Fear of God’s latest collection pays homage to baseball’s Negro Leagues
The 70-look expression of designer Jerry Lorenzo’s vision of American luxury, otherwise known as Fear of God’s seventh collection, is a statement of completion and maturity.
Gone are the bright blue motocross pants and faded band T-shirts — fun and classic in their own way — and other streetwear staples. They’ve been replaced by camel coats, tailored pants and Italian loafers. These new pieces are a sartorial continuation of the timelessness the label captured with 2018’s sixth collection.
In the last two years, the Los Angeles-based brand has spread its wings, thanks to a boost of confidence after a collaboration with luxury brand Ermenegildo Zegna and its new footholds in Italy, where Lorenzo regularly traveled before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Fear of God staples of cozy sweats and effortless denim, largely based on the founder’s personal style, are still meant to be the wardrobe foundation for the label’s loyal customers. Knowing what he wants to wear and seeing holes in the fashion market have driven Lorenzo since the brand’s start in 2013. Now, with Fear of God’s seventh collection, a customer can easily pull clothes from his closet to wear in the recording studio or to attend a wedding. (The collection will be available at fearofgod.com and in stores starting in December. During a recent online pre-order, items were about $500 to $1,000.)
Each release is personal for Lorenzo. This time, he infused his family’s baseball history into his collection with tributes to the Negro Leagues and pieces that evoke images of a major league baseball manager, a role Lorenzo’s father held throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Following his intuition, Lorenzo selected Negro Leagues artwork before realizing that this year marked their centennial.
Last month, Lorenzo, 42, spoke with The Times about the divine appointments that led to the seventh collection, why he stands firm in his convictions and what he’s learned from quarantine during the pandemic. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Seven is a significant number. One of its meanings is completion. How does that number and sense of completion tie into the seventh collection?
I think there’s so many parallels with the number seven meaning completeness, the universe taking seven days to create, and I feel like it’s taken us seven collections to finally have a complete offering. You look at the categories we’re proposing. We’re finally including tailoring and suiting and hand-knits and sweaters and accessories for the first time. It’s taken us seven collections to be able to tell a full and complete story. I feel like we were able to do that. It’s taken us two years to get the right resources and relationships in place to do so. But I really believe that what we’re offering is transcendent of not only time but trend and that we’re proposing pieces that will be in your closet and around for a while.
You’ve battled the label “streetwear” for a while, but this new collection is so far from that. What were some of those growing pains to get to the seventh collection?
Really trying to find those supplier and atelier relationships that we needed in Italy to be able to express ourself through tailoring and to be able to add more categories or vocabulary words, so to speak, to be able to tell a more complete and precise story. Really finding those relationships, finding those business partners on the back end has taken a lot of work. And on top of that, just kind of honing my skills as a designer and understanding what I’m proposing. Whether it’s through a pair of sweatpants or through a suit, it’s the same proposition. How do I do that every time through every piece? And really getting to a place where I have the confidence that I can indeed execute on that. That collaboration [with Ermenegildo Zegna] really just gave me, I guess, the confidence I needed to go out and do this thing on our own.
I want to talk about the Negro Leagues inspiration in the collection. How did that come to fruition?
We were using a bunch of different graphics from [the 1990s], whether it was a Comic Relief T-shirt or USA for Africa. You would see a lot of these paparazzi photos [of celebrities] with these large graphic tees and blazers over them. The Negro Leagues graphic was just one of them [that we were considering]. It was something that I remember growing up. As we went deeper and some of the graphics fell off, the Negro Leagues’ big graphic kind of remained.
We found out it was the 100-year anniversary of the Negro Leagues, and I was like, “Oh, man, this is like perfect timing.” And we just went deeper into all of the different teams and really were conscious about which logos we’re gonna choose to celebrate.
We use the “ABC” for many reasons. One reason is my grandfather, Lorenzo Manuel, played for the Atlanta Black Crackers. Another reason is the ABC and the placement of letters was very Ralph Lauren, almost like a vintage USA hoodie or almost like a vintage Gap hoodie. So it carries the real meaning of Atlanta Black Crackers, then it also kind of felt very ’80s/’90s American and just the way the letters were placed.
Further, we used the “G” from the Homestead Grays, who were like the New York Yankees of the Negro Leagues. Growing up in my house, we had a lot of [Negro Leagues star and Grays catcher] Josh Gibson posters and pictures. If you didn’t know, the G just kind of maybe stands for God in your mind if you’re thinking of Fear of God and you’re not thinking about the Negro Leagues. The placement of the G feels very Ivy League. It reminds me of a vintage “Y” sweatshirt from Yale or an “H” from Harvard, and so it has this Ivy League emotion as well.
So we just really went down this deep hole in storytelling around these graphics really speaking to America’s history and also celebrating the true roots of who I am as a person and my legacy and being a product of the second generation from the Negro Leagues and just trying to always keep this thing as honest as possible.
As soon as the color barrier’s broken, we — when I say “we,” I’m speaking of African Americans — we dominated the game of baseball. The further I look into that, and just thinking of the pain of being the best at something but not being able to participate at the highest level because of the color of their skin and what they had to endure, was just so heavy. I wanted to celebrate them and acknowledge them and say, “Hey, 100 years from now, I see you and I thank you for building the bridge that I now cross.” It’s a reminder, and it’s also a promise of kind of where we’re going as a brand. We’re always going to celebrate the overlooked and also really champion inclusivity and diversity.
Racial tension has risen, and everybody’s making corporate statements condemning racism. How does this moment in time further fuel you?
When we were playing with the Negro Leagues stuff, it was before all the George Floyd stuff, [and] a lot of my team members were like, “Well, I’m not sure if people are gonna wear that.” I’m like, “All we’re doing is acknowledging. Why wouldn’t someone wear Negro Leagues? What’s wrong with that?” Fast-forward six, seven months, and they’re like, “Oh yeah.” I’m like, “That should have been the same feeling seven months ago. Why is that now changing?” So it’s like as the world is changing their perception, it’s always been my perspective to celebrate, again, the overlooked, celebrate those heroes that haven’t always been celebrated in our history books.
Speaking about American luxury, speaking about America’s favorite pastime and speaking from cultural moments in history that I feel like they’re not celebrated, and I feel like I have a responsibility to shine a light where most people are nervous to put that magnifying glass.
It was powerful that you did a tribute shirt to George Floyd. It’s unfortunate that he died the way he did, but I feel like the situation makes voices like yours stronger, and hopefully better things will come.
Yeah, even with the Nipsey [Hussle collaboration we did with his company, the Marathon Clothing], we created merch that supported his kids. And being able to create something that supported George’s daughter, our perspective is a generational one. We’re happy to create the shirt. We sold out immediately, and we rose over six figures for her and the foundation that was set up for her. Those type of moments are what give me peace and confidence that I’m doing what I need to be doing and that what I’m doing is way bigger than fashion. And it just keeps me focused on the why that is behind our brand and our platform.
How did the pandemic and quarantine affect your release process? I noticed instead of having a campaign visual, your seventh collection had more of a video look-book.
We usually do a campaign, and we wanted to go shoot this extravagant campaign. And COVID didn’t allow us to do that, and I thought it was for the better. Instead of having this campaign film, we have a little bit more of an in-depth overview page on the website that really walked through all the different new categories that we opened and all the different new components of the brand and really spoke to this holistic place and complete place from a product standpoint, which I think is really the hero of the story of seven. Not necessarily the emotion of each collection, as it has been before with the campaign film.
Biblically speaking, on the seventh day, God rested. I’m sure you’re still working, but what has this time and quarantine taught you about rest?
It’s just reinforced everything that I claim to believe in. We mentioned that we promote family, but until you’re forced to live with your family, you realize, “Maybe I haven’t been making the best decisions in prioritizing what I’ve been promoting.” It requires us all to have a new perspective even on the things we feel heavily convicted on. I pride myself in how diverse my office is but the reality is I don’t have any practices in place to make sure it maintains to be that way. Other than a heart and a desire for it to be that way, what are the real things I’m doing to make sure that the things we say we’re about, we are about? And really putting in measures to make sure that the culture around the office, the culture at my home, is constantly checked and constantly supported.
Culture is either what you put in place or what you allow to happen. Either one is going to take root, to take shape in your office or in your home. So for me, it’s like, “Man, I need to do a better job of making time to be at home.” Maybe there’s some flights I don’t need to get on. Maybe there’s some meetings I can do on Zoom instead of flying to Italy. In our interview process, are we making sure there’s candidates of color every time? We’ve actually got more minorities than we do of the majority within our company, but what are we doing to make sure it stays that way? And really just having these checks and balances in place to make sure that the things we say we’re about we are about.
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