Nina Simone’s mournful cover of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” segued into Kanye West’s furious sampling of it on “Blood On The Leaves” as a model in the palest of lime—from his baseball cap via tailored topcoat and collared hoodie down to his Adidas—descended the Hollywood Bowl’s white ego ramp in a state of pristine and slouchy pomp. Shortly behind him was another immaculate walker toting an Adidas branded gym bag. As America Gonzalez in black tailoring had opened this Fear Of God show earlier, via Ovaflow and Lesun’s sampling of Jupiter Sharps’s battle-prayer in “Glory”—and after a gorgeous live performance by Sampha—there had been more musical messaging reflecting the collective trauma of Black American experience.
Suddenly, a brand that has built a broad global fanbase with its precise and carefully neutral Essentials line was being anything but neutral. The adjacency of luxury and trauma was sweet and sour, discomfiting and true.
As Fear of God founder Jerry Lorenzo put it backstage, he wanted to “celebrate American luxury” without overlooking the generational injustices and exploitation that allowed for America’s rise. He said: “When I grew up, my dad told me stories of his grandma picking cotton. Now I have the luxury that my staff brings me fabric books, and I get to pick and choose the cotton. So there’s freedom, and there’s a responsibility that comes from a lot of pain. But more than pain, it comes from love.”
Love was in plentiful supply at this first-ever live show in the brand’s 10-year history. There were several thousand of us in the Hollywood Bowl, and as the apricot dusk receded into chill gloom nobody seemed inclined to take their seats. Los Angeles regularly sees big-ticket fashion shows from European marques, here to ride the hype of Hollywood, but this was a new, homegrown protagonist in the space. A community had gathered, and took pleasure in lingering. Plumes of hydro smoke gusted upwards. Eventually we were called to order, and London’s Sampha delivered his three-song opening from an upright piano. Then a door at the back of the darkened stage opened and out the collection came.
Gonzalez’s and the several looks that followed were all black and dominated—although not exclusively—by slouchy tailored outerwear above a breaky wide pant silhouette that is by no means exclusive to Fear of God but certainly central to it. Leathers drifted into play. You started to fear that the rhetoric of the presentation would overpower the collection it was there to present just as it began to fragment into multiple colors, shapes, and textures. The woolen coats shifted into collarless furs and jackets over kilted pants in buttercup yellow and pale green. Basketball pants over fringe-edged pants recalled early-stage Fear of God silhouettes. What looked like shaved shearling bombers provided a slighter masculine silhouette above more artfully slouchy pants tucked into high tops, while knit crop tops added a welcome sportiness to the tailored outline of the feminine facade.
Down by that ego ramp, Kanye West and Bianca Censori had quietly taken their seats. When“Blood On The Leaves” dropped, West rose and danced along with others in the crowd. At the very end Ray Charles sang “America The Beautiful” as fireworks spurted golden sparkles into the sky. Said Lorenzo: “I needed to share every part of the Christian journey, the Black journey, and not just the parts that people like to pick to celebrate. You know it’s a beautiful journey. But it’s even more beautiful if you pay attention to every part of it and understand why it is what it is.” This was a collection as cinematic and grand as the American tradition demands but which came enriched with the nuance of true cultural experience.