Jerry Lorenzo, Adidas, and Fear of God Athletics

Last week, Lorenzo debuted his long-awaited Adidas collaboration. Here, he talks about the delays, the designs, and the billion-dollar ambitions.

Jerry Lorenzo’s long-awaited Adidas collaboration, the Athletics line that fulfills what he calls the third pillar of his Fear of God brand, is finally here. The “here” on this occasion is technically in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles, but the setting for the debut of Fear of God Athletics is disconnected from the California sunshine—and maybe even Earth as a whole.

Lorenzo introduced the work inside a cavernous studio, the bounds of which are distorted by the lack of light. A visitor squinting as hard as they can through the darkness might still read the room as infinite. It is punctuated in two places by concrete structures—one area housing wide video screens displaying the ethereal imagery of the first Athletics campaign and a trio of literal pillars that reach 15 feet high, and another showing the product in a spartan display illuminated by a warm, low light.

In the middle of this second area is a circle of low granite chairs that surround a group of small domed lamps in an arrangement that feels like a campfire on a distant, lonely planet. Lorenzo, with Adidas Ultra Boosts on his feet and a Supreme x Louis Vuitton scarf bandana’d around his head, holds court here.

“It’s been a long road,” says the designer, his tone as calm as ever despite the gravity of the event.

The spectacle marking the arrival of Fear of God Athletics—the monolithic structures and the Promethean glow—makes the site feel like a scene from a sci-fi epic rather than a place to sell sneakers. It could be the meeting place for a galactic counsel, or a waypoint where a mystic spills a secret. But in the dark distance, the Adidas execs shepherding Fear of God Athletics to the market are hovering.

Fear of God Athletics Atmosphere

The L.A. space is one of four temporary “Athletics Atmosphere” installations that opened in the past week and gave the public its first opportunity to shop Lorenzo’s Adidas collaboration, which was initially announced in December 2020. Similar spaces are open to the public in New York, Beijing, and Shanghai. (The first Fear of God Athletics collection is also available online.)

Lorenzo’s relationship with Adidas has changed since news of their partnership was made public three years ago. Adidas originally wanted him to lead the creative direction for its basketball business, a task that he was willing to explore. Eventually, he decided he could better elevate Adidas by having them as a partner on Fear of God Athletics with no distractions.

“You'll get the best of me if we just focus here," Lorenzo reasoned.

The plan is for Fear of God Athletics to give Adidas a halo effect that can radiate through the German sneaker company. Lorenzo says he wants to help Adidas become the best version of what he feels it to be: simple, symmetric, beautiful, and perfectly engineered.

Though the Athletics Atmosphere feels otherworldly, Lorenzo’s reference points for Adidas are familiar. He cites the Aaliyah, the EQT line, oversize goalie jerseys, and David Beckham’s Adidas boots as influences. This last point informs the Adidas Fear of God Athletics 1 Basketball sneaker, which borrows its stripes and shape from the Adidas Predator line.

“How can this thing feel sexy like a soccer boot and not have to be so bulky?” was one of Lorenzo’s challenges when designing the shoe. He’s still refining what that should feel like—in an Instagram post this week, Lorenzo advised followers that they might want to go a half size up for the Athletics 1, as he “went a little too literal on these soccer toe boxes.”

The first Fear of God Athletics drop includes a range of apparel and four pieces of footwear: the Fear of God Athletics 1 Basketball, the Fear of God 86 Lo, the Fear of God Los Angeles Runner, and the Fear of God Adilette

In a conversation with Complex at the Fear of God Athletics space in Los Angeles last week, Lorenzo answered questions about the work that’s gone into the line so far, his deal with the German brand, and why he felt compelled to put his own spin on what he says is the best slide Adidas has ever made.

What Took So Long?

Jerry Lorenzo in the Fear of God Athletics Campaign

When Adidas and Lorenzo first talked about working together years ago, Adidas’ pitch was that it could give him the resources to establish Fear of God Athletics while also having him creative-direct its basketball business.

“I never wanted to creative-direct anything other than Fear of God,” says Lorenzo. “But it sounded really interesting because I thought that the rest of the [basketball] division needed help, and I thought that if I could help in some type of way, it would only help what we’re doing together.”

The added expectation of overseeing creative for Adidas’ basketball category created a bandwidth issue for Lorenzo, who was already occupied with setting up Fear of God Athletics and running the Fear of God mainline and Fear of God Essentials. The demands of introducing a new role into the ones he was already juggling slowed him down.

“The longer I got into it, I realized, hey, if we just put all of our focus on Athletics, that’s going to help everything,” Lorenzo says. “Instead of me trying to do too much.”

Halfway through his time with Adidas, Lorenzo’s purview shifted, and he was able to dedicate himself to Fear of God Athletics without having to work on basketball.

“To both of our defenses, I think Adidas wasn’t fundamentally set up to take that type of direction, and I didn’t have the bandwidth to oversee all the things on basketball specifically,” the designer says.

For Lorenzo, who is the creative director and owner of his company, the decision was simple and quick. But for Adidas, a multibillion-dollar company that had already made promises about product deliveries, the change required significant effort and time.

This, Lorenzo explains, pushed back the timeline for when he could reasonably bring his Adidas collaboration to market.

“We had to get through the process of changing the nature of our relationship from creative-directing a category to focusing on Athletics,” Lorenzo says.

The optics and timing of the December 2020 announcement that Lorenzo was working with Adidas may have set the wrong expectations for when consumers could expect to purchase the work. When Fear of God collaborated with Nike, Lorenzo says, he was quietly at work on the project for two years before it was announced. By contrast, he hadn’t started designing with Adidas until after news of the deal was made public.

“I think, unfortunately, the community doesn't understand the process,” Lorenzo says.

How Big Can Fear of God Athletics Be?

Fear of God Athletics Los Angeles Runner

Lorenzo’s designs are already ubiquitous—there aren’t many major cities in the Western world where you can walk the streets for more than 15 minutes without seeing someone wearing Fear of God Essentials. He hopes that Fear of God Athletics with Adidas can also be massive.

“I’m here to build something that hopefully will become a billion-dollar franchise for us and them,” Lorenzo says.

Does working within a sportswear brand, one that has shareholders to report to and revenue goals to hit, come with a new kind of pressure?

“Never,” Lorenzo answers quickly. “That’s not my intention, and I’m clear with them on that.”

The designer, who is keen on setting his own timelines and working outside of set fashion calendars, believes that Fear of God Athletics can deliver on the numbers that Adidas wants, but perhaps not at the pace they’re anticipating. Adidas has certainly given Lorenzo enough SKUs to signal its full faith in him; this is not a minor collaboration. It’s also far bigger in scale than what Lorenzo was able to do at Nike.

“[Adidas] have done the most that they possibly could have done,” Lorenzo says.

The Fear of God Athletics Adilette

Fear of God Athletics Adidas Adilette Slide

The most low-key piece in the entire Fear of God Athletics collection began with a salient sneakerhead question.

Yo, where did you get those?

Lorenzo was the one asking. On the receiving end of the question was L.A. designer Dr. Romanelli, who was walking his dog in Los Feliz when Lorenzo bumped into him. On Romanelli’s feet was the mega-popular Adidas Adilette. Lorenzo noticed it wasn’t the Adilette, but a slightly different version.

“It’s this one that was released in Europe only, and it has a suede, and it’s a little bit tighter to your foot than the ones that are molded rubber,” Lorenzo says.

Romanelli told him that he’d procured the slides in Europe. Lorenzo told his assistant to order loads of pairs for his personal rotation. He noticed they fit better than a standard Adilette, and wouldn’t wear the regular pairs after that point. The tweaked Adilette became a staple for the Fear of God designer.

“It’s honest to who I am,” says Lorenzo. “I wear those all the time.”

The encounter with Romanelli from a few years back was the starting point for the Fear of God Athletics Adilette, which Lorenzo sees as the platonic ideal of a slide. His version of the model is based on the specs of the pair that Romanelli put him on to.

“It’s already perfect,” Lorenzo says. “I don’t need to touch that.”

Lorenzo knows that people will dismiss the design as a simple logo slap—the Athletics pair comes with “Fear of God” text embossed on the side. But the subtle details, the alterations revealed on closer inspection, are what Fear of God is all about.

“That’s the whole hope of us as a brand,” Lorenzo says. “You’ll see something, and then when you touch it, it’s just better.”

Challenging the Air Force 1

Fear of God Athletics 86 Lo

The 86 Lo, a model based on the retro Adidas Rivalry Low, is one of the older designs from the first Fear of God Athletics collection. According to Lorenzo, it’s been done for two years. The 86 Lo was cooked up when Lorenzo was briefly creative-directing Adidas basketball, the goal being to render a contemporary expression of one of Adidas’ mainstay retro basketball shoes.

Lorenzo wanted to reset the sneaker’s name in order to erase any preconceived notions about the silhouette, and to highlight its birth year of 1986, when Adidas (and the New York Mets, who Lorenzo’s father worked for) was closer to the height of its powers. He also wanted to make a shoe that could occupy the same space as Nike’s Air Force 1, a retro basketball sneaker that’s historically been more beloved for casual wear.

“I’ve always wanted to wear Air Force 1s, but the toe box is too big for me,” Lorenzo explains. He could never figure out how to wear the sneaker without feeling that chunky toebox made it look like a “Bozo-toe” clown shoe. So, for his remix of the Rivalry, he modernized the shape it a bit sleeker and sharper.

The Fear of God Athletics 86 Lo is his solution, a shoe in the vein of the Air Force 1 that manages not to look bulbous.

“I feel like I can wear these now and feel a little bit more gangster, still be chic,” Lorenzo says.

What About the Pricing?

Fear of God Athletics is not cheap, and the $100 Adilette is the most affordable item in the range. The other footwear comes in at $170 for the Los Angeles Runner, $200 for the 86 Lo, and $250 for the Athletics 1 Basketball.

Lorenzo defends the prices. He doesn’t necessarily aim to make the sneakers accessible, and their cost, he says, reflects the love and engineering that goes into them.

“With this level of thought, consideration, innovation against this,” he says of the Athletics 1 shoe, “probably all the rounds we went just to get here, it should probably be, like, $1,000, but it’s not.”

The Fear of God Athletics apparel is some of the most expensive Adidas makes, next to its Y-3 line. There are hoodies and sweatpants starting at $200, and tees at $160, but there are also jackets at $500 and coats at $600. The accessories (a small batch of four Italian-made bags) get even more expensive, topping out at $1,500.

“There’s never an intention to price gouge just because it’s a collab,” Lorenzo says. “We’re aiming to have these prices to where they should be.”

Is Fear of God Athletics a Performance Line?

Fear of God Athletics 1 Basketball

Lorenzo wants Athletics to be all performance product, but he might not be there just yet. The first drop, he says, leans more toward the lifestyle side than he’d intended to. On Adidas’ most recent earnings call in November, CEO Bjørn Gulden said that earlier in the partnership, there were “a lot of misunderstandings” on what it meant to make a performance product with Adidas. Soon enough, that will change.

“The next shoe that comes out is 100 percent performance,” Lorenzo promises.

The Fear of God Athletics 1 Basketball has performance elements but is not quite comparable to top-of-the-line performance basketball sneakers. Lorenzo’s aim is to be able to make a shoe that is uncompromised on the functional side while still being totally wearable off court.

“What is that basketball sneaker that you can really go get 50 in and then you can really go to the club in?” says Lorenzo.

Although he’s no longer working solely on basketball sneakers with Adidas, it sounds like he still has access to resources from the group at Adidas that does. Nathan VanHook, a Nike veteran most known for designing the Air Yeezy 2, was hired by Adidas at the top of 2023 as its new VP of basketball footwear. Lorenzo says he and VanHook work together directly. 

“I just needed someone to come on with both the talent and the ambition and a little bit more of a proactive first place point of view,” says Lorenzo of VanHook.

What’s Next?

Fear of God Athletics

As monumental as last week’s introduction was for Lorenzo’s body of work, he presented it in conversation as more a humble beginning than a grand debut. He describes what’s available now as the foundation of Fear of God Athletics rather than the full results of years worth of work.

“It’s kind of a peek into what’s to come, more than, ‘This is what we’ve been doing for three years,’” Lorenzo says.

The Fear of God designer wants his product to get better with each wave, and estimates that he has between 12 and 20 shoes on the way. While designers—sometimes because of embargoes imposed by sneaker brands—are usually reticent to discuss upcoming shoes before they’re ready to be revealed, Lorenzo is already talking about what Fear of God Athletics has up next. As soon as March, a purer Fear of God Athletics performance shoe is coming.

“The shoe after this is uncompromised,” Lorenzo says, “which I’m really excited about.”