Another day, another Supreme collaboration makes its way into the world. Having already used T-shirts to pay homage to the likes of Morrissey, The Clash, Neil Young, Lee Scratch Perry, Public Enemy, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, The Misfits, Sex Pistols founder Malcolm McClaren, and countless other pop cultural alumni in the past, now it’s the turn of heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath to join the brand’s disparate archive.
Unsurprisingly, the announcement that Supreme has seen fit to immortalise Sabbath (as if they hadn’t already achieved such status) by emblazoning key parts of the group’s iconography onto a range of streetwear was met with a barrage of cynicism. Supreme can scarcely do anything these days without eliciting a mean-spirited chortle in the comments section of sites such as this, where haters wait with bated fingers to seize upon any misstep with all the futile rage of a scorned ex-lover. I suppose that’s one of the unfortunate pitfalls of being an irrefutable, relentless commercial success.
But while many of Supreme’s detractors can be dismissed as contrarian trolls, there’s a certain potency to the criticism of this collection in particular — something the brand is unable to simply shrug off. When commenters post things like “you should have to take a test about the subject before buying a Supreme collab,” they highlight an uncomfortable truth about the brand’s collaboration strategy, one that I’ve pointed out before: much of the time, it simply doesn’t make sense.
Discounting obvious celeb-appeal, you have to wonder why, exactly, a brand like Supreme is interested in collaborating with a band like Black Sabbath? Sticking Biggie’s image on a T-shirt is understandable, with both brand and rapper sharing a great many New York street culture overlaps, but a British metal band whose heydey was in the 1970s and has next to no relation to skateboarding or streetwear? That seems incongruous at best.
In a previous article I once called Supreme the fashion equivalent of Planet Hollywood, and this latest move does little to dissuade me of the opinion that it has built a brand out of a collection of random pop cultural trinkets tied together by “edgy” novelty, rather than some deeply thought out philosophy.
Granted, Supreme has paid tribute to bands in the Black Sabbath mould before — namely punk rock stalwarts The Clash, Bad Brains, and Dead Kennedys. And, as “safe” or “obvious” as these choices might seem to anyone remotely attuned to the punk and hardcore scenes, it could genuinely be that the brand’s choice of collaborative guest subjects is driven by nothing more than the designers’ own musical nostalgia. Yet, what effort does Supreme ever go to to communicate this? Is there any sense of personality in any of its actions? Does it encourage younger fans to go out and actually learn more about these artists, perhaps in a similar fashion to the way they once did?
One look over the press release for the Black Sabbath collaboration should answer that. Put bluntly, it might as well have been lifted from Wikipedia.
And therein lies one of the most spurious things about Supreme’s practice of collaboration: just how inert, emotionless and functional it seems. Everything feels so calculated, so premeditated; is each collection a genuine tribute, or simply a marketing ploy? And if it’s the latter, who benefits from whom? Is Supreme doing these bands a favour by giving them its uniquely potent commercial co-sign, or is it Supreme that’s actually seeking to bolster its own supposed counter-cultural cool by leeching off them?
What’s particularly suspect about the Black Sabbath collab is the timing. Not only is the band currently in the midst of a nine-month farewell tour — one where they’ve put aside old acrimonies and re-enlisted Ozzy Osbourne to really pull in those stadium crowds for one last pension-topping payday — but it also comes just six weeks after Raised By Wolves announced its own collaboration with the band.
Maybe this can be put down to mere coincidence. After all, news of Sabbath’s impending retirement is sure to spark pangs of sentimental nostalgia in anyone with genuine feelings towards the band. But rumors suggest that the collection was, more-or-less, commissioned by the band’s record label, Universal. If true, this is little more than an utterly insincere effort in merchandising, and no more credible than sweatshop-manufactured Ramones T-shirts sold in your local Topshop or Hot Topic.
I should add that this final point remains unconfirmed. Black Sabbath is, after all, one of the most iconic bands heavy metal has ever known, and probably its most mainstream cultural representative (alongside Metallica). As such, if the guys at Supreme are, in fact, genuine fans, it’s not exactly an Earth-shattering revelation. Likewise, you’ll no doubt find a few fanboys camping out on Lafayette today who can hum the riff to “Paranoid.” But maybe that’s the problem — for a brand that devotes so much energy to presenting itself as the enfant terrible of street fashion, this is a choice about as edgy and subversive as a Volvo.
Ultimately, the reason why this latest collaboration has raised so many eyebrows is because it’s unclear who, exactly, it serves. Aside from being completely aesthetically incompatible with the metalhead uniform, it’s unlikely that any true die-hard Black Sabbath fans are going to sit there, refreshing their browsers, in an attempt to beat the bots to the drop.
You could say that Sabbath makes no more of a confusing collab partner than last year’s choice of Neil Young, but maybe that tells us everything we need to know about the collection: it’s made for Supreme, by Supreme, using Ozzy and co. as a mirror to reflect its own longevity and “OG” status. Judging from the response, not everybody is as enamoured with the brand as it is with itself.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.