The most influential brand of the 21st century, Supreme, has gone from nurturing New York’s skate scene, to bridging the gap between streetwear and high end fashion. How did this all happen? James Jebbia, the Founder of Supreme and a modern day idol, would tell you that none of the business strategies he used were purposeful, and the success they have
accumulated was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. However, when you look a bit deeper into the question at hand, you realise it was somewhat of an inevitability.
Working in a Duracell factory in Crawley, banging out the likes of T-Rex and Bowie on the radio, Jebbia would save up his pennies to buy a train ticket to London, hoping to suss out the latest garms in elusive shops that people hadn’t heard of. At the age of 19 though, he moved back to America, where he was originally born, and fell in love with the scene NYC was offering. When he delved into the depths of New York fashion, he found himself accustomed to the clothes both Stüssy and Parachute were releasing; he started working for these companies, who inspired the fundamentals of Supreme as we know it today. He stayed loyal to Stüssy, until the founder (Shawn Stüssy) sold the brand off. ‘What the fuck was I going to do now?’ he protested in an interview with Vogue.
New York’s Layfrette Street had a rising urban art scene, and sat in the middle of many old independent businesses, including a stretch of Antique Shops. Jebbia brought Supreme’s first space here for a mere $12,000, and employed a bunch of open minded skaters, Many of which were extras in Larry Clark’s controversial film ‘Kids’, who Supreme have printed onto items over the years. The shops were purposely designed so skater heads could ride in comfortably without getting off their boards; if you’ve been to a supreme store you’ll know that the clothes are all along the outside of the space, not in the middle. It started out as more of a hangout space for college and young societal dropouts to chill and watch videos outside the shop.
Whilst releasing clothes, they would give artists like Mark Gonzales the opportunity to get their art exposure by putting designs into their frequent magazines, which captured the trendiness and hostilities of New York in the 90s. As their clothing started to gain a following, it was arguably propelled to the forefront of fashion by none other than Tyler, the Creator - founder of the infamous rap collective Odd Future. A few years ago he tweeted: “When The Fuck Is Supreme Gonna Cut Me A Fucking Check. You Know How Many Black Kids Is Buying That Shit Now Because Of Me? Jebbia, Stop Playn”, although this never happened and would have been against Supreme’s philosophy. Tyler isn’t often pictured in Supreme anymore, but several celebrities continue to wear the brand.
Supreme represents so much in today’s world, so it is of no surprise that they have done collabs with such a range of musicians, films, models and companies. We thought we’d offer some of our favourites over the years to note, and write about.
Modelled by Palace’s Lucien Clarke, the Jean-Michel Basquiat 2013 commemoration
collection was nothing short of amazing, using his prints to reimagine the social
commentary he created of NYC through his paintings. One of Supreme’s best philosophies is, no matter how big the artist is, they will opt to collaborate if they are fans of their work. They continue to use prints from Mark Gonzales, and more recently the artist Sancheeto.
Their frequent sportswear collaborations have always sent the fashion world into a
frenzy, most notably with powerhouses Nike, Fila and Champion. Their lines with Lacoste are often an ode to the casuals scene too, emphasising Jebbia’s link to the UK and infatuation with sportswear. The recent release of the Nike dungarees highlighted to me just how willing Supreme are to take a brand out of their comfort zone and take a new direction with them.
But arguably the most influential of all of their collabs is with Comme Des Garcons, which
started in 2012. This was a definitive moment, which put Supreme on the map in the world of high end fashion, more legitimately than when Luis Vuitton ordered a seize and desist against the brand for using their print unruly. However, we all know that the relationship between the two labels has changed significantly. Adrian Joffe, President of CDG and Rei Kawakubo’s husband, spoke openly about the talents of Jebbia, saying “I have never met anyone with such a strong, single-minded vision who has always stayed close to his sense of values,” this is very much what the founder of Supreme thinks about his own label, and making clothes in general: “My thing has always been that the clothing we make is kind of like music,” Jebbia says. “There are always critics that don’t understand that young people can be into Bob Dylan but also into the Wu-Tang Clan and Coltrane and Social Distortion. Young people—and skaters—are very, very open-minded”.
Everyone has an opinion on Supreme, their impact on modern culture is absolutely
undeniable; the loyalty to their roots is what I find most admirable about the brand though. Jebbia continues to have Sage Elsesser model their collections, who some might
label one of the biggest skating influencers in America but grew into the Supreme family
really early on, and the links you realise between their clothing and society is very powerful.