33 things you need to know about supreme

Maximise your knowledge with minimal effort.

by James Anderson
19 March 2018, 1:04pm

Unless you've been stuck in the outer Hebrides with no phone signal for the past few decades, you will no doubt be familiar with Supreme, the US skate and streetwear brand inspiring a diehard sense of devotion among fans and a clamour for its clobber that's beyond retail-compare.

Famed for the regular 'drops' of new product into its stores -- coveted by those who happily camp out overnight and queue for hours to get their sticky mitts upon said goodies -- not to mention its seemingly effortless associations with just about every artist, actor, musician, filmmaker, skater, rapper and fashion designer ever deemed cool, Supreme has clearly created a winning formula.

But what else do you know about Supreme?

1. Supreme's founder James Jebbia doesn't give many interviews or crave the limelight, preferring to just focus on his empire, from his HQ on Wooster Street, in New York's SoHo district: "I'm not a scenester. I'm too busy to be bullshitting around," explained the no-nonsense boss to GQ.

2. Supreme's founder was born in the US but grew up in the UK, in Crawley, West Sussex, a humdrum middle-class area 'famed' for also spawning the hugely successful 80s new wave-pop-goth group, The Cure.

3. Supreme's founder was never actually a skateboarder himself, but instead spent some of his younger days as a part-time actor, playing the role of Tommy Watson in the BBC school drama series, Grange Hill.

4. Supreme's founder toiled at a Duracell factory in Crawley during his teens, spending most of his hard-earned wages on regular clothes-shopping trips to London -- before deciding he was bored of batteries, splashing out on a plane ticket, and moving back to the States.

5. Supreme's founder learned the retail ropes in various revered New York style emporiums during the late-80s and early-90s -- first he worked in Parachute, then he launched Union in 1989, next he managed the newly opened branch of Stussy in 1991, before he eventually decided to unleash his own label...

6. Supreme's first store was opened by Jebbia in 1994 on Lafayette Street -- a much less trendy-spendy area at the time than it is nowadays, with neighbouring businesses back then mainly comprising of yawny-old antiques shops, an industrial machinist and a fire station.

7. Supreme's original store layout was designed with the convenience of skater customers firmly in mind -- clothes were neatly displayed around the edges, leaving a large area of empty space in the middle so they could skate straight in from the street at full speed, without smashing into anyone!

8. Supreme brought out an atmospheric black and white promo film called A Love Supreme in 1995, directed by Thomas Campbell, shot on grainy Super 8, and set to a jazzy John Coltrane soundtrack.

9. Supreme produced another short film in 2017, titled Crop Fields, directed by Ben Solomon, and featuring a huge crop circle-esque version of the Supreme logo, created in a secret outdoor location in California, by the UK artist John Lundberg and a group of his crop circle-maker mates.

10. Supreme incurred the wrath and a threat of legal action from fashion giant Calvin Klein, in 1994, when stickers featuring its familiar red and white logo kept 'mysteriously' appearing upon CK's advertising posters, which starred a young Kate Moss in her knickers.

11. Supreme cost a modest $12,000 to initially launch -- fast forward 24 years and the brand has been estimated to be worth, gulp, approximately $1 billion, according to a recent report in WWD.

12. Supreme flogged a big juicy stake in the company in late-2017 -- rumoured to be worth around $500 million -- to a private equity firm called The Carlyle Group.

13. Supreme now has many stores, each with massive queues outside, in a wide range of locations around the world, including New York City, Brooklyn, L.A, Paris, London, Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka and Nagoya -- yay!

14. Supreme has always been characterised by its super-casual staff-hiring policy - which means any family members, friends, skateboarders, artists or regular punters who have the right 'vibe' can seamlessly segue into gainful employment, either within its shops or in behind-the-scenes roles.

15. Supreme's first wave of young store employees were recruited to appear as street urchin-like extras in Larry Clark's influential 1995 film, Kids, written by Harmony Korine and starring Chloe Sevigny.

16. Supreme's London store is managed by 80s skate legend Dan Jagger, while Samir Krim, who launched the French skateboard company, Minutia, is in charge of the Paris boutique.

17. Supreme has at various times collaborated with other well-known clothing and footwear brands such as Hanes, Timberland, Hysteric Glamour, Clarks, APC, Lacoste, The North Face, Playboy, Levi's and Stone Island, to name a few.

18. Supreme's cheery red and white Futura font logo looks, ahem, 'quite' similar to the text-based works of influential US artist Barbara Kruger, who -- clearly unimpressed -- once described Supreme as, "A ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers" -- yikes!

19. Supreme was revenge-targeted in Kruger's 2017 pop up shop/installation, Untitled (The Drop), at the Peforma Biennial in New York -- featuring framed T-shirts and hoodies adorned with her characteristically anti-consumerist Futura-phrases such as, 'Want it, Buy It, Forget it' -- ouch!

20. Supreme's logo was recently exhibited as part of Items: Is Fashion Modern? at New York's Museum of Modern Art (Babs K must have been chuffed to bits when she heard about that).

21. Supreme initiated legal action against Leah McSweeney, founder of the NY-based Married to the Mob label, who had been selling T-shirts with 'Supreme Bitch' printed across the front in a font resembling theirs -- an out of court settlement was eventually reached in 2013.

22. Supreme has created an array of collaborative skateboard decks over the decades, featuring artworks by the likes of Larry Clark, Jeff Koons, Christopher Wool, Nate Lowman, Damien Hirst, John Baldessari, Harmony Korine, Ryan McGinness, Rammellzee, KAWS and Richard Prince.

23. Supreme was threatened with a lawsuit by the luxury fashion house, Louis Vuitton, in the year 2000, after a patterned motif that looked just like the iconic LV logo was reproduced across skate decks.

24. Supreme got the last laugh, though, by triumphantly collaborating with Louis Vuitton, as part of its autumn/winter 17 men's collection, instigated by LV's then-Men's Style Director, Kim Jones, who is a longtime Supreme fan (a series of pop-up shops then stocked the collaboration in L.A, Miami, London, Paris, Seoul, Sydney and Tokyo).

25. Supreme has also at various times hooked-up for other creative projects with a mix of major talents from the world of art, film, music, graphics and photography, including Peter Saville, Futura 2000, David Lynch, Daniel Johnston, Robert Crumb, Dash Snow, Marilyn Minter, Takashi Murakami, Bad Brains, Mark Gonzales, H. R. Giger and M.C. Esher -- impressive, eh?

26. Supreme first collaborated with the avant garde fashion brand Comme des Garcons in 2012 -- needless to say, CdG's Rei Kawakubo and her hubby Adrian Joffe are massive admirers of Jebbia: "I have never met anyone with such a strong, single-minded vision who has always stayed close to his sense of values," Adrian once gushed to Vogue.

27. Supreme now has to employ security staff to 'police' the queues and ensure nowt gets nicked on days when the new drops are causing a full-on customer frenzy.

28. Supreme is so popular that sneeringly nicknamed 'scalpers' join the queue for the latest drop, buy whatever they can as quickly as possible once they get inside, then resell at twice the price to anxious punters still waiting in line outside.

29. Supreme's boss is mindful of ensuring the brand continues to retain its 'edge': "I want to do something where a young kid shopping with his parents might be like, 'Mum, maybe you shouldn’t come in this store with me..."' Jebbia recently revealed.

30. Supreme doesn't technically own the name Supreme, as it proved impossible to legally trademark such a generic word.

31. Supreme printed six issues of its own in-house magazine many years ago -- before launching a website -- and splashed the likes of a young Chloe Sevigny and Ryan McGinley across the pages (archive copies of this are now highly collectable and pricey, obvs, as is all vintage Supreme product).

32. Supreme connects to the most extreme mix of musical talents imaginable -- from Lou Reed, Rihanna, Nas, Tyler The Creator, Justin Bieber, Public Enemy, Morrissey, Black Sabbath, Drake, Lady Gaga and Kanye -- who have all at one time or another either worn, collaborated with, or been depicted by the brand upon its Tees.

33. Supreme's phenomenal success has been long-envied by its competitors and much analysed by retail experts, but -- as Jebbia clarified to the Business of Fashion -- the underlying philosophy is actually not-very-complicated-at-all: “We can’t explain it, other than we have some really cool shit!”

james jebbia