It all began in 1994 when James Jebbia, an Anglo-American expatriate in New York opened a small shop on Lafayette Street in the heart of the Soho district selling basics and skateboarding equipment. In the world of this very codified sport, he established himself in what was New York’s skateboarding epicentre. Some years earlier he set up his own streetwear shop and teamed up with the founder of the iconic Californian skateboarding brand, Stüssy.
When Supreme emerged, the underground culture in New York was in full swing. Skateboarding, rock music, hip-hop, independent cinema and contemporary art were flourishing. The major players made the brand’s small shop – whose logo is greatly inspired by the famous "I shop therefore I am" by the artist Barbara Kruger – their hang-out. Today’s mainstream styles made their very first appearance on the periphery of the fashion world. With his logo T-shirts, hoodies in every colour, targeted cultural references and low-key ambush marketing (stickers on the street, posters featuring stars like Kate Moss and Lou Reed), James Jebbia laid the foundations for the controversial empire of cool we know today.
No-one could have anticipated that this young brand for insiders would eventually become the greatest fashion phenomenon of the early part of this century. However, less than ten years after it began, Supreme was swept up in a whole new trend - fashion resale on the internet. James Jebbia wasn’t out for profit and in any case, didn’t have the resources to produce pieces in large quantity. Back then, he sold his clothes in very limited quantities, refreshed his merchandising almost every week and over time – almost in spite of himself – generated an impressive supply and demand ratio. A few years, every T-shirt to come out of the shop suddenly became rare and Supreme snowballed into an exclusive brand with fans from around the world snapping up its clothes on resale platforms as soon as they appeared.
As the brand has a limited physical presence (with only 11 shops in the world), and is not available in multi-brand stores, every new product launch is an event, attracting hundreds of customers who queue for hours each week to ensure they are allowed entry. After these famous "drops", the pieces are listed online within hours for up to ten times their original asking price. In the space of barely two decades, the low-key skateboarding brand from New York became a pioneer of modern marketing with its strategy now being copied by various other brands.
If Supreme managed to establish itself in the fashion arena by stealth, it’s because it played an important role in the emergence of luxury streetwear and collaborative ranges. The brand soon found itself surrounded by the most distinguished artists of its time, including Lady Gaga. Supreme is also considered as one of the pioneers of the fashion collaboration concept, having produced pieces with brands such as Vans, The North Face, Nike, Levi’s and Champion, all recognised as experts in their fields. James Jebbia doesn’t simply rely on collaborations, but adapts iconic styles that have been successful and also brands archetypal objects with his logo, among them a flask, a lighter, a crowbar, a hammer and a brick. Supreme is everywhere. It’s more than a brand, it’s a way of life.
In 2017, the brand pulled off a masterstroke by using the Louis Vuitton logo in a collaboration, cementing a relationship between streetwear and luxury fashion for time to come. Some fans accused the brand of selling its soul to the devil, while others thought it was genius. Still, the symbolism speaks for itself - a label that has its origins in underground culture is now capable of toppling the largest fashion houses in the world and is enough to disrupt the pace of fashion.