The custom sneaker community might have blown up in popularity in the last few years, but there are some designers standing out among the masses with their bespoke approach to design. One man on a mission to do exactly that — and break away from the ‘customizer’ tag in the process — is Virgil Abloh-approved, U.K. color designer Lorenzo G Federici.
Over the last few years, Lorenzo has steadily built his own approach to sneaker design, with his pastel-colored panache having gone on to become a breakthrough hit on Instagram feeds all over the world. Using his trademark hand-dyed method on a slew of kicks and Arc’Teryx jackets, Lorenzo has built up a cult following of sneakerheads and streetwear enthusiasts, all eager to see which item his paintbrush will land on next.
Raised as an avid football fan, the St. Albans-born footwear connoisseur constantly searched for the season’s finest boots and relished every moment from purchase to playing with a football at his feet. Alongside his love for the game, footwear played a prominent part in his upbringing, spearheaded by his schoolmates and their annual expeditions to London’s Crepe City sneaker festival.
Lorenzo discovered a deep connection with Nike throughout his adolescence, building up extensive sneaker knowledge while honing his artistic craft. Scavenging eBay for the latest releases, Federici grew obsessed with obscure kicks and one-off colorways and decided to dive straight into the deep end of design.
In 2018, Lorenzo took part in Nike’s Air Max Day design competition and marinated on the idea that sneakers were his life calling, later traveling to the brand’s Netherlands office to take part in an immersive buying internship. His dream became a reality as he landed in Amsterdam, where his love for sneaker design far outshone all his other passions. As uncertainty loomed in the light of Covid-19, he departed Nike and returned to the U.K., wanting to become immersed in Britain’s thriving cultural landscape.
That same year, he launched his popular Instagram account LORENZ.OG. Originally building up a knack for dip-dye, Lorenzo began experimenting with pastel designs and sunset-like combinations on what were originally sample pairs, keeping production limited and exclusivity at the forefront. His bespoke practice would go on to garner global virality, with the likes of Drake, Lil Yachty, and the late Virgil Abloh all loving his work – with Virgil himself giving his craft it’s very own name: “PATENTED COLORSCHEMES®”. With his process Virgil-approved and his one-of-one craft continuing to shine bright within the sneaker community, Lorenzo has established himself as a certified one-to-watch.
To get an inside look at the process, Hypebeast visited Lorenzo Federici’s studio in St. Albans, U.K., to speak to the color designer about his humble beginnings, his adoration for the Nike Air Max 95, and what’s next in his rapidly-growing sneaker hustle.
Hypebeast: What got you into footwear?
Lorenzo Federici: I first got into sneakers when I was traveling to London from St. Albans as a teenager. When I was a kid I was very much into football, that was my thing. That was how I first fell in love with footwear because I was quite passionate about having football boots on my feet that I loved. Every season, my mum would buy me a new pair of boots to last me the year, but I was very fussy so I would need to find the exact pair of boots that I wanted or that I had seen the players I aspired to be like wearing.
That was my first taste of product, I still remember the nostalgic smells from when you get a new pair of football boots. On the drive home, I would take them out of the box, look at them, and think that when I wear them I would be so much faster and better at shooting.
Can you describe what sneaker culture was like growing up in St. Albans?
LF: I first got into sneakers when I was traveling to London as a teenager, it was before Instagram was what it is today. It was just another world. It was crazy for a 13-year-old to step into that, seeing fully grown adults obsessing over shoes and having so much knowledge. So I remember when I used to go to Crepe City with my mates, one of the memorable moments about it was the queue before you get inside. When you start to queue up, you’ve got to walk past the whole line of people and everyone is just staring at each person walking across and looking down at their feet.
Every now and then someone would walk by wearing Yeezy 1s or something insane like that. I just thought that it was mad because these people know so much about shoes. When I come back to St. Albans, I was unstoppable because I’d been acquiring all this knowledge. People here didn’t even know what an Air Max 95 was.
Tell us about your journey into color design.
LF: During my time at Nike, interning at EHQ in Hilversum, I realized that I wanted to be a color designer. But that just wasn’t a realistic thing to suggest. When I returned home I started working on my own samples. I can’t design digitally – I don’t have the skills and I’m not particularly good at drawing – but I discovered dye, so I started experimenting. I first time I dyed shoes I thought that I had never seen anything like it before so I carried on making shoes for my family and friends. While I was at Nike, I became obsessed with samples that had never been released so I wanted to create shoes that had a mystery behind them.
“While I was at Nike, I became obsessed with samples that had never been released so I wanted to create shoes that had a mystery behind them.”
I call my work samples, I never called them customs. I never took orders from the beginning so I would create colorways that might take me three or four tries to get right and then I’d sell the samples off. So I was always keeping it limited because I understood sneakers. I never wanted it to be a service, I wanted to establish myself as a designer. I’m not a color designer in the traditional sense, but in my own way.
What sparked your love for color design in the first place?
LF: When I was younger I created pairs using Nike iD, but the Nike On Air competition that I participated in four years ago lit the fire inside me and convinced me I’ve got good ideas that I needed to pursue. When I first started dyeing shoes, I wasn’t taking it too seriously – but within the first two months, I had Drake buy shoes from me.
That moment was a turning point for me. If I can get my shoes to Drake and sneakerheads are rating my work, then the sky is the limit. In the beginning, it was very hard to get my name out there. I survived with no income because I was spending all my money on samples. But, eventually, people started to recognize the consistency and see the growth. If you scroll through my Instagram and go back to the beginning, and then you look at the things I’m doing today, you can really see the improvement in my technique and my work, With my work two years ago, you can still tell that it’s the same designer compared to my work today. I feel if you want to be a good artist or a good designer, your work should always have some of your DNA.
What is your favorite sneaker model and what is your first memory with that silhouette?
LF: It’s definitely the Nike Air Max 95. My first memory of the 95 is funny because I remember not liking the model at all. When I was in school, there was a group that was older – kind of bullies – and you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of them. They were about five years older, but they felt like truly grown men. They would always wear 95s, which I think made me hate the model through association. But after a few years, I noticed that it is actually a really tasteful model, adopted by all types of people and styled in so many different ways. They quickly became my favorite after that realization. Originally I preferred the Air Max 1, then the 97. My taste is always evolving but the 95 is the one for me and I think it’s the most London shoe. I really identify with it.
Tell us the story behind the Air Max 95’s that you’ve created using your custom dyeing method.
LF: I created the “Dusk” colorway a few months after I started doing this. I was always big on faded when it came to TNs, but during lockdown, I would always see crazy sunsets from out my window. As I’m really inspired by nature, I wanted to replicate that fade and feeling of escapism. That was always my aesthetic since I started, using the detail inside color, stretching from one hue into the next in a subtle way.
After around five tries and studying the ‘sunset’ style colors, I found a process that I could try on so many different silhouettes. Originally I was doing an all-over “Dusk,” but it gets copied the most on Instagram, so now I like to do “Dusk” in just one part of the shoe and then play around with the color in smaller sections. It’s probably been my most well-known colorway to date.
You’ve previously created custom pairs for Drake, Lil Yachty, and Virgil Abloh. What was that process like?
LF: The experience with every one of those people was very different. When Drake happened I wasn’t ready for it to happen, I wasn’t taking it seriously. I wasn’t popping on Instagram either, I didn’t have a following. When Drake’s manager approached me, it woke me up. I thought that I really needed to take it seriously and present myself in a proper way – because perception is everything when it comes to sneakers and life, really. If you’re talked about because your pieces are worn by Drake, Virgil, and Yachty, then they perceive you with such a high level of respect, even if you’re just a kid doing your thing. Drake was the moment when everything changed.
Lil Yachty was a sick one because it came a long time after Drake. Originally his friends had seen the CDGs that I had made and they wanted a pair. I saw that Yachty was coming to London last June because he had a show here. He messaged me because he saw a pair of the Jordan 5s that I had made and I told him to shout me when he was in London. I didn’t even tell him what I was going to make for him. I bought about six pairs of shoes and did them all in a rush because he was coming within four weeks. We linked up and he was gassed with every pair, he studied them and he really got that feeling when you get a new pair of shoes.
The next day Yachty messages me just a screenshot of a conversation he was having with Virgil about my designs. He sent them a picture of the Off-White 5s that I made him, and Virgil absolutely loved them. Within a week Virgil followed me and we started speaking every day about my work. When I was so keen to show him everything I was working on, so I sent him a few new sample colorways I was working on and he simply replied “PATENTED COLORSCHEMES®”. I’ve used that phrase to describe my work ever since.
With Virgil, it really didn’t feel real. Straight away he sent me a pair from his The 50 Dunk collection because it was always his intention for people to dye them. Afterward, Virgil bought a pair of Air Max 95 CDGs from me in my “Raisin” colorway. I had also made a yellow Off-White Air Force 1 that I had planned to give him, but, unfortunately, he passed before we could meet up. It was such a hard loss to take because Virgil was sort of my mentor, and we’d formed this great relationship.
While working with the late Virgil Abloh, did you ever receive any advice on design that you would like to share?
LF: He suggested that we do an Off-White collaboration on handbags and heels and that really changed my perspective because I was always so focused on sneakers. When Virgil’s first suggestion was for me to do something that wasn’t in sneakers, I just thought that it was such a good idea because I could touch a whole new audience. That’s something that I’ve been thinking a lot about since he suggested that and that is why the direction I want to go in now is a bit away from sneakers, as you can see with my work on jackets.
What has inspired you to continue your journey into sneaker design?
LF: I truly believe that this is the work that I’m meant to be doing and what inspires me is to continue exploring my own creativity and not having too much of a plan. I always want to do the best work I can and to stay true to myself. The best I can offer to the sneaker and fashion worlds is being myself in its truest form, so I just want to continue refining that and see where it goes. I like to trust in my faith rather than have everything figured out.
Do you have any exciting projects or collaborations in the pipeline?
LF: There will be something coming before the end of the year, my first physical drop.
In other footwear news, the Travis Scott x Air Jordan 1 Low OG WMNS “Olive” receives a release date.