 100 looks for men and women made up of denim pieces, oversize coats and the plaid Henley Lorenzo was wearing partnered with sweatpants from his more accessible Essentials line. Lorenzo has always viewed himself as the core customer for Fear of God, which he started in 2013 with a handful of hoodies and uniquely tailored T-shirts to fill what he saw were holes in the market.

“I kind of wanted to tell this story of, I guess, where I’ve been and kind of where I’m at now,” Lorenzo said of the sixth collection. “My personal style is kind of maturing a little bit, and there’s some pieces that I wanted to wear, so in order to do that, you’ve got to make them.”

New pieces from the Fear of God line at a downtown L.A. showroom.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Lorenzo’s inspirations from sports are evident in Fear of God’s new collection, which includes a pair of work pants ($1,295) with buttons on the side that look like tear-away pants used as basketball warm-ups. Each collection Lorenzo does has a story, and this one is the creator’s influences from living in the Midwest, working blue-collar jobs and believing in an eternal God.

Buyer Sara Merabet was shopping the showroom for RSVP Gallery that day and thought the message was clear. “You can definitely see the Americana and workwear inspiration and Jerry’s personal storytelling in this collection,” she said.

Lorenzo, 41, previously shied away from the title “designer” because his creative process focuses on an overall narrative and he was hesitant to put his name in the same arena as traditional designers. He is self-taught and derives his knowledge of fashion from years working in retail, not from internships at major fashion houses. He doesn’t sketch his looks, but conceptually modernizes vintage pieces.

Lance Jackson takes photos of Fear of God pieces worn by Travis van Dyke, left; a look at the back of a piece from Fear of God’s sixth collection, right.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

In the sixth collection, among his favorite pieces are blue shorts ($495) inspired by a pair worn for physical training in the Army. The shorts were given the Fear of God treatment by being remastered in a Japanese nylon fabric. Another gem is the revival of prairie ghost camouflage. Lorenzo’s team stumbled upon the print while vintage shopping and thought it was perfect for the more rustic collection. The camouflage had been discontinued for about 10 years, and it took the team three to four months to track down the owner. Fear of God was granted the rights to the print and re-purposed it to fit the collection.

Turns out Lorenzo took the skill for re-purposing beyond clothing. He doesn’t do traditional runway shows and instead reveals his latest designs in a short-film format. For the soundtrack of the latest campaign visual, he got R&B duo Dvsn to perform a celestial rendition of Hillsong Worship’s “So Will I (100 Billion X).”

“The song is exactly what Fear of God is,” Lorenzo said. “We’re not a Christian brand, but if the wind is going where God says it’s going to go, then that’s what I’m going to do with my brand. If the rocks are going to praise him, then I’m going to praise him through what he’s given me.”

Jerry Lorenzo.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

The visual features model Maggie Maurer and Academy Award-winning actor and rock star Jared Leto wandering an eerie gray desert while Lorenzo’s 8-year-old son, Jerry III, sits in a green treehouse and flips through the pages of a storybook, reacting to the scenes occurring in the other world. The main inspiration here is one of Lorenzo’s favorite movies, “The NeverEnding Story,” where a scene in the Swamp of Sadness draws the audience outside of time and space.

“I wanted that feeling around the collection,” Lorenzo said.

As a result, he aimed to create wardrobe staples that acknowledge the past but remain timeless.

A lineup of boots from cult L.A. label Fear of God.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Lorenzo has worked with filmmaker Lane Stewart on the campaign visuals since his third collection after they met through mutual friends.

“From the first project that we did together, I just remember him being kinda blown away that we were able to create such a clear representation of what he had envisioned,” Stewart recalled.

Part of the vision for the sixth campaign visual was the duality between Fear of God’s etherealness and its competitive nature. In the film, the screen mysteriously goes black and fades to show Lorenzo peering out of a truck on a dark swampy night. The beat drops to Drake’s hard-hitting “Nonstop,” a boastful track about playing to be the best, something Lorenzo fiercely relates to. He played sports through college, is a big fan of basketball legend Allen Iverson, and his father, Jerry Manuel, was a manager for Major League Baseball from the late 1990s through the early 2000s. Beyond that, Lorenzo’s faith motivates him.

“We’re trying to win and we’re trying to make the best product that we can with our resources, and we’re trying to put out the best ideas with what we can,” Lorenzo said.

A look inside Fear of God's downtown L.A. space.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Coordinated perfectly with a lyric about getting a sneaker deal without breaking a sweat, the camera then zooms to show Lorenzo’s foot stepping out of the truck and onto the dusty ground in a Fear of God high-top basketball sneaker, the first glimpse of a much-anticipated collaboration that has been nearly three years in the works. Lorenzo is hopeful he can help more Nike athletes win in a fresh shoe that challenged his brand to think about performance.

Fear of God’s sixth collection rollout came the same week that Nike revealed its ad applauding former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for speaking up about social justice issues even when doing so cost him his job.

“I love it. I love it,” Lorenzo beamed at the thought of sharing the release week for his collection with Nike’s bold statement.

Designer Jerry Lorenzo inspects the details on an item from Fear of God.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Lorenzo made a few pieces for Kaepernick to wear for his GQ “Citizen of the Year” feature last year. Fear of God has also worked with Justin Bieber, Kanye West and Jay-Z to make their tour merchandise and crafted Kendrick Lamar’s Bruce Lee-inspired tracksuit for the Damn. Tour. The list of the label’s celebrity clientele is lengthy and includes Janet Jackson, Michael B. Jordan, Big Sean, Ellen DeGeneres, Dave East and Lorenzo’s personal highlight, Beyoncé. Instead of chasing around influencers to work with, Lorenzo sees more value in letting the brand grow organically. And it’s hard to beat knowing Beyoncé wore your first collection thermals. Everything else, he said, is “the gas that you put back in the tank on some of these long days during the process.”

Part of the process that needs endurance is the ongoing battle for diversity in the fashion world. For Fear of God’s fifth collection, Lorenzo, a black designer and businessman, was conscious of the need for representation, understanding that his son should see people who look like him. Lorenzo admits he compromised part of the storyline then to make his son the priority but says there was no undermining the vision for the sixth collection. However, upon the campaign’s release, there were a few questions on social media about the lack of diversity with Leto and Maurer, who are white, as the face of the collection. Lorenzo had a simple reply, “I’m the representation.”

Stewart has been with Lorenzo as he has embraced his role as a black man in the fashion industry. “I’m really proud to have seen and witness his growth over the years,” he said. “I think from the beginning, he hesitated to call himself a designer, but I think it’s clear now that his ideas are so boundless that it makes sense that they’re coming together now so clearly.”

Buyer Sara Merabet from RSVP Gallery in front of campaign photos from Fear of Gold. Models for the campaign include Jared Leto and Maggie Maurer.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Lorenzo is continuing to break new ground by diverging from his early role as a leader in streetwear to establish Fear of God as a luxury brand. He prides himself on paying attention to details and explains that the hefty price tags of items come as a result of extensive research and perfecting every element.

“This is American luxury,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s just what it is. We get beat up for it, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to pay for the perspective at some point. You have to pay for the idea, and we are comfortable with where our prices are.”

Fear of God is a completely independent brand. Lorenzo does not have investors. He operates outside of the traditional fashion calendar, releasing collections when they are finished. It was a year and a half between the fifth and sixth collections, and Lorenzo knows the influence Fear of God’s renegade spirit can have on consumers.

“I feel like if we wouldn’t have put this collection out, we could have easily just faded into the sunset, and kids would be over us,” he said. “They were already kinda not looking for us after a year and a half of us not putting a collection out; they were kinda onto the next. So you can either fight to stay on top of their radar, or you can fall back and trust and believe in your abilities and your craft and then come back with something worthy of being celebrated outside of the hype.”

After New York, Lorenzo went to Paris Fashion Week, headed to Italy to work on Fear of God footwear and then flew to Portland, Ore., to continue working with Nike. It’s a whirlwind ride, but in the midst of it all, Lorenzo carries himself with a quiet confidence that approval from people pales in comparison to the fear of God.

A look at Fear of God's showroom in downtown Los Angeles.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

For fashion news, follow us at @latimesimage on Twitter.