Since its very beginnings, Supreme has varnished its veneer of untouchable New York cool with a rotating selection of carefully-curated artist collaborations. Of course, you can argue from the get-go that the brand’s founding, iconic red-box logo is a direct reference to the textual art of Barbara Kruger.
So, as David Shapiro argued in his book chronicling his Supreme addiction, Supremacist, maybe the brand truly is a critical art project masquerading as fashion’s arbiter of hype?
Nevertheless, over the past twenty-three years, Supreme founder James Jebbia, has tapped the likes of graffiti legends like Dondi White to the richest living artist in the world, Damien Hirst, to lend some art-inspired, aesthetic treatment to his label’s fashion output.
If we’re to believe the Supreme SS17 leaks, then the brand just might be reprising its collaborative history with the contemporary art world’s most famous troll, Richard Prince. Supreme and Prince previously worked together on a series of skate decks back in 2007, but this time around, it looks like the collaboration could encroach on the brand’s ridiculously coveted wearables. The brand’s traditional image teasing its latest collection is a trucker jacket with a huge back print of a cowboy on horseback — which looks a lot like something Prince would do.
Prince’s work has always maintained a sense of artificiality, with grazing comments on consumer culture, so this could potentially be a very harmonious union. Naturally, Supreme’s peculiar ascent to global fashion empire is anchored by its mystique, Jebbia’s signature reclusiveness and the brand’s commitment to limited-run collections. Every time, every drop, you can expect a snaking line outside one of Supreme’s global flagships without fail. Seriously, Supreme’s open anti-fashion stance yet utter industry dominance could very well be one of our generation’s most prolific artist statements.
Similarly, Prince has built his career on vexing people, or rather, the art of appropriation. Most notably, he recreated photographs such as Girlfriends – a series of biker magazine pinup models, made sculptures of found objects such as car hoods or flip flops, and developed collage-like cowboy images created from Marlboro’s cigarette advertisements. The latter work is actually what points to the fact this collaboration is maybe more than just a hunch on our part.
Mr. Prince’s fascination with the cowboy as a quintessential American image started when he first rephotographed cigarette ads in the early ’80s. In a publication accompanying the exhibition, Prince wrote about the cowboy in question: “He’ll try to ignore any insult … but if pressed, poked or prodded, we like to think he’ll deck the jerk with a single old-fashioned roundhouse and go back to sipping his whiskey before he was interrupted.” With that in mind, Prince’s cowboy is a pretty sensical, nonchalant mascot for Supreme to salute.
More pertinently, both Supreme and Prince are well known to leverage their cultural clout to inspire debate, agitation, and court derision. Prince recently made headlines in 2016 with his New Portrait series where he casually appropriated the Instagram posts of other people. He then put the works on show at Gagosian Gallery with some very hefty price tags. On the flipside, it’s barely been a year since Supreme dropped a divisive, limited edition brick emblazoned with its logo. If Supreme really were an undercover artist collective then its “brick move” could very well be compared to the work of the French Situationists.
The Situationists, who grew out of a student-led French movement, were a group of artists in the ’60s with pretty comparable practices to the Supreme we know and love. They often subverted known corporate logos, which they dubbed “détournement”, much like the ubiquitous “logo-flips” pioneered by both Supreme and Prince’s legendary penchant for appropriation.
In any case, whether this collaboration is true or not, or simply a nostalgic nod to Supreme’s 2009 collaboration with Marlboro, the brand has built its legacy on a wildly open approach to fashion. They’ve always been at the forefront of incorporating art into street culture and mixing the two worlds freely, so we can definitely expect something big for Supreme’s SS17 drop.
- Cover Image: Supreme