When Supreme announced its collaboration with Nike and the NBA in early March—a collection that harkened back to the days of Jeff Hamilton jackets and baggy, logos-all-over NBA jeans—it didn't have just anyone model the gear. Instead, the Supreme Instagram featured shots of Cavaliers guard JR Smith taken by famed photographer Ari Marcopoulos, bringing together the worlds of NBA and skate like no one else can.
Which, of course, is why Supreme is Supreme. Started by James Jebbia (who also founded legendary streetwear store Union) in 1994 as a skate shop on Lafayette Street in New York City, Supreme took a simple Barbara Kruger-inspired, white-on-red box logo and built an empire. Stores in London, Tokyo, Paris and Los Angeles followed. Most recently, a Brooklyn outpost opened, and a San Francisco location is in the works. There are currently 11 Supreme shops worldwide, six in Japan alone.
But Supreme's enduring success came not from rapid expansion so much as a slow burn built on exclusivity, with a product line that features meticulously crafted basics, highly sought-after tees and carefully selected collaborations with very particular partners. Its reputation is such that, even after Supreme borrowed its iconic monogrammed style back in 2000, Louis Vuitton officially partnered with Supreme on a wide-ranging collection for Fall-Winter 2017.
Supreme has lasted 24 years and counting, an eternity for a streetwear brand, even longer for a NYC-based skate shop. Their Lafayette Street neighbors have changed, but Supreme hasn't. Even a sale of a minority stake to investment firm The Carlyle Group last year hasn't really affected how Supreme stays itself. There are still daily lineups on Lafayette Street and around the corner onto Prince Street.
New releases on Thursdays lead to immediate sellouts online of the most coveted items, which range from basic T-shirts to items such as hair ties and storage jars. Most infamously, in Fall-Winter 2016, Supreme even dropped a literal brick, cast with its logo on it. People mostly expressed confusion, but the brick sold out anyway. It's currently selling for more than double its original price on resale site StockX.
Yet even as Supreme has stayed mostly the same, the fashion landscape around it has changed tremendously. Just look at the Louis Vuitton example; in 2000, Supreme copied Vuitton to give its own products a high-end gloss. Now, top-tier brands like Vuitton and Gucci are looking to streetwear brands and designers to refresh their own images and lines. By staying true to what it was founded on and creating what it knew to be good, and by not following, Supreme became a leader.
Next year will be Supreme's 25th anniversary, and that figures to be celebrated in proper Supreme fashion: box logo tees to be sure, and likely another collaboration with Nike, whose Smith-headed campaign was merely the latest product of a long-standing partnership. It started with the creation of the most sought-after Dunks of all time, and collaborations on iconic models such as the Air Force 1 and Foamposite One couldn't even be sold at the NYC flagship store for fear of riots.
Supreme is more than just a skate shop that made it big. It is a classic New York success story. Like Jay-Z turned his fantasies of wealth into a near-billionaire reality through both hard work and sheer chutzpah, Supreme took its "World Famous" slogan and made it the truth. Long may Supreme reign.
Russ Bengtson is a freelance writer based in NYC. He was previously a senior editor at Complex. Follow him on Twitter @russbengtson.
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