It doesn’t need saying that Supreme’s profile has grown exponentially in recent years. But just when you think the New York brand couldn’t possibly get any more prominent, it manages to hit yet another visibility landmark.
Last weekend, for instance, the Guardian published an article titled “Supreme gear resells for hundreds of dollars. So why are people burning it?” If you somehow happen to be even less informed about strange Internet fads than the average British newspaper reader, then let me fill you in: a small but vocal minority of streetwear influencers with sizable social media followings have transitioned from making unboxing videos to filming themselves as they destroy Supreme gear, which they then upload to YouTube or Instagram.
The incentives for publishing this sort of vandalistic content are obvious: Supreme is a coveted brand whose products sell for wince-inducing mark-ups on the resale market, which means that it’s only accessible to those with very deep pockets or a willingness to sleep on the pavement outside of a Supreme store before drop day like a vagrant. The shock value of cutting up a box logo tee or incinerating a rare hoodie is inevitably going to attract a deluge of clicks and views because it’s fundamentally no different to feeding wads of cash into a paper shredder.
It’s profoundly cynical, but it’s also logical: the Internet is an outrage economy that propelled an overgrown Twitter troll to the White House. If you want to get attention — or engagement, rather — which you can later monetize, pissing people off is a pretty reliable way to do it. Yet, at the same time, it feels like there’s something deeper at play here. Setting Supreme gear on fire might be pure clickbait, but it also feels like the most “Supreme” thing ever.
All fashion labels strain to exude an air of aloof coolness, but Supreme does it so well that it often feels like an expression of contempt. Aside from self-published lookbooks and drop previews, the brand doesn’t engage in anything that might come across as self-promotion. It also seems like the employees in its flagship stores have been told to do the opposite of what most people might call “service with a smile,” instead making the customer feel unwelcome (or at least, they have done in the past).
Some of the brand’s more peculiar items — the notorious Supreme brick, the Supreme toothpicks, the box of Supreme band-aids — come across as disdainful jokes designed to mock its fanboys. It’s like James Jebbia is trying to make it very clear that he knows that his devotees will buy anything with a box logo on it, so he actively tries to come up with ever-more absurd or ugly releases because he wants his customers’ parents to feel ashamed of them. The cumulative effect of this is that the relationship between hardcore fans and the brand sometimes feels sadomasochistic.
On some level, these Supreme bonfires feel like a mirror image of this very specific brand-customer dynamic. It’s almost as if a small number of content-creating fanboys are trying to send a “fuck you” back to Jebbia by showing they’ve transcended the hype trap. By destroying highly-prized gear that so many thirst over, they’re trying to prove that they aren’t slaves to the drop, that just like the brand itself, they don’t give a shit either. It’s like they’re trying to set themselves apart from the type of doting collector who buys up pieces and locks them away in vacuum-sealed packaging so they can be worshipped for all eternity. These videos come across as something thought up by the union of Supreme’s shop assistants in an attempt to make hypebeasts cry. It all feels very on-brand — like Jebbia commissioned them himself.
The central appeal of Supreme — aside from its air of detached, ironic cool — is its scarcity. The brand’s products retail for fairly reasonable sums, so it’s not the price tags that imbue the gear with an aura of exclusivity (as is the case for most fashion labels), it’s the artificially-limited supply. But as much as Supreme tries to make its products scarce, it’s clear that the brand has never been more accessible. With the opening of its San Francisco store, Supreme now has twelve flagships around the world, and thanks to resale sites like Grailed, copping has become easy. Sure, the markups create a very steep barrier to entry, but money is the banalest signifier of exclusivity. Any clothing label can print off an exorbitant price tag, but once upon a time, Supreme was different. In the pre-Internet era, if you wanted to get your hands on the brand’s wares, you couldn’t just lazily scroll through eBay the day after a drop; you had to source them yourself.
As a result of this, wearing Supreme has never felt more mundane. Not only has the Internet made the brand more accessible than ever, but its prevalence on Instagram and in street style shots also creates a feeling of over-saturation, which further diminishes its perceived scarcity and, in turn, its exclusivity.
So, perhaps what these Supreme vandals are doing on a subconscious level is trying to reclaim some of that lost exclusivity by physically ruining the brand’s stuff. If anyone can save up to buy themselves some Supreme gear these days, then destroying these status symbols becomes a status symbol in itself, and signals to the fanboys and fashion victims that you’re part of a small and obnoxious elite that has little regard for pedestrian concerns such as cash or desirability. If only this phenomenon wasn’t so clearly designed to attract Internet engagement, it would exude precisely the sort of blasé nihilism that made Supreme so famous.