The devil is in the detail in the new Nike Air Fear of God footwear collection
Jerry Lorenzo is not a conventional fashion designer. The son of former pro baseball coach and manager Jerry Manuel, with no formal training in fashion, but inspired and informed by the powerful devotional readings he shared with his mother, LA-based Lorenzo established the Fear of God house in 2013.
Still personally funded with no outside investors or backers, the Fear of God label doesn’t comply with the established fashion schedule. Instead preferring to release footwear and apparel items – angular, chisel-toe sneakers and clever reappropriations/reimaginings of vintage clothing items from Lorenzo’s own vast archive – when the time and vibe seems right. With his spiritually-informed, super luxe take on the streetwear aesthetic, Lorenzo has often been talked about in the same breath as other establishment-busting designers like Gosha Rubchinskiy, James Jebbia, Kanye West and Virgil Abloh.
Now, Jerry Lorenzo announces the Nike Air Fear of God collaboration, a new collection with the Nike Air Fear of God 1 shoe as its sleek, jet-age showpiece. It’s a long awaited, much hyped partnership that began with mutual admiration. ‘Nike saw beyond the hype and energy of the Fear of God label and noticed that our designs didn’t just look cool, but also provided solutions,’ says Lorenzo. ‘They looked at our luxury footwear and liked the way we shaped our lasts and layered impact for the wearer.’
The collaboration, explains Lorenzo, ‘is my perception of shape and design x Nike’s unparalleled knowledge of sport and performance.’ Or, as Nike’s global basketball footwear designer Meline Khachatourian describes it, ‘the holistic journey of the basketball player from on to off the court. The design for the Air Fear of God was drawn directly from elements within our NIKE DNA vault, juxtaposed with the premium/fashion aesthetic of Fear of God.’
Very early on in the relationship Lorenzo knew it would be pointless and impossible to educate the Nike team on the engineering of footwear and sporting apparel. ‘So my focus was on silhouette, proportion, colour story, emotion and design… and then to challenge Nike by saying; how do we incorporate all this innovation into something that will increase performance on the basketball court.’
As a kid, he took his style cues from Michael Jordan and Andre Agassi. ‘Not just the way that they approached the game but how they wore their clothes, how they carried themselves. In the modern world we see athletes off the court and field more than we see them on the court – the way that we perceive them is changed by that. People like Jordan and Agassi were making culture, influencing culture… not being influenced by culture.’
So, as the Nike project progressed, Lorenzo decided he didn’t want to just produce a cover version of a sportswear classic but to begin a brand new conversation and make a fresh contribution to pop culture. ‘I guess I could have played around with my favourite Air Jordan shoe, Lorenzo laughs. ‘But I wanted to do something else.’
The designer’s mission was for Nike Air Fear of God to present a collection that was on a par with the athletes’ performance. ‘Our job was to work on the precision of the product and make sure that we didn’t compromise on innovation or function. I am not a sketch artist,’ admits Lorenzo, ‘but for the first time I decided to sketch out this design with the 3D toes tip and the Freerunner-style cage. I gave the sketches to the Nike team and we got to work. There were technical challenges and disagreements but together we were able to land at something new.’
Devotees of sneaker design will notice the shoe’s minimal lace configuration, the double stack ‘Zoom’ heel augmented by internal full-length Zoom, the distinctive toe box, a new last that marries Lorenzo’s own shape with Nike Basketball’s expertise in athlete-led fit, and a TPU cage inspired by Nike’s Huarache Light shoes that lock in containment around the heel and mid-foot.
‘What really stood out about working with Jerry was his obsession for excellence,’ says Leo Chang, senior footwear design director at Nike Basketball. ‘From the enormous weight he put on his shoulders to live up to the high expectations of this Nike Air Fear of God collaboration, down to the millimetre of details in the products. Literally everything big and small was obsessed. We all had to level up and rise to the occasion. I think both sides opened up and learned a lot from each other through this collaboration.’
For Lorenzo, the process of design comes down to one factor; honesty. ‘Making luxury clothing,’ the 42-year-old Fear of God label founder will tell you, ‘is all about using the best possible fabrications and constructions… and delivering the product with honesty and conviction.’ Yes, he admits, there is a premium to pay when a customer buys his footwear. There is detail, nuance, spiritual reference, aerodynamic and architectural complexity to deal with, but the quest for veracity and candour remains. ‘If my shoe is going to retail at $350, then I have to make sure that it’s worth every single penny.’ §