On Wednesday afternoon at a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles, Jerry Lorenzo was seeing for the first time the Fear of God Athletics Atmosphere he created to launch his three-years-in-the-making line with Adidas.
He paused to take in the space where four enormous flickering screens showed his brand campaign photographed by Nadav Kander, set up around three stone-like pillars symbolizing the athletic giant’s stripes, and the third pillar of Lorenzo’s business alongside Fear of God Essentials and Fear of God collection, which he showed on the runway at the Hollywood Bowl last April.
The designer is famously exacting, so naturally, the first thing he did was rearrange the apparel on the rail in a second dark, cavernous area featuring the goods, as well as a giant conversation pit with stone chairs he found in Mexico City.
Was it everything he ever dreamed of?
“Close,” Lorenzo said.
“I wanted the models to feel like the beginning of humanity, and then in 1,000 years we’ve all had kids together and we’ll all be beige at one point,” he said of the imagery featuring earth, air, fire and water, and Quannah Chasinghorse, among others.
“The intension with the campaign and the experience is to feel like something pre-existed and that it will always be. It’s to have this kind of emotional feeling that is attached to something greater than yourself — something that was before you and that will outlive you,” he said.
Lorenzo’s and Adidas’ aspirations for the Athletics business are just that. It’s the German sportswear brand’s largest launch coming at the end of a year when Sambas and Gazelles have been seen on Harry Styles, Bella Hadid and every other star, and Adidas is still trying to climb out of the hole left by the aftermath of the painful Yeezy chapter.
“It’s always important for us to really understand the shared vision, and it was clear we just didn’t want to do another collaboration, we wanted to go deeper.…It just took time and the pandemic didn’t help,” said Torben Schumacher, senior vice president, global general manager at Adidas Originals, when asked what took so long.
“We had a partner who has pushed us hard to dig deeper, and that strive for perfection is what defines Jerry and makes him unique. That’s been exciting and challenging, and that’s why we do partnerships to push boundaries.”
The shoppable, open-to-the-public L.A. experience this weekend kicks off the global launch, with activations to follow in New York, Beijing and Shanghai.
“L.A. for us is a super inspirational place, which is why we’ve extended our footprint and have more teams here. We’re really inspired by the diversity, how sports is important but also fashion, art and music.…We were looking for someone to give us a specific L.A. tone and obviously Jerry is perfect, he has such a distinct language in American luxury today. And that’s something we aspire to as a brand. And his connection to sport and growing up in a sports family, it was a great fit,” Schumacher added. “If you think of the roadmap for L.A. with the Olympics and World Cup coming in the next few years, there are many exciting moments and we want to be a part of it.”
Fear of God Athletics will begin with a drop model, with about 30 stock keeping units of clothing and footwear for men and women launching Sunday at fearofgod.com and at the Adidas Confirmed app. On Dec. 6, it will be available at select Adidas stores around the world, and fashion retailers such as Selfridges, Isetan and Union L.A.
Next year, there will be releases monthly or even more frequently. While the first collection is focused on fashion sportswear and footwear, Lorenzo will move more into performance wear, as well as childrenswear, and is eyeing outfitting athletes on court.
Prices are $100 for the classic Adilette slide to $300 for sneakers, with apparel prices going up to $600. In terms of price point, that positions Athletics between Essentials on the lower end and runway on the high end.
Lorenzo has been wearing Adidas since he was a kid playing basketball, and was initially hired to lead the Adidas Basketball division as well as launching Athletics. That didn’t work out, which delayed the timing of the launch considerably, he said.
And it was actually soccer that influenced Lorenzo the most in creating Athletics, specifically David Beckham, whom Lorenzo met and struck up a friendship with at the Adidas headquarters in Germany. “Even through development, I’ve sent him pieces,” the designer said of the soccer legend who entered his own long-term agreement with Adidas in 2003.
“I looked instinctually to the late ’90s, early 2000s.…That time is also very inspirational in terms of the shapes that I like. And David transcended sports like Michael Jordan did. Even here in America, we weren’t playing just because we loved soccer, we were playing because there was this icon we could aspire to be like,” Lorenzo said.
One can see the soccer DNA in the Athletics pieces, including an oversize T-shirt, and a poncho with a three stripe detail on the shoulders, both of which have the feel of soccer jerseys.
In terms of palette, Lorenzo’s love of earth tones can be seen throughout in the clay, sesame and carbon hues.
“Because we’re so much of a shape and proportion house, I wanted to use color to make it recognizable as ours,” he said.
There’s another poncho in a fabric resembling a sports towel (inspired by Mike Tyson coming into the ring), and a nylon car coat, track pants and a fleece jacket.
“Because we’re established as a luxury brand first, I think we have the permission to go anywhere from a Loro Piana technical piece all the way down to a base layer with a price that is as accessible as Essentials,” Lorenzo said.
Who will be the first to wear them on the tunnel walk?
“I have no idea,” he laughed, raising an eyebrow at some of the over-the-top looks. “That can go either way.”
There is a sleek suede duffel and crossbody bag, rendered in powdery carbon or clay suede, produced by Fear of God’s manufacturers. “Everything else was engineered by Adidas,” the designer said.
“This is called the 86, which was inspired by the Rivalry, which was one of the first Adidas basketball shoes that came out in ’86, which is also one of my favorite years with the ’86 Mets,” he explained of the low top with a thick cream sole.
“This was inspired by this vintage runner called the Los Angeles silhouette so we called it the L.A.,” he continued of the running shoe.
“This is where you can see the stripes of David Beckham return in our first performance basketball shoe, synthetic on top of mesh. It also feels very soccer-ish,” Lorenzo added of the hightop with a Neoprene sock lining at the ankle.
“And this is one piece I thought didn’t need changing, but it was a European exclusive with a suede upper that fits a little tighter than the molded rubber ones,” he said of the classic slide he wears to work.
Although he doesn’t rule out signing professional athletes, he really sees Athletics evolving to support youth sports.
“Everything we’re doing is trying to create a new way for people to aspire to sport, after Jordan, at that level. I think there is a new way to aspire to be a part of something and I don’t know that it has to be tied to the best athlete.”
Does Lorenzo think this business could be as big as Nike’s Jordan?
“Oh yeah,” said the designer, who was first in talks with Nike to develop Fear of God Athletics and launched the Nike Air Fear of God 1 there in late 2018.
At Adidas, Lorenzo negotiated to design the collection not in Germany, but in his studio in downtown L.A. not far from the Adidas offices, which employ more than 200 people in different functions.
“It’s been a long road getting the right teams in place on both sides. We’ve shed a few people to find those who believe in what we see,” he said of working with Adidas. “I think it’s like any partnership, right? It’s going to have its ups and downs. I have faith in their intentions to get this right. And they’ve proven that they’re putting their resources of people against it. We started the relationship with me potentially doing two things…but a year and a half into that, I realized I can’t run my own business and then creative direct. And my goal has never been to creative direct outside of Fear of God. I just don’t have the bandwidth to do it in a way that I want to do it. And I don’t think Adidas were fundamentally set up to do it the way I wanted to do it either, so it was a clear understanding on both sides to focus on one thing.”
After L.A., the designer is hitting the activations in Shanghai and Beijing, as well as an event at the Tokyo retail store and Art Basel in Miami, where the imagery shot by Kander will be presented at a gallery event.
“I think unfortunately, we communicated the collaboration three years ago. Usually when you’re communicating a collaboration, the work or the product is done. So they communicated around the beginning of the relationship, which by default has created a lot of anticipation,” he continued.
But Adidas needs this to be a hit.
“I can’t get involved in what Adidas needs. I can’t be that for them,” he said.
The moment has a lot of meaning for Lorenzo, who grew up with sports and whose father is former Major League Baseball player, coach and manager Jerry Manuel Sr.
“It means a lot. The biggest fight for me was to be considered luxury. But I feel like I can do this with my eyes closed. This is my sweet spot,” he said of Fear of God Athletics. “Everything I do, if you look at the silhouettes from Fear of God, the sophisticated effortless feel of our luxury line is all based on an athlete and how they presented themselves back then. Now, it’s a little different through the tunnel. But back then, it was a different type of swag.”