When Jerry Lorenzo was young, he and his family read daily devotionals together. His mother owned 30 to 40, but they frequently studied My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. Thanks to COMPLEX, we have an in depth look at exactly how the most popular person in the fashion industry came to be.
“Reading about the fear of God and the clouds and darkness around His kingdom if you didn’t know Him, but [having] that same fear out of respect and reverence for Him if you did know Him…” Lorenzo explains. “That juxtaposition was so awesome to me.”
Several years later, My Utmost for His Highest was the biggest inspiration behind the name of Lorenzo’s clothing brand, Fear of God, which first launched in 2013. “I always wanted to do something around Christianity, but it seemed corny, but when I read [My Utmost For His Highest], I knew I had the foundation and the base to keep me going. It was enough for me to build on. I knew I had a name for the company.”
Fear of God is rooted in who he is and Lorenzo’s diverse interest from the sleeveless flannel with side zips, BMX jersey (inspired by a similar one he found at the Rose Bowl Flea Market), bomber jackets, and military sneakers influenced by religion, hip-hop, grunge, and Allen Iverson. To further show his wide range of interests, he even gives details of the type of music he listens to. From Kurt Cobain to ATL’s hottest group in the Migos. He inherited a love for vintage from his mother, who often went antique shopping.
“What you see in Fear of God is an organic carryover of how Jerry dresses on a daily basis,” says Chris Gibbs, owner of menswear boutique Union Los Angeles, where Fear of God is sold. “Jerry has a very specific point of view. There’s nothing out there like it. That’s why the brand does extremely well for us.”
Since the first launch of short sleeve side-zip hoodies and extra-long tees, Fear of God, which has been called a streetwear and contemporary brand. However, Lorenzo prefers the term luxury or designer to describe his company. Throughout the years, they have developed a cult-like following full of people extremely loyal to the brand’ visions.
That demand has led to collaborations with Vans on sneakers and PacSun on a younger, more affordable line called FOG. Lorenzo was even able to design Bieber’s Purpose tour merchandise. “Revenue is consistently more than doubling with each Fear of God collection,” he says.
Fear of God designs are being spotted everywhere in social media. Justin Bieber has been photographed wearing Fear of God drawstring trousers while out in L.A. Last year, Kanye West defied the Met Gala’s theme and wore a pair of the brand’s ripped jeans. Retailers like Barneys and RSVP Gallery can hardly keep the product on its shelves. Fast-fashion retailers, like H&M, and other labels have even sold imitations of Fear of God’s designs.
“It bothers me when you take my exact ideas and try to say the same thing I’m trying to say,” says Lorenzo when asked about other labels selling imitations.
Fear of God has a different approach when it comes to financial support by not having a powerful money machine behind it. Currently they have zero investors and no sales or marketing team. Up until six months ago, Lorenzo and his small team of four employees worked out of his home in Glendale, California.
Also, Lorenzo doesn’t follow a fashion calendar, instead releasing collections when he believes they’re ready. He refuses to do a fashion show. “That’s luxury to me,” he says. “Luxury is making your own schedule and being your own boss. It’s like Jay Z said: ‘Until you’re on your own, you can’t be free no matter how much money you’re making.’”
Lorenzo expresses his distaste for being called a “designer.” “I have a lot of respect for Raf Simons, Ralph Lauren, or Rick Owens, these conceptual designers,” he says. “It’s similar to what I do, but I feel I’m doing it from a place of solution. I’m more so trying to tell a story than design a collection.”
Lorenzo is comfortable being outside of the fashion world. Clothes aren’t his only focus. “At some point, you have to be about something,” he says.
Jerry Lorenzo Manuel didn’t always envision a career in fashion. He was born in Sacramento, but moved around to West Palm Beach and then to Chicago, so he and his family could be closer to his father Jerry Manuel, a major league baseball player who turned into a minor league coach. His father eventually managed the White Sox and the Mets and is now an analyst for MLB Network; however growing up they didn’t have a lot of money.
“We were paycheck to paycheck until I graduated from high school,” Lorenzo says. As a kid, his mom would drive him and his three siblings for 23 hours from West Palm Beach to Montreal every summer to be with his father, who was coaching for the Expos at the time, because they couldn’t afford to buy plane tickets. He remembers being around Major League families, who had millions of dollars, but living in a studio apartment with his parents and siblings for months during training camp.
After college, Lorenzo finished his MBA at Loyola Marymount in L.A. “I always felt like L.A. was a city of opportunity,” says Lorenzo. “So I came out here, was in grad school during the day and worked at Diesel at the Promenade at night.”
His first real jobs were in sports. He had handled corporate sponsorships for the L.A. Dodgers and later head of player marketing for Chicago-based sports agency CSMG, whose client roster at the time included Dwyane Wade, Matt Leinart, and Donovan McNabb. “I thought I was going to be a sports agent,” he recalls.
But in 2008, Lorenzo moved back to L.A. and started throwing parties he called JL Nights. “There weren’t any parties I could go to to hear hip-hop and see people that dressed like me,” he says. “So we created that.” On any given night, you’d see celebrities like Pusha T or Kid Cudi or brand owners like Don C. “The parties were legendary,” Lorenzo says.
JL Nights eventually took off and became a full-time job. However he stopped the party movement to focus on Fear of God full time. Lorenzo insists he doesn’t miss the party life, “I’m 16 months sober. I have a family. My life is in a different place,” he says. “So much of what I thought was socially important just isn’t important to me anymore.”
Lorenzo says he realized he wanted to make clothes after he started managing former Dodger all-star Matt Kemp, who he began working with in 2008. “I did all of his off-the-field marketing, his endorsements with DIRECTV, Big League Chew, and Beats by Dre,” he says. “I was also doing his styling and helping him with his image.” One day, while shopping for Kemp, he realized that there were plenty of things he wanted for his client that weren’t available. So, he decided to design them. “I did it for him, but also for me,” he says. “I felt like there was something missing in my closet, and if it was missing in mine then it must be missing from yours, too.”
Lorenzo learned the ins and outs of launching a brand on his own without any formal training in fashion. Sometimes, he drove to downtown L.A. and paid someone to help him with his production needs. “I literally knew nothing,” he recalls. “I didn’t know about production, seasons, how to make a pattern. I took all the money I made from the clubs and put it into this conviction.”
He admits the early days of Fear of God were rough. “I got stolen from and taken advantage of,” he says. “I think I lost like $30,000 by people saying I needed to give money up front. People would tell me, ‘I need $10,000 to book this fabric and if you don’t book this fabric then you can’t make your T-shirts.’ There were a thousand instances like that. I even had a lot of product managers who were stealing from me.”
However with his determined mindset, he didn’t let these situations break him down, even though he was trying to support his family. His wife Desiree had just given birth to their twin daughters Liv and Mercy while they also have a son, Jerry Lorenzo Manuel III, who’s now six. “As much money as I lost, I never lost the conviction that I knew I had something to say or offer,” he adds. “There were plenty of times I should’ve let go and given up, like, ‘Hey, my wife just gave birth. I have a son at home. I’m trying to get out of nightlife, but maybe this isn’t the right way. But I just knew what I was going to do in the end was way bigger than what [people] were taking from me.”
Lorenzo designed was a short sleeve hoodie with side zippers as his first piece of his new career, which was one of the 12 pieces he released as part of his first collection. “I remember I used this super cheap fabric I found in downtown L.A. and put these expensive gold RiRi zippers so it could feel luxe,” he says.
From there, he made Fear of God’s version of the extra-long tee that, much like all of his designs, came from a need to fill a void. The arms on the long tee from Romance, a brand Lorenzo often bought, were too fitted; Rick Owens’ was too drapey. “I wanted something else that felt masculine,” Lorenzo says. He perfected his silhouette: long, but not drapey, with sleeves that aren’t skin-tight and a neckline just wide enough that he could let his gold chains show.
It wasn’t long before celebrities became fans. Lorenzo recalls Big Sean’s stylist, who is friends with his wife, pulling the long tees for the rapper. “I had all these tees in my garage with no labels and she was like, ‘I think Sean will like these,’” he says. “He ended up liking it and wanting more pieces, so I gave him the short sleeve hoodie.”
A few weeks later, he received a call from West, who asked to see the rest of his first collection. “He was like, ‘Yo! I just got this long tee from you. Can you come to Atlantic City and show me your collection?’” Lorenzo remembers. “When I got to Atlantic City, he looked at the T-shirt and was like, ‘Man, I could see all the thought that went into this simple long tee.’” Lorenzo was floored. “At that time, I looked up to Kanye so much,” he says. “There hasn’t been anything after that, for the past four years, that’s surprised me, because the person I looked up to saw what I saw. It helped me further believe in myself. So now, when someone else sees what I see, I’m like, ‘Oh, of course you’re going to see it.’”
That same day, West offered Lorenzo a job to work on his A.P.C. collaboration and, later, other projects for his creative company Donda, including the Yeezus tour merch, Yeezy Season, West’s wardrobe, and more. “What he gave me the first time I met him…” Lorenzo says about West “I believed in myself after that first meeting. And I’m forever grateful to him for that.”
Lorenzo continues to explain how Kanye had a tremendous impact on Fear of God. “The best thing Kanye did for me was make ‘Jesus Walks,’” Lorenzo adds. “Fear of God wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t a ‘Jesus Walks. I was working at Diesel in Chicago at the time, and hearing this dude rap about Jesus, the way that he did, his delivery… ‘Jesus Walks’ changed my life.”
The first drop of Fear of God’s massive 96-piece fifth collection is now available for pre-order. The new line focuses on luxury details and tailoring and was inspired by Lorenzo’s diverse childhood, includes a flannel with a denim collar, trackpants, punkish plaid pants, a blush pink satin bomber, and a corduroy blazer. All designs will now be sold in smaller sizes, as a workaround to releasing a women’s line.
Lorenzo decided to feature models of color for both the film and campaign images as a dedication to his kids. “Now that I’m a father, it’s important that my kids see people in my clothes that look like them,” he says. Soon, he will also release five new sneakers in collaboration with Vans and Fear of God’s first fragrance.
Four years in, Fear of God has developed a fanbase of kids who tell Lorenzo he’s they’re “undisputed favorite designer” and that they only “sell shoes to purchase Fear of God pieces.” The products are ubiquitous with A-list celebrities, like Bieber, West, 2 Chainz, Future, Offset, Travis Scott, Rihanna, Gigi Hadid, and Kendall Jenner. But while Lorenzo’s humbled by the support, he says he doesn’t want to put too much weight on those celebrity co-signs.
Lorenzo believes that the message he’s sending with Fear of God will be forever evolving. As of right now, he says he’s trying to build something for his son, who he considers as his “best friend,” the way his father did for him. “I want to break any mental barriers in his mind about what’s possible for him to do,” Lorenzo says.
“Deep down, that’s what I’ve always wanted—to be like my parents.” he adds. “If I’m gonna have this brand, Fear of God, what am I giving to people beyond a cool ‘fit for Instagram?”