When Supreme yesterday launched its SS17 collection, the Barack Obama-themed pieces (a pullover, shirt and trousers) were the first to be plucked out and shared around the Highsnobiety office here in Berlin. The incredible design, the reference to wider popular culture, the timing of the drop — it was hallmark Supreme.
Of course, as with almost every single Supreme item ever made, there’s a backstory to the new Obama pieces — and it’s currently ruffling a few feathers on social media. Perhaps, justifiably.
As Instagram user supreme_copies points out, the story dates back to 2009, during Obama’s first year in office. The new president makes a visit to Ghana, and, to commemorate the visit, locals made “Kangas” — a long, flowing garment covered in vibrant, colorful patterns and political graphics that is traditional to Kenya and other African countries in the Great Lakes region.
Supreme being Supreme, the streetwear label changed the Ga word “Akwaaba” (welcome, in English) on the fabric to “Supreme,” and splashed it across the new pieces. This has led to some people accusing the brand of appropriating traditional African culture without giving proper credit. Part of the accusations stem from Supreme’s usage of adinkra symbols, which originated with the Ashanti people of Ghana. The symbols tend to represent larger truths that have deep cultural meaning and significance.
Supreme’s re-appropriated pattern features a gye nyame, which symbolizes the supremacy of a higher power (God), and the adwa or “stool,” which was once a centerpiece of the home. It remains a deeply political symbol as the “ohene adwa” or stool of the king can indicate governmental order and authority. Fans of the brand, however, argue that Supreme has been doing this kind of thing since the beginning, and that it’s more of a homage to the design, rather than outright theft.
The sleuth behind supreme_copies also notes that actress Victoria Rowells wore a dress made from the same textile to the Emmy Awards in the same year.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.
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