Creator Connection: Lorenzo Federici and the Art of Doing What Makes You Happy

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It’s not everyday that you get to meet someone that is as humble as they are inspiring, yet Lorenzo Federici is just that.

There’s no doubt you’ve seen Lorenzo’s work on your timeline. The Color Designer and Creative Director is one of Instagram’s most admired sneaker customizers. Under the username @lorenz.og, the London-based artist brings to life some of the most hypnotic gradients we’ve ever seen. Lorenzo’s color choices are striking and catch your attention immediately. Yet as you take a closer look, you can feel yourself melt as you look at his seamless style of craftsmanship. It’s almost divine what Lorenzo is able to do.

As the youngest of 10 children, Lorenzo Federici grew up in a big Italian family and was raised just outside of London. As a kid he spent his time playing Soccer and rooting for Rome’s Lazio. Soccer was a gateway for Lorenzo’s interest in footwear. He often wore astroturf sneakers to school, which was his only opportunity to express himself through his mundane school uniform. At around 13-years-old, Lorenzo started to become interested in sneakers outside of the football realm after seeing the Nike Air Huarache.

“The Huarache got me into this thing called Crepe City, which is an event, a bit like SneakerCon, but smaller,” said Lorenzo. “It was when I first went to Crepe City in London that I was exposed to every sneaker and I was like, ‘Wow.’ After six months, I went back and I bought two pairs of Jordan 11s. I think I spent about £400, which I’d never even had that much money before because at the time, I was making money from refereeing soccer matches. For me, that was the first time I had the ultimate sneaker.”

After securing his very own pairs of the Air Jordan 11 “Gamma Blue” and Air Jordan 11 Low “Nightshade,” sneakers began to take over Lorenzo’s life. He immediately became consumed and was determined to work within the sneaker industry. Unsure where to start, Lorenzo decided to attend the Fashion Retail Academy. Yet shortly after, Lorenzo realized he actually didn’t care about fashion at all – he just cared about sneakers. 

Lorenzo left the school after graduating from his one-year, determining his next steps by talking with a professor about his career goals. The professor recommended that Lorenzo get a retail job and try to get his foot in the door that way, which led to his beginnings with Nike. Lorenzo started working at a nearby Nike store as an “athlete,” which is more commonly known as a sales associate.

“I felt really pressured because I wanted to be working for the brand, not just in the store,” said Lorenzo. “At like 18 or 19, I felt a bit ashamed that I was just working in retail. I felt pressured to have a title.”

Outside of work, Lorenzo was starting to get creative with his own personal sneaker designs and concepts. He participated in the Nike On-Air Design Workshop, a program created to give a platform to independent designers and uplift the sneaker community. Unfortunately, there was controversy surrounding Lorenzo’s entry, as he claims that his original concept was repurposed by one of the finalists in the contest. Whether it was a misunderstanding or blatant plagiarism – this served a defining moment for Lorenzo.

“I was really hurt and upset at the time, but it made it so clear that I should work for Nike. So then I worked in a store as an athlete for six months and I kept on telling my manager, ‘Look, I want to do an internship, how can I do it?’ Eventually he gets an email that they’re trying to get athletes to apply for internships. So I applied and after like five interviews and six months of waiting, I got to the final two and didn’t get it. Then, like a month later, they offered it to me and two weeks later, I was in Amsterdam. It felt like a dream. When I first got there I felt like I wasn’t really living. It was crazy. Then reality kicks in and you’re like, ‘Oh, maybe I’m slightly out of my depth here.'”

Lorenzo was met with the disappointing truth that his internship was more data-orientated than it was creative. He worked in the buying area and spent a lot of time looking at analytics, which showed him that numbers are king when it comes to making decisions at a global brand.

“I didn’t go to university. I’m not the most academic, but I know sneakers,” said Lorenzo.  “Very soon reality kicked in and I felt swallowed up with the pressure of the corporate world. Fitting in wasn’t easy and I struggled on a day to day basis. If it wasn’t for a really supportive mentor, I wouldn’t have lasted 2 months. Thank you Paul. That being said the difficult experiences are the best, especially when you’re young and don’t have major responsibilities. I learnt so much being inside than in ever could looking in.”

After six months at his Nike internship, the global COVID-19 pandemic hit and Lorenzo was forced to work from home, putting a strain on his role at Nike. He realized that it was probably unlikely that Nike would be willing to offer any of their interns permanent roles given the state of the world, so Lorenzo started to reconsider his time at the company. 

“I was not enjoying what I was doing on a day-to-day basis. It was stressful. It wasn’t fulfilling. I was at home and kind of realizing – why am I doing something that I’m not enjoying? I could be developing an area of something that I do enjoy. I’m going to be at home now for a long time. Let me just end this here. So I emailed my team and said, ‘Thank you so much for the help and thank you for having me, but I want to end things here.'”

Lorenzo admits that this was one of the hardest decisions he has ever had to make and was afraid that he might have made a mistake saying, “Leaving Nike I felt like I lost. It felt to me like I’ve just had the opportunity of a lifetime and I’ve failed. I felt almost like a college dropout.” But after being in a creative drought for so long, Lorenzo was excited to get back to focusing on sneakers and doing what he loved.

“I didn’t actually have a plan at all,” said Lorenzo. “I was just living and kind of exploring basically whatever I wanted to do. I was creatively capped for so long that I just had such a desire to create. It all started with just one pair of Air Force 1s and then I just kept on doing more.”

With a fierce amount of passion, a little bit of audacity, and a whole lot of trial-and-error, Lorenzo began to hone his craft as a custom color designer, eventually leading him to create custom sneakers for one of rap’s biggest sneakerheads, Lil Yachty.

“Eventually I discovered a few techniques, which I’d never seen anything like it on sneakers before,” said Lorenzo. “I wasn’t really getting any exposure, but I didn’t care too much about getting exposure. I was just trying to make the best color designs I’d ever seen. One of the things I realized at Nike was that I really wanted to work in the color design team. My team used to have meetings with color designers and honestly, I’d walk into their office, and it would make me excited for like two weeks.”

You can see Lorenzo’s passion for color design reflected in his work. From the very beginning, he started with lustrous shades of light blue and slowly started to develop his signature gradient style. Although Lorenzo has the range to do darker colorways, he typically leans towards a more airy style that incorporates bright pastels. It’s interesting that Lorenzo has such a playful approach to his creative process, because he actually works out of a school nursery.

“My mum and dad run a nursery school. I do all my work in the kindergarten after hours. That’s my studio and no one knows. Everyone thinks I’ve got some mad setup.”

More than just his Kindergarten studio, a lot of Lorenzo’s creative process embodies the idea of, “If you want to, you will.” When first getting started, he didn’t know how dyes would take to certain materials or what products to use, but all that mattered to him was that he give it a try. It was this type of “do-it-yourself” mentality that led Virgil Abloh to reach out to him. Virgil had wanted Lorenzo to start experimenting with women’s handbags, but after Virgil’s untimely death, Lorenzo’s opportunity to work with the iconic designer was cut short.

“It has been an extremely terrible time with Virgil passing. He is a legend on multiple fronts. I can’t explain how much of a difference he makes to someone like myself. I’m devastated… I had pairs boxed up, ready to send to him in Chicago – literally the next day,” said Lorenzo. “When Virgil would speak to me about plans for Off-White, he didn’t use middlemen, so I have no other point of contact. He even had plans to start tailoring the product to help me dye it. I don’t know what’s going to happen because I don’t have any other contact, but I’m working on it.”

Lorenzo hopes that he’ll be able to design a women’s handbag in one way or another, but nevertheless, he’s thankful for Virgil’s presence in his life. He inspired Lorenzo to keep working and put no limits on himself.

“I can’t even explain how much of a difference that Virgil made to someone like me. The way he spoke to me [made] me think way bigger than how I was thinking. I actually spoke to him and said, ‘Look, my dream is to have an Air Max collaboration. What should I do because I’ve been offered [something else]. He was basically like, ‘I can put in a good word for you, but I can’t promise anything.’ To have someone at the top like that give me the time of day and actually help – it’s so rare to get help in the sneaker space. It was completely selfless. Sometimes I would wonder why he was helping me.”

Although Virgil is no longer here, Lorenzo hopes that he can honor the late designer by committing to his craft and continuing his work. Virgil inspired so many to take risks and for Lorenzo, that’s what his art is all about.

“That’s the beauty of a lot of my work. It’s not methodical. Some of my work I can recreate, but some of it is a freestyle. Every pair is unique. I decide what theme I want to do when I have the shoes in hand, but once I start, it often gets adapted and changed. Sometimes I’ll do a shoe for the first time and have an idea of the colorway, but once I start, it’ll look terrible and then I’ll be like shit – I have to try and save this.  Then sometimes I create something really cool, which I couldn’t have created in the first place.”

When you look at Lorenzo’s Instagram, you see a mosaic of white tiles with inspiring colors that seem otherworldly. On the outside looking in, he may seem esoteric and perhaps too cool, but truthfully, there is something easy-going and child-like about him. He would often get wide-eyed, with a big smile on his face before speaking about sneakers. However, it’s this type of authenticity that also allows you to feel his heartbreak when speaking on his career’s shortcomings. Yet with all the good and the bad, the trials and errors, the wins and the losses, we know that Lorenzo is destined to make things happen for himself. More than just his talent, wisdom, and passion for sneakers, Lorenzo’s commitment to being his authentic self and doing what makes him happy, is sure to carry him far.

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