All you need to know about Supreme
Read how the NYC skate brand turned cool kids on to the likes of Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman, John Baldessari et al
There's only one brand that's managed to combine the work of Gustave Courbet with the endorsement of Mike Tyson, or the art of John Baldessari with the services of Tyler, the Creator, Shane MacGowan or Kate Moss. And in so doing has won the devotion of smart, disaffected kids across the globe. That brand is Supreme.
The NYC company has, over the past quarter century, established itself as the utmost producer of street and skate wear. Yet to class its offerings – which commonly sell out within hours of ‘dropping’, or going on sale – as mere skateboard goods and garments doesn’t quite cover it.
As the cultural critic Carlo McCormick writes in the introduction to our new Supreme book, “we understand all its production—not just the decks but the apparel as well—as the manufacture of highly coded fetish objects.
“All their collaborations and commissions, along with the innumerable design oddities they create in-house, serve this purpose of exalted transgression, and the brand strategy is precisely that of the skaters it represents: subversive and invasive, antiauthoritarian and iconoclastic, about velocity and elevation, mischief and magic, the moment of gravitational defiance and that of sudden impact. This is search-and-destroy, trespass, impolite, and in-your-face yet born of an infinite grace.”
That uncanny gracefulness began back in 1994, when James Jebbia, a US-born, UK-raised former skate-shop employee founded the brand and opened the first store – stocking its own creations as well as clothes and decks from other manufacturers – on Lafayette Street in Lower Manhattan.
You might assume that New York in the mid-1990 provided a remarkably fertile cultural background for Supreme but, as McCormick points out in our new book the opposite was, in fact, the case.
“Simply put, drugs and AIDS had taken away the very best, leaving the rest somehow beaten,” he writes. “Still far from the white and polite bastion of affluence and entitlement it has become now, gentrification had already put the squeeze on as a creative brain drain of freaks and free thinkers fled for cheaper pastures.
“To put it in perspective: Supreme opened because the city didn’t have a real skate shop, and it was what might be kindly called a failing business until they hit on the idea of making and selling their own T-shirts for a bit of desperate cash flow.”
Once a simple source of revenue, Supreme's goods have developed into a genuine cultural phenomenon. Over the past quarter century, everyone from Damien Hirst to Neil Young has offered their art and services up to Supreme producing a wide array of goods, including both not limited to skateboard decks, t-shirts, sweatshirts, shoes, sportswear, hoodies and jackets.
Indeed, part of the brand’s longstanding appeal lies in the carefully calibrated choices of product collaborations. A Supreme edition Everlast punch bag, Louis Vuitton travel trunk, and Fender Stratocaster electric guitar all feature in our new book, alongside many beautifully conceived jackets, t-shirts, sneakers and other item, as well as candid photographs documenting the gaggle of skateboarding outsiders who’ve helped shape the brand.
This new Supreme book documents and celebrates the brand, and includes not only photographs by such notable figures as David Sims, Ryan McGinley, Alasdair McLellan and Larry Clark, but also Supreme collections producing artworks by Cindy Sherman, Dash Snow, and surprise appearances from Nas, John Lydon and Lady Gaga, among many others.
The director, writer and one-time Supreme regular Harmony Korine has contributed a poem to the book; and there’s a t-shirt product index and as well as exclusive imagery drawn from Supreme’s archives.
The book is currently available to order here. It's published on January 29. Given the demand for the brand's other products, you may want to get your copy sooner, rather than later; think of it as another highly coded fetish object to add to your collection.