How Supreme’s Box Logo Became an Iconic Design

The Supreme Weekly is a regular column examining and breaking down the influences behind the brand’s weekly drops, courtesy of our resident Supreme expert, Ross Wilson.

This week, Supreme starts to wind down its FW17 season with a strong selection of new products.

There’s the ‘90s-inspired License Plate puffy coat, the warning doormat, and even an NBA/Nike collaborative shooting sleeve, but by far the most hotly-anticipated item of all is also the oldest design – the classic Supreme Box Logo hooded pullover sweatshirt.

This year’s twist on the staple garment sees the hoodies mixing muted tones with a bright pop of color – black with lime green, brown with turquoise and grey with orange are a few of the seven colorways on offer. No doubt all these hoodies will have sold out from the Supreme webstore by 11.01am on Thursday, with the inevitable resell prices causing a meltdown on various online shopping platforms immediately afterwards.

Photo: Asia Typek / Highsnobiety

The Supreme Box Logo has grown to surpass notoriety within the skateboard and menswear scene to become a branding heavyweight that sits alongside such iconic symbols as Coco Chanel’s interlocking Cs, Nike’s Swoosh and Apple’s bitten fruit logo as one of the most recognizable logos worldwide.

So why has such a simple, early design become the most sought-after item in Supreme’s arsenal? For my Supreme Weekly column this week, I look back at the history of the infamous Supreme Box Logo.

Back in 1994 when James Jebbia was about to open Supreme on Lafayette Street in New York’s Soho district, his vision was simply to open a skateboard shop rather than an actual brand. He already had multi-brand retailer Union on Spring Street and also ran the Stüssy Chapter Store on neighboring Prince Street, so Supreme was to be the third outlet in his mini downtown retail empire. Independent skate stores are the beating hub of any skateboard community – a place where you can go to chill, watch videos, chat shit and meet up to go skate.

A key item for every independent skate store is the in-house shop tee – these tees (and sweats/hoods/stickers) are a great way for a shop to build revenue (at a good margin) and have the local community show its love for the store by repping it while out skating. When Supreme first opened its doors in April 1994, it was mainly stocked with hardware and soft goods from key brands of the time – Zoo York, Shorty’s, Spitfire, etc., but it also wanted to produce its own shirts for the opening day. Three T-shirts were designed, one featuring a 1970s skater, one with NY icon Travis Bickle from Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and one with just the shop’s simple logo – the word “Supreme” written in a white Futura Bold Oblique font inside a red rectangle.

This logo originally came about when Jebbia’s friend mocked up the original designs, which James felt looked a little flat, so he lent the designer a book on New York conceptual artist Barbara Kruger for inspiration. The new Supreme logo was a really bold and simple statement which perfectly complemented the clean style of the store itself. The Box Logo design was a direct homage to Kruger’s “text box” propaganda art style and the first case of the NY skate brand “sampling” other people’s designs – a concept it has successfully run with for the past two decades.

Having grown up in New Jersey, Barbara Kruger spent most of the late ‘60s-early ‘70s in Manhattan pursuing graphic design for magazines and designing book covers. After a period of teaching at the University of California, she returned to art and went on to produce a series of collages that would become her most recognizable work. Her statement piece “Your Body is a Battleground” was a poster for the 1989 Women’s March on Washington in support of legal abortion. The powerful work depicted a woman’s face bisected into positive and negative photographic reproductions with the striking slogan written in the now-familiar red-and-white boxes.

Photo: Shezi Manezi / Highsnobiety

Other notable Kruger pieces in this style include “We Don’t Need Another Hero” (1986) and “I Shop Therefore I Am” (1987), with the latter also being appropriated by Supreme for a T-shirt graphic in 1998. In an ironic twist, Kruger recently took over the branding of the LES Skatepark in downtown NYC with an art installation, and hosted a pop-up store in SoHo selling red/white branded products including tees, sweats and even skate decks.

With his own shop logo T-shirts outselling the more established skate brand clothing, Jebbia continued to commission a variety of color variations of the simple designs. He also partnered with American clothing manufacturer Brents Sportswear to produce heavyweight crewneck sweatshirts and hoodies featuring the same Box Logo embroidered on the chest.

The beauty of having such a simple design is that it’s easily adaptable for a multitude of variations. With the Box Logo slowly becoming a downtown New York status symbol for those in the know, Supreme’s in-house design team started getting creative with its branding and the red box started to appear in many new fills. New block colors, camouflage patterns, paisley fills and snakeskin prints were joined by remixed versions of popular brands such as Coca-Cola, Gucci, Burberry and Louis Vuitton – the latter of which brought a cease and desist order against Supreme in 2000, 17 years prior to the two brands working together on their official collaboration.

Photo: Peter Pabon / Highsnobiety

These simple yet inventive variations on the store logo shop tees started to become cult items, especially with traveling Japanese tourists seeking out a slice of authentic New York cool. Around the Dunk SB sneaker hype of 2002 it felt like anything that was limited edition was a bankable commodity, and Supreme soon found its standard T-shirts being resold for two to three times the retail price on the secondary market. It withdrew the design from constant sale at the Lafayette Street store and just brought out variations for special occasions.

This tighter supply only created more demand and ensured the designs mythical status within the streetwear community. Any time between 1994-2002 I used to be able to wander into the store and pick up a Box Logo T-shirt, sweatshirt or hoodie in a choice of colors; it was just a skate store shop tee. Nowadays, the social media rumor mill is constantly whirling around “Box Logo Hype” – when will this season’s drop/which colors/what’s the collab, etc. It’s become the most in-demand design in Supreme’s stellar line-up each year, which is pretty impressive considering its humble origins.

So the final question…which color will you be going for?

Next up, here’s the most comprehensive history of Supreme you’ll find on the internet.