We didn’t include the Air Fear of God 1 in our preview of this season’s NBA sneaker storylines through no fault of our own. At the time, hints and rumors stated Fear of God founder Jerry Lorenzo had a project in the works with Nike. Now, we’re only days away from the footwear and apparel collection’s release. The actual footwear already looks tremendous enough to earn a spot on our list of the year’s best collabs. But what’s bigger than that is the large statement it makes: the world’s of streetwear and performance basketball footwear have now fully converged.
The NBA’s style renaissance has been blossoming for several years. It’s been aided in part by the impact of social media and, more importantly, the players taking a bigger interest fashion as a form of expression. Players have become icons again after trailing behind music artists and social media influencers for the better part of the past two decades. Their outfits get dissected on social media and discussed on TV on a regular basis. Their shoe choices, both on and off the court, carry discussion nearly as much as their actual play.
Their move towards making sized sartorial choices coincides with streetwear’s rise in influence. Brands once reserved for those in the know now help make up the mainstream. Louis Vuitton leveraged cool by linking with Supreme. Legacy brands like Polo work with Palace. It’s no surprise the NBA, easily the most current of the major league sports, would see the effects of this blurring of the lines and blending of styles in 2018.
The league could have arrived here sooner if Kanye West had his way years ago. The rapper-turned-designer wanted to put Yeezys on the hardwood during his time with Nike, but the idea never came to fruition. His departure from the company to competing brand Adidas, along with the rise of “athleisure,” happened as basketball footwear prices started rise while interest and sales in performance footwear subsequently waned.
With Adidas giving him creative freedom and support, West keeps inching closer to realizing his aspirations for a hoops-ready model possibly by 2019. Driven as he is, West would no doubt love to be the first to bring streetwear to the NBA. As it stands, he’ll come in second to one of his former collaborators in Lorenzo.
Still, West planted the seeds from which guys like Lorenzo emerged. Others from the same circle also crafted sneakers that eventually found their way to the NBA floor. Don C’s Just Don Air Jordan II popped up on plenty of players’ feet. Virgil Abloh applied his Off-White touches to the Nike React Hyperdunk 2017. What separates Lorenzo’s collection from the rest is that his shoes don’t rework already existing models. He’s the streetwear designer who Nike entrusted with creating a shoe from the ground up. Everything about the Air Fear of God 1 and the Fear of God SA, the former’s off-court companion, is breaking new territory.
Most collaborative partners can only hope they’re given leeway with color schemes and small embellishments to an existing model to make it their own. Lorenzo needed more than that. Detail and quality drive his work. More importantly, shape and proportion are what he knows separates his designs from anyone considered his peers.
Lorenzo entered the process with Nike knowing the elements he needed to create a successful shoe. It wasn’t an all-or-nothing proposition but it was damn near as close as things come. ”I was willing to walk away from the opportunity if it wasn't something like this,” he said when discussing the final product on Sneaker Shopping.
The Fear of God 1 includes callbacks to models cherished by Lorenzo, a guy who grew up in Los Angeles during Nike’s peak run of the early ‘90s. The DNA of the Huarache Light, the Air Max 180, and even the Nike Mag all find references on the Air Fear of God 1 and Fear of God SA. Lorenzo’s decision to utilize the last from a Fear of God sneaker brought in from Italy could be seen as the most important piece of the shoe.
It was a big ask on Lorenzo’s part and an even bigger show of faith for Nike. Tooling creates the biggest expense - oftentimes upwards of six figures - with a new model. That cost is a key reason why most collaborators with bigger brands get boxed in to using already existing silhouettes. The fact Nike invested heavily on the last can be seen as a positive sign to hopeful streetwear designers out there who can bring a distinct, proven vision to the table.
The idea of Nike allowing Lorenzo, who’s not formally trained in design, steer the project speaks volumes. To the point where one has to wonder how those conversations went over the three year process it took for the creation to come to life. Yet, anyone who has followed Lorenzo’s work and listened to him discuss it so passionately knows he possesses clarity and conviction in abundance.
The designer knew at the outset a simple color change wouldn’t make an impact. His strongest skills set is much different. “My greatest proposition of fashion is in shape and proportion,” he said in our previous interview. “I was very clear with Nike—like, ‘Hey, this is what I can offer.’”
By creating two completely new models, Lorenzo set out to do what streetwear often does - create moments. There’s considerable hype leading up to Saturday’s release. I wouldn’t characterize it as the same amount of excitement generated for a shoe like Sean Wotherspoon’s Air Max 1/97, but they share important commonalities. One, both releases are spearheaded by guys who emerged from the streetwear scene. Two, each model working the angles in order to get their hands on a pair. There hasn’t been very much of that for the basketball category in ages.
Lorenzo honed in on creating a certain desire that eludes most shoe releases. "I was trying to propose something that makes a kid feel the same way I felt the first time I had a pair of Jordans,” he stated in a previous interview. “If you’re gonna get the opportunity, that’s the chase. You don’t want to fall short of that."
I pictured Lorenzo as a kid being mesmerized by the shoes he saw on the screen while watching basketball games. So I pulled up pictures of the Air Fear of God 1 on an iPad just to get my thirteen-year-old son’s thoughts. His eyes lit up instantly when he saw them. “Those are fresh,” he said without any signs of hesitation.
When I asked what would he think if he saw them on the court, his mouth froze agape as his mind overloaded at the mere thought. He’s on his team’s middle school basketball squad and participates in AAU basketball as well. “Man, nobody would see me if I wore these,” he said once he regained his composure. “They’re so different and I like to look different. They look like they’re from the future.”
The moment captures what Lorenzo meant by the emotional element of sport.
In the process, I think it may wind up costing myself $400.