Kurt Cobain. Allen Iverson. Jesus Christ. This trinity seems like an unlikely foundation for a streetwear label, until you speak with Fear of God designer Jerry Lorenzo. A fusion of hip-hop and grunge is more than Lorenzo’s answer to the aesthetic values of our generation, it is a practical approach to navigating the Angeleno lifestyle of gym-work-play with effortless chic. Yet God is the X-factor here, or rather the lava that quietly simmers under the surface. It is the unknown element that turns something laid back into something with conviction. Having started in fashion folding jeans at Gap, Lorenzo is part of a wave of self-taught designers—from Gosha Rubchinskiy to Virgil Abloh to Kanye West—who are now reinventing the rules of the industry to suit their practical needs and modes of self-identification. As a whole, this rise points to the relentless power of passion and personal style.
Photographer Kate Friend and stylist Marc Goehring traveled to Iceland to capture the force of nature and the new Fear of God capsule collection, designed by Jerry Lorenzo, who spoke with SSENSE editor-in-chief Joerg Koch.
To the uninitiated, isn’t God more associated with love than with fear? What’s your concept of God?
I was doing a morning meditation with my parents in Northern California, and we started talking about the clouds and darkness around the kingdom of God. Righteousness is the foundation of his throne. And for the first time, I saw God as a very cool figure. Growing up in Christianity, God was always a light figure. Also, growing up with Christianity, my Christian friends and me were never considered cool. This was the first time God in my mind was cool. I didn’t see the darkness around his kingdom in a demonic way. I felt that darkness represented the layers to who God is, the knowledge beyond your understanding of him. Fearing God means a reverence, a love and respect for God. When you have that, you’re at peace with the darkness around his throne and your inability to understand him. Thinking about the fear of God gave me the gas in my engine to put out my perspective on clothing. I would just feel so empty putting out clothes with no message. I would hate to think that people really think that cool clothes mean so much. Trends change. These things are fleeting. So I wanted to base the clothing on something that wasn’t fleeting in my mind.
I assume your parents raised you Christian.
Yeah. You know, my father’s in Major League Baseball—a player and manager—so we traveled to a lot of different cities. He was with the Montreal Expos, so we spent some summers in Montreal, but we were always kind of moving around. What we had in our house was religion, and each other. I went to an all-white high school where I was only exposed to rock, grunge, and metal, those types of vibes. On the weekends, I went to an all-black Southern church. All my friends were black and listened to gospel and hip-hop. I mean, I’m black, but I have a lot of things in me. I grew up with a juxtaposition of all these different things. If someone asks me how Christianity fits into it, it just fits because it’s a part of who I am. But this is not a Christian clothing brand. It’s not, “Hey, this is about Jesus!” Although as my brand has grown beyond my expectation, I naturally only want to give glory to him for my success, if you want to call it that. Success to me is the fact that I can come to a meeting with you in my workout clothes. That’s success! That I’m not getting up and putting on a tie. I’m blessed to just really do what I love in clothing and get out my perspective. And that perspective is going to be some Allen Iverson, some Kurt Cobain, some John Bender from The Breakfast Club, and some God. It’s all those things.
There's clearly a lack of black voices in fashion design.
Looking at my dad being black in America and a manager in Major League Baseball, I thought, “I could never really become the president of the United States, but I can do something in baseball!” What I’m trying to do is break these mental barriers. I never thought I could go to Italy and make a shoe. When I was selling $200 Diesel jeans, I never thought that one day I’d be sharing a factory with them. So at the very lowest level I’m trying to show people who are involved in it that it’s possible. The most important thing about doing that is being honest with yourself, having a foundation and belief. I always loved clothing, but it seemed so far when I was folding jeans at Gap. You know what I mean? I’m the lone black teen working at Diesel. That was my role in fashion: “Hey, just look like we reach your demographic, too. Be our cool black kid here.” But now I feel that as my resources grow, as I learn more about what I’m doing, who knows what we’ll go on to do?
Sky's the limit these days...
Maybe I’ll be doing furniture. Fear of God isn’t a clothing brand, it’s a conviction. It’s just a platform to touch people. It could be said through anything.
I come from Germany, which is very much a post-religious country. People don’t really believe in this classic way. It’s fascinating to see a return to religion—whether it’s in Islam, or American Christianity. It’s also fascinating to see you use subcultural elements like bomber jackets, that you would never associate with any religious message. Is that because it’s more interesting to you to twist it around, or is it more just an embodiment of your personal style?
I think a bomber jacket is dope. Skinheads were one of the best-dressed subcultures of the world. As I dug deeper I found out that the original skinheads were black kids and white kids, and it wasn’t about race. As the subculture made it over to the States, you would see them and you think: “racist.” Learning where their style came from was the fascination. My collections are just based on how I dress. The layers of what I have on now tell you, “Oh, he must care a little bit.” But at the same time, this is L.A., and you got to be ready for where the day may take you. There’s this thing in L.A. fashion where we pretend like we don’t care. So how do you look like you don’t care? What’s the perfect version of that? To me, it’s taking these American classics, adding zippers on a flannel, making it hip-hop, and giving it a little Iverson. So much of what Fear of God is, is just taking from all these things and trying to find my personal style. So why can’t I just be a modern day monk? Why can’t I just be a modern disciple?
Is that something you envision, like a gang of Fear of God modern day monks?
That’s kind of how it is.
Because monks have a certain swag.
Yeah, they all have shaved heads, some of them wear everyday garments elevated beyond the way we dress every day. This is my take on how someone dresses who knows that their value is not in what they have on. Someone who knows who they are, which is why I don’t really have logos on any of my pieces.
The Fear of God monastery is based in Los Angeles. How does the city affect your practice?
All the things that have influenced me up till now—Kurt Cobain, Iverson, my faith—practicality is also one of them. I’ve got to get up and go to the gym this morning. Then I have a lunch meeting and some other things to do. So how is my wardrobe conducive to what lies ahead in the day? Through layering, you can look cool and be presentable for lunch meetings. But if you want to go to the gym and throw up some weights, you can still do that in thermals and shorts. It’s functional. In L.A., no one really has a real job. And no one wants to look like they have one.
What was your non-real job before Fear of God?
I don’t want to say I had low self esteem, but I was like, “Hey, my dad’s a Major League manager, used to be a Major League player, I could probably get a good job in sports.” I wasn’t the best athlete, and I knew I wasn’t going to play baseball, but I’ll go to grad school and get my MBA. I got my master’s in business, finished in L.A., and went to work for the Dodgers doing corporate sponsorships and partnerships. Rewind to five or six years before that, I worked retail. Whether I was working at Gap or at Diesel, or Dolce & Gabbana when I moved to L.A., my passion was retail and clothing. But I was in this mindset of getting a master’s and doing a corporate job. Fast forward to 2012, and I had my own sports marketing thing and managed some guys, doing their styling and helping them with their looks. A lot of the pieces I wanted to help them with weren’t available on the market. So I went downtown to figure out how to make like, a short sleeve hoodie.
You saw a need in the market.
I saw a huge gap. I don’t know how I was so confident in recognizing the gap at the time, but I knew it was there. Just like I knew my name is Jerry. Living in L.A., I know that a hoodie is too hot and a muscle doesn’t say, “That’s a piece.” But if it’s short sleeved and got zippers, that’s a piece, you know what I mean? That’s what was missing. I used to wear flannels, but how do you elevate that and make it into something a little more me? How do I make it when I put on this cap sleeve flannel I feel like John Bender in The Breakfast Club, or Remy from that skinhead college movie Higher Learning?
So I was trying to make some pieces for my guys and help them out, and before I knew it, I had made like four or five pieces and was like, “Oh, I’ve got this little collection here.” And it wasn’t until I went to see my parents in Northern California and we had that devotion that I said, “Man, this Fear of God idea would fit back with these pieces. If I present these pieces with this foundation, I really believe I have something here.”
I feel like the purest form of creativity comes from not having. Whether that’s not having the resources to make what you want to make, not having the money to buy the clothes you want to buy so you’re cutting your sleeves off to create your own swag, or not having the training. I can’t even name two fashion schools. I don’t even know what CFDA stands for. Kanye, for example, doesn’t have the resources of training. You can give him all the money you want, but if you give it to someone who wants to put out a specific idea and doesn’t have the framework of training to put it through, you’re going to get a mess or some magic. For me, my ideas come from not having training, not really having a lot of money out of my personal pocket to communicate my personal style, and being forced to figure some things out. That can only be honest, because it’s you and your perspective on the line.
You argue for transparency.
I will sit and tell you that I pull inspirations from all these places, but I am confident that if you ask somebody, what does a Fear of God silhouette look like, they can explain that to you. The layering, the style, the short sleeve overcoat, you know. And I am learning that without logos. Maybe one of the hardest things to do is to come up with your language. And even if my language does borrow from all these different things, I am still saying something that no one else is saying.
How big is your company at this stage?
We are on staff about seven people, plus some interns.
You and other small, young companies have a much larger footprint in social media than classic fashion houses. You’re way more advanced in communication, in branding. As you said, you have that look. That’s your main focus. Then you have the celebrity endorsement on top of that. That’s a powerful combination, isn’t it?
It’s powerful, but it’s very dangerous to get caught up in celebrity endorsement. You’re in the eye of the hurricane, but you can’t ever confuse the calling on your life with someone else’s endorsement. The calling on my life is greater than any one person. Fear of God is going to be whatever it is going to be because of my obedience to the person that’s given me these gifts, you know? Celebrities are just like all of us: They want to be part of something they see is real. From a business standpoint, it’s extremely important, but to base a company off that is super dangerous.
What ultimately attracts you to fashion?
I think everybody is attracted to fashion. We all get up in the morning and make a decision about what to put on. It’s the solution for what you want to say. That’s why I don’t call myself a designer. I went to Raf’s show in Italy, like, I’m not that. I’m not that. I’m not conceptual and art-driven. I’m solution-oriented. I know this kid wants a flannel, so how am I going to make the best version of it? How do I make the best version of an American wardrobe?
- Interview: Joerg Koch
- Photography: Kate Friend
- Styling: Marc Goehring
- Creative Direction: Auður Ómarsdóttir
- Hair and Makeup: Ísak Freyr Helgason
- Models: Brynja, Erla, Gudmundur / DOTTIR