The pandemic has created a punctuation mark for the fashion industry, putting it on pause. The result is that everyone is frantically looking for a new formula for creating fashion brands for when the world gets back to a sense of normalcy.
The new formula, however, has been underway, hidden in plain sight, for at least the last six years. The driving force is not the Covid-19 virus; it is the dramatic lifestyle changes the alphabet generations have chosen and the innovations the digital world makes possible.
Lorenzo is like the great designers of the 1970s in one respect: he owns his own company. Beholden to no one other than his fans, he can run his enterprise any way he wants.
Let’s take a look at one example: Jerry Lorenzo and his Fear of God company. He may be an atypical example of how to create fashion excitement and to build a brand, but all of the fashion greats from Yves Saint Laurent, Armani and Ralph Lauren to Tommy Hilfiger and Nike have also been anything but typical — to say the least.
Lorenzo’s Fear of God line is just seven collections old with an unconventional two-year lapse between his most recent release and his latest one. He does not show on catwalks and does not advertise. Since he began nine years ago, he has forged successful business relationships with Kayne West, Van’s, Nike, Adida, Emenegildo Zegna and others.
Lorenzo is often compared to Ralph Lauren who built his multi-billion company by delivering Waspy fashions first to men, and then women. Lorenzo’s vision is to adapt men’s street looks and make them sophisticated and comfortable. His look is now attracting women and he is adapting selected pieces especially for them.
Lorenzo, who earned an MBA, started out as a stockroom boy at Diesel while he was a business student. He is the son of a famous father, Jerry Manuel, a major leaguer who went on to manage the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. After college, Lorenzo’s father got him a job in the marketing department of the Los Angeles Dodges, and he went onto sports management with Dodger Matt Kemp as one of his clients. Part of his responsibilities was to dress Kemp when he was out of uniform. Lorenzo always had an interest in fashion and couldn’t find any sophisticated, casual dress clothes he found acceptable for Kemp, so decided to make them himself. Thus was his debut in the fashion industry, with no experience or formal training.
Entrepreneur and Designer
After Lorenzo left sports management, he formed his own company JL Nights and organized parties for LA’s in crowd — often four nights a week. The parties were popular with musicians, models, actors and athletes, and in a case of occupational hazard, he acquired a serious drinking problem. He sobered up when he decided to start his fashion business in 2012.
He founded Fear of God with $14,000 in savings. The name was inspired because he was brought up in a devoutly religious Black family, and he has retained his deep interest in Christian teachings. He recalls, “I knew if I made something, I could get the people I knew from JL Nights to wear it. I had fostered these celebrity relationships over the years, and I had access to a ton of influencers.”
His idea worked and Kayne West, Justin Bieber, Kendrick Lamar, David Beckman, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and Gigi Hadid are all devotées of Lorenzo’s Fear of God’s fashions.
From the Streets to Luxury
Lorenzo’s line of street clothes caught the attention of his male upscale followers. He expanded with a diffusion line called F.O.G. that was accessible to a much broader men’s market. His fierce interest in sports, especially basketball, drove him to the sneaker explosion. He had great success with Vans and Nike and currently designs for the giant basketball segment of Adidas.
Lorenzo is just one example of how new designers are emerging and taking hold of the fashion world. He has a way to go, but he has made an extraordinary start. He is like the great designers of the 1970s: he owns his own company. Beholden to no one other than his fans, he can run his enterprise any way he wants. He has a great eye and is able to see what is missing in other fashion assortments…and also has great taste!
The big question is can he alone run such a complex company as it grows by leaps and bounds? Can he maximize its full potential? Does he need a CEO help manage what he develops? Or does he even want to maximize its full potential and be content with running a company based on his fashion genius?
His future remains to be seen. Based on his track record, he seems comfortable doing what he wants when he wants, as opposed to building a conventional billion-dollar fashion brand. But with that business school education, don’t be surprised if he goes big business. In any case, it’s a luxury to have that choice!