Homage or Hoax? A Look at Fear of God Resurrected T-Shirts
The year is 1986, you’re in your mid-20s, and Metallica has just released Master of Puppets. After falling in love with their thrash metal sound since Kill ‘Em All released a couple years prior, you decide that you absolutely need to see them live in concert. And guess what? THEY’RE TOURING WITH OZZY FUCKING OSBOURNE. Holy balls, you just went to a legendary concert and took home with you a t-shirt bearing the album cover as a souvenir. You’re still shaking from the euphoria. Fast forward a decade into the future. Your Master of Puppets t-shirt still remains one of your favourite possessions, though it doesn’t quite match your wardrobe anymore. The value of this t-shirt has risen significantly due to Cliff Burton’s untimely death (R.I.P.) as well as Master of Puppets being one of the most critically acclaimed albums, appreciated since its release 10 years ago. Your nephew has shown an interest in metal, so you decide to introduce him to Metallica and give him your shirt as a gift of appreciation. Fast forward another decade. You have finally adapted yourself to the new technology and understand how to use the Internet in all its glory, especially using Incognito mode to avoid your wife questioning your browser history. You also learned about this neat website called Grailed where you can buy and sell clothing. Awesome. You decide to search for a Master of Puppets t-shirt because your nostalgia is hitting strong and because your nephew apparently sold it on another website called eBay several years ago. But what’s this? You find the shirt being sold by some asshat for $2500 USD HOLY BALLS WHAT IN THE EVERLOVING FUCK HAPPENED? (Note: at the time of this writing, there was a Grailed listing for a Fear of God Master of Puppets t-shirt for $2500). And why is the phrase “Fear of God” printed on it? That seems a bit counter-intuitive, don’t you think? You think to yourself, “Wow, my nephew is an idiot for selling it.”
It wasn't too long ago that rock t-shirts were a key indicator of who the rebellious teenager was in a late '90s/early 2000s sitcom, usually paired underneath a leather jacket and atop some ripped jeans. Sound familiar? If it does, then you're probably thinking of one of two things; 1) the punk subculture that emerged during the mid-'70s, or 2) your current Instagram feed. If you're thinking of the latter, you've most definitely seen a Fear of God-branded vintage rock tee and are wondering the exact same thing I am, "why the fuck is a vintage tee so expensive? What happened to the band tee?"
The truth is, nothing happened nor changed with band t-shirts. What changed was how society has reacted to this particular aesthetic. The punk aesthetic has seen a resurgence thanks to designers such as Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane and their infatuation with the punk subculture. Both of these designers have brought aspects of the punk subculture to the forefront of fashion in their own ways, from Raf Simons directly drawing from the grunge and D.I.Y. aesthetic to Hedi Slimane revitalizing the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house with a glamorous rock-star appeal. After relocating the now-rebranded Saint Laurent design studio to Los Angeles, a vital area for the emergence of the punk movement, Hedi brought a modernized grunge look to the streets of L.A. and around the world. In exploring a newly sought-after crowd in love with ripped jeans and the punk aesthetic in 2012, a new type of market was exposed, a move that indadvertedly opened up an opportunity for Fear of God founder Jerry Lorenzo to create his now infamous label.
Starting up in 2013 as Fear of God L.A., Jerry sought to bring back the '90s grunge aesthetic, complete with long sleeveless flannels, elongated t-shirts and tank tops, and leather panelled hoodies. Think of Kurt Cobain's wardrobe if he had abandoned all his anti-capitalist views and was a fan of Rick Owens. Having already developed a network of connections as a result of working a variety of jobs ranging from Diesel to MTV Studios in L.A., as well as nearly pursuing professional baseball due to his father's involvement in the MLB as a player-turned manager, the necessary connections to create a widely known clothing brand were already established. In fact, Jerry even worked as a consultant (which yes, could mean several things, just ask all the Instagrammers with that position in their bio) with Android Homme founder, Javier Laval as far back as 2008. From his 2008 interview with online blog The One Man Stand, Jerry and Javier both dabbled in event planning, styling, and so forth, which further proves Jerry's skills as a businessman. Eventually however, the Fear of God label was formed and began producing high-quality garments in L.A., sold at high price points, and endorsed by celebrities, one of the first being Detroit rapper, Big Sean.
It didn't take long for the label to gain momentum, as cosigns from celebrities such as Kanye West helped elevate Fear of God to the forefront of mainstream fashion. Within 2 years, Fear of God was being stocked by Barneys New York, an accomplishment in and of itself. A by-product of such rapidly increasing hype was the resurrected line of band t-shirts. According to his interview with GQ Magazine, it all started when Jerry began selling some of his now-branded collection of shirts on eBay to raise money for his father's foundation (The Jerry Manuel Foundation). In the near 2 years since that interview however, Jerry has sold several Fear of God branded shirts in collaboration with several retailers for various pop-up events that have taken place, from Toronto's very own Nomad to Maxfield Los Angeles, in collaboration with Chapel NY. Now, is it just me, or is there something unusually humorous about thrash metal t-shirts with the phrase "Fear of God" written on them?
In Jerry's defence, this is essentially his way of re-appropriating the punk aesthetic that was seen as "cool" in the days of anti-conformity and teenage rebellion in order to speak to the kids who identify with ideas of Christianity and God himself. As Jerry's stated a couple times, his goal is to make the once-uncool kid in youth groups cool again. Where was Jerry years ago when I was attending youth groups and subsequently disappointing my parents and getting kicked out of churches? Trust me, I was far from cool back in my day, though that might have to do with the fact that I'm about as charming as a stick. In all seriousness, I do understand and appreciate Jerry's intentions with reaching out to a crowd of youth that understandably feels cast out at times, though the fact that not only are the price points ever-so-slightly out of most people's budgets, most parents of kids going to youth groups would beat their kids' asses for buying a distressed t-shirt with some bizarre and sometimes grotesque images bearing the phrase "Fear of God" on it. I'm Latino, I would know.
At the end of the day, all the aforementioned points simply converge onto the only true reason that Fear of God resurrected tees remain some of the most coveted articles of clothing today; exclusivity. The desire to be a part of this exclusive crowd that not only own authentic vintage tees, but tees that have been touched by the hand of... well, Jerry Lorenzo himself. Regardless of the ideology behind Fear of God that Jerry was adamant in stating since its inception, the hype quickly buried it once the label became more important than the culture it was supposed to embody. What this creates is a division amongst avid wearers of band t-shirts, separating the genuine fans from the fashionable internet dwellers from the Fear of God followers. The irony lies in the fact that what was once a public display of affection towards a certain band or artist (aside from being a groupie) became not only a fashion statement for aesthetic purposes, but also indadvertedly created this elitism embedded in a culture that openly spoke out against the capitalist structures that allowed for this to happen. This goes beyond the unwritten rule of "if you don't listen to the band, don't wear it," because quite honestly, I can see why some people would gravitate towards these t-shirts based on the incredible artwork alone. No, this reaches into the idea of classism in fashion, as it's really the only way to justify the exorbitant prices that Fear of God's resurrected tees are sold at.
The question then becomes, what's the necessary threshold to measure whether or not something is overvalued? The answer is identical to if you were to ask me if I have any dignity left, there is none. The second-hand market is constructed around the prices that people are willing to pay, which explains the price hike for vintage tees, such as this Marilyn Manson tarot cards tee sold for $240 USD (!!!) and explains why this Fear of God x Chapel NY Megadeth distressed shirt still remains unsold at well over $3000 USD (!!!). In all fairness though, that Megadeath shirt will keep you cool during the summer, but won't protect you from the roast you'll probably receive for wearing a nearly non-existent shirt. Granted, Fear of God band tees usually go for around $1000 USD (!!!) regardless, just check this out on Grailed.
Of course, you wouldn't be entirely wrong in arguing that fashion was initially created as an elitist and classist way of showing off your material wealth. The difference between now and then however, lies in the fact that legitimately used t-shirts being sold at a high mark-up due to the nature of their rarity are being sold at an even higher price point due to the fact that it was customized by a popular contemporary brand, as opposed to an original garment constructed with quality materials paired with an equally high quality control. That's not to say that everyone who wears Fear of God aren't fans, and I can understand why some folks are willing to pay such high prices for something that carries a significant sentimental value to them. All that said however, God bless Jerry for his hustle. As much as I personally may not be a fan of the resurrected line, I have a lot of respect for Jerry himself for finding a niche market and conquering it.
Honestly though, maybe I'm just annoyed at the fact that my dad owned several band t-shirts he thrifted over 15 years ago before they were tossed out for representing "devil music," and how their son should stop listening to "songs of Satan" and listen to more Christian music instead.
Oh, the irony.
'Till next time y'all!
All photos courtesy of Jackson Ray (@jackson_fmf). Tell him Rony did a slightly above average job on this article.