Although rumors had been floating around for a while, Supreme officially announced today the opening of an online shop for its UK and European customers come Fall/Winter 2013. For the most part, the announcement is welcome news for its fans abroad who, short of heading to the London location, have had to pay exorbitant aftermarket prices not to mention steep shipping fees for their favorite piece. On a wider scale, however, initial reactions are mixed. The effects this decision might have on the New York brand in both the short and long term deserve a closer look, so we’ve decided to do just that by examining certain factors that put Supreme in a class of its own.
The brainchild of skate-fashion veteran James Jebbia, Supreme first opened its doors in 1994 on New York’s Lafayette Street. Since then, the brand has become a cultural icon with two storefront locations in the U.S., six in Japan and one in the UK. Many reasons exist for Supreme’s unrivaled success but they all seem to point to the same thing: the brand’s ability to defy classification. Worn by a skater in downtown New York, Supreme is a symbol of youthful rebellion; worn outside a runway show in Paris, it’s an accessory to high-fashion. Wherever you go and in any context, Supreme means something else.
Part of this ability to adapt lies in the brand’s exclusivity. For much of the brand’s lifespan, if you had a piece of it, it meant that not only had you been to a cultural capital like New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo or London, but that you knew exactly where to shop when visiting one of these world-class cities. Thus, the box logo, and by extension all of Supreme’s offerings, ran parallel to your contemporary taste and your Gulliver-like life.
The jet-set aspect changed, of course, with the opening of an online shop in both the US and Japan. Suddenly, Supreme was made available to an entirely new audience, who, besides needing to be quick, didn’t even have to leave their home to take part in the lifestyle cultivated by the brand. Still, throughout all this and from season to season the brand has managed to maintain its edgy appeal despite constantly being on the verge of the negative effects and associations brought on by mass exposure. It’s no big secret either how the brand accomplishes this feat. In a 2009 interview with Interview Magazine, Jebbia let out the following:
We’ve never really been supply-demand anyway. It’s not like when we’re making something, we make only six of them. But if we can sell 600, I make 400.
In recent years, this feverish demand has only become more apparent, proven by the urban camping preceding nearly every drop and the almost nonexistent shelf life of its online offerings. It’s impossible to pinpoint when or why this turned out to be the case but irreverent tastemakers like Tyler, The Creator and his Odd Future cohorts certainly have something to do with it. The young artists’ popularity catapulted the brand to the forefront and exposed Supreme to many who might otherwise never have heard of it. And while many deride and criticize this recent exposure, the brand remains as desirable as ever.
It goes without saying, this dramatic increase in popularity caused the brand to undergo a change in image towards one dangerously close to failing from its own success. But once again Supreme flexed its strongest muscle, its ability to defy categorization, and made it past this hurdle too. Thus, with the opening of an online shop for the UK and Europe, we should expect no less of the brand. It’s easy to rely on our cynical side and point out other brands that have met their doom with global popularity but Supreme, so far, has a near perfect track record.
In the end, like any business, it comes down to product. If Supreme keeps on delivering great product like they have for the past 20 years, then this move shouldn’t be a problem. Distributing to new markets is the next logical step and a decision every successful brand has to face at one point or another. How they approach this evolution and whether or not they’re able to maintain their coveted image or morph it into something new and better remains to be seen. As fans of the brand, we hope they’re able to but only time will tell.