Supreme has started to become a major hitter in the fashion culture over the past few years. From big fashion YouTube stars and bloggers to major celebs and even collaborations with Comme des Garçons. Supreme is making major noise for the streetwear scene in the fashion world but the founder thinks otherwise. James Jebbia, the man who, in 1994, founded and to this day runs the SoHo-based company that has been making clothing and skateboards and a lot of other things that the people who love it absolutely have to have, doesn’t think of Supreme the way most people in fashion might—as a brand that started out in a small store on Lafayette Street and has since inched its way to legendary global status. He thinks of Supreme more as a space. When Jebbia was a teenager in Crawley, West Sussex, in the eighties, working at a Duracell factory, listening to T. Rex and Bowie on breaks and spending his spare cash on trips to London to buy clothes, it was always in a certain elusive kind of store—one that became the model for Supreme.
His office a few blocks west of the Supreme store is adorned with a skateboard designed by Raymond Pettibon; some drawings by Jebbia’s kids, age 8 and 10; and a larger-than-life-size portrait of James Brown—whom Jebbia, crucially, sees as not just the hardest-working man in showbiz but as a guy who never played down to his audience. Jebbia is, likewise, ever-mindful of his customer, who is generally aged eighteen to 25 and wants simply to buy cool stuff—and who will pay for it, assuming it’s worth it.
What began as a male focused enterprise has slowly increasingly become more adorned by girl skaters and youth culture which has lately become a genderless culture. With models and female celebs posting Instagram photos of themselves wearing supreme whether they are on the runway or at a party.
“When you see the lines for Supreme in New York or London,” says Jones, “you see so many different types of people, and they are people you can relate to—they understand high-low, they’re smart, they’re intelligent, and they’re humorous. They know what they want, and they are very loyal—and a customer who is loyal is a real aspiration for anybody with a brand.”
Recently the fashion world has been waking up to Supreme. In the past decade, the company has opened stores in Tokyo, London, and Paris, while the passionate devotion of their customers has brought it into the conversation with both teenagers at skateboard parks and the front rows of high fashion—with Paris in particular swooning over Supreme’s collaboration this fall with Louis Vuitton. Jebbia loved working with Kim Jones, Vuitton’s menswear designer, to make skateboard trunks and backpacks, bandannas and gloves, shirts and jackets.
The Vuitton collaboration was also, for many in fashion, their first glimpse into the secretive world of Supreme, which has become a kind of shorthand for authenticity, immediacy, speed, and deftness in its way of doing business. More than just selling sweats and tees and hats, the brand brings out a new collection two times a year, like any fashion company—generally, an online look-book, followed by a few pieces dropped every Thursday, each item available both online and in the stores. A Supreme drop, for those who haven’t experienced it, is an event. “We can have a leather jacket for $1,500, and if it’s a good value, young people will understand that,” Jebbia says. “But we also want to have the feeling that this won’t be here in a month. When I grew up, I think everybody felt that way. It’s like, If I love this, it may not be here, so I should buy it.”
Nothing about Supreme was planned in advance, its success a coincidence of place, time, and hard work. Initially, Supreme made only a few T-shirts. Then their customers arrived wearing Carhartt matched with Vuitton, Gucci with Levi’s. Soon Supreme tried a cotton hoodie, realizing that if it was simply made a little better than what was out there, skaters would be willing to pay a little more for it. According to Jebbia, this sort of thinking isn’t unique to skate culture. “Gucci is saying, ‘Hey—just because you’re young doesn’t mean you won’t love this $800 sweatshirt,’” he says. Jebbia can’t say enough about designers who respect young buyers rather than simply use them to attract press. The genius of Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s creative director, as he sees it, is that he doesn’t just show young people wearing pieces on the runway; he hopes they’ll actually wear them as they go about their lives.
Jebbia is really changing the fashion world by allowing the skate culture and people from the entertainment industry collaborate with supreme and allowing them to influence and come up with creative ideas for the major streetwear designer, instead of the designer coming up with all the ideas for the brand. This is why supreme is becoming increasingly successful because the youth culture loves to wear clothes that more so caters to them and express more about who they are than what the brand thinks what young people like. I think Supreme has a long future in the fashion world because their young audience loves the creative aspect of the brand but yet they are staying hip to what young people like and are drawn too.