On the day Supreme’s Spring/Summer 2010 collection was due to release, I got up that Saturday around 7, had a shower, ate some breakfast, and then ran out to catch the train up to London. Green Park is one stop away from London Victoria on the underground, so I probably got to Dover Street Market around 9:30. There was still an hour and a half until the store opened, but there was already around 20 people lined up outside. There wasn’t anyone I recognized though, so I figured most of the people were out-of-towners, foreign students or people who’d come across to London specially for the drop – this was a common occurrence.
After a long wait, the store opened and security began gradually letting people down, two at a time. Once you got down into the DSM basement, the store had been pretty much put on lockdown to facilitate the release, with all the clothes rails set up in the centre like a pen. You’d get the attention of a member of staff, point out what you wanted and what size you wanted, and someone would run out back and grab you one from the stockroom.
As I was looking through the rails, I noticed that season’s backpack on the floor, so picked it up to check it out. Two seconds, later, I felt someone shove me. ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ ‘What?’ ‘This is my stuff. What the fuck are you doing?’ ‘I was just lo–‘
It turned out I’d inadvertently been looking at some French guys personal pile of purchases and was now being accused of stealing stuff he hadn’t even purchased yet. Fortunately, a member of staff came over to calm things down – ‘Hey, hey, guys, it’s alright, there’s enough Supreme for everyone.’
It was around that time it hit me that I was part of a very peculiar subculture.
I first got into buying clothes in 2008, when I was about 16 years old. Like most people, I got my first part-time job (in my case, working at a restaurant in my hometown), got a bit of disposable income for the first time and was keen to find something to do with it.
A few months earlier, a friend had been showing me the website for a skate brand in NYC who he described as ‘the best brand in the world’. Seeing as I had some cash burning a hole in my pocket, I decided to check out how I might go about getting my hands on something from them.
Of course, the brand was Supreme. At that point I really knew nothing about the brand beyond the basic details, and hadn’t anticipated how difficult buying something as simple as a t-shirt could possibly be. When your experience of clothes shopping has never been anything more complicated than going to H&M, trying some stuff on and taking it home, the phenomenon of the streetwear scene comes as a huge culture shock.
Of course, Supreme had its online store at that time, so I was able to get a gauge of prices, but considering they didn’t offer shipping outside of the United States, it was no use to me.
I’d heard there were forums where people bought and sold their collections, but I wasn’t about to blow my first pay check gambling on a t-shirt that might or might not fit me, and I’d heard enough horror stories about the number of fakes on eBay to put me off buying anything from there for the time being. I needed to find a real shop, and I had two options.
Before Peter Street had Supreme and before Brewer Street had Palace, there was the Hideout on Upper James Street (and before that, Bond International, but that’s long before my time, so go read Gary Warnett’s blog for more on that chapter).
Run by Gimme 5 – a streetwear distribution company founded by Michael Kopelman, founding member of the original London Stüssy tribe and one of UK streetwear’s “Patient Zeros” – for a long time the Hideout was virtually the only place in London to get your hands on a number of Japanese and American brands that are comparatively commonplace these days – Neighborhood, WTaps, Visvim, OriginalFake, Porter, GOODENOUGH, Head Porter Plus, Bearbrick and so on.
And, of course, Supreme.
As a result, the Hideout staff were effectively the gatekeepers of London streetwear culture, and they knew it. And when you’re selling some of the best brands coming out of Japan but have to constantly deal with a bunch of gassed up kids looking for camp caps and box logo t-shirts, you can imagine how it might take its toll on your customer service standards. If you weren’t one of the regulars, getting a straight answer was often an uphill struggle.
I remember being out in London one Saturday and heading by the store to see what they had in stock, which was rarely more than a few t-shirts and maybe a pair of chinos. It was around the time of the first Sean Cliver collaboration in 2010, so while I was in there, I sparked up a conversation with one of the more friendly staff and asked if they would be getting any of it in, and when it would be in stock. He didn’t know, so he got the attention of one of the older guys and asked, ‘When are we getting the Cliver stuff in?’ The guy looked down at my shoes. Then up at me. Then back down at my outfit. Then looked back up at me. ‘Soon.’
Then walked off into the stockroom.
This was probably one of the more amicable experiences. A friend of mine once told me that he went along one day, and as he was about to enter, a guy smoking a cigarette outside the store stopped him. ‘Store’s closed today, mate.’ My friend looks through the shop windows and sees people browsing through the rails and paying for stuff at the counter. ‘Really?’ ‘Yeah, shop’s closed. Come back another time.’ This friend had a bit of a habit for exaggeration, and I’ll admit that it sounds a little bit farfetched. But the fact that I could imagine it happening, even for a second, should tell you enough about the Hideout experience. Even if the story itself never happened, there’s still a strange truth to it.
All of this predates the dependable Supreme Thursday morning release schedule, as well. With Supreme running things at their own store, there’s now an infrastructure that they operate; vertical integration. Hideout would only buy certain pieces from every collection, and deliveries were unpredictable as fuck.
You’d hear on the grapevine that a certain piece would be arriving that week, so you’d run into central on a Saturday to get there for the 11am opening time, only to find out that the delivery had been held up in customs, or that they hadn’t ordered that piece in the first place (and in the light of the stories I told you before, it was hard to tell if anything you were being told was true).
Scarcity has always been part of the magic of Supreme; much of the brand’s mythos is built around the idea that they always produce less product than they know they could sell. But back then, this was amplified to the extreme. Hideout probably got single digit numbers of caps and t-shirts, and maybe one in each size of jackets.
Seeing somebody wearing a coveted piece from the latest season in London meant one of two things; they knew the right people, or they’d gotten their stuff straight from the New York store. Seeing somebody else wearing the brand was genuinely electric.
Around 2008 or ’09, things got a little bit easier when Dover Street Market began stocking Supreme also, in the basement of their original location on Dover Street. They would generally get larger quantities of stuff, the selection would be broader, and staff were friendly and happy to help, but the mark-up on some stuff was also pretty nasty – around £75 for pocket tees if I remember correctly, for example.
Brands like Undercover, Visvim and Neighborhood were on nearby rails, and merchandised the Dover Street Market way. DSM was probably the place where I really started to pay attention to Japanese streetwear. You often hear wine lovers say that once you’re taught to taste and recognise good wine, it becomes very difficult to sit comfortably and drink from a bad bottle. I can still remember seeing this Neighborhood M65 jacket lined with real rabbit fur and everything finally making sense.
You’d think that having two different places to get Supreme would have made things easier, but in a way, it created a dilemma; between Hideout and DSM’s stock, supply was still way lower than demand, so when drop days came around you were faced a total gamble.
Every time you lined up at Hideout or DSM, you were hedging your bets that you had more of a chance there than anyone else. On more than one occasion there were situations where you’d get to DSM and see a line of 30 or 40 people, and you could feel the tension about whether people would be able to get what they want.
Then you’d bump into a mate on the way to Hideout and discover there was basically no one there, and they’d just walked in and gotten everything they want with no problem – useless information, because by the time you’d made the 10-minute walk over there, everything would be long gone. The Hideout/DSM dilemma was the economic principle of opportunity cost in practice.
There was never really any hostility or aggression to this, though. The number of people that came out on launch days was in the double digits – probably less than 50 people. We all got used to seeing other and joke about the absurdity of being part of this weird group of people clamoring to central London to stand in line… to buy clothes.
This was a time when the media was still getting to grips with the hysteria of people lining up for the latest iPhone. If journalists knew there was this tiny clique of people doing the same thing for t-shirts and caps, they would have had a field day. We all knew this.
In a time before Supreme had any real fame or notoriety in the UK, we all had slightly different stories about how we’d gotten into the brand, and kind of knew the whole thing was silly. But we all had similar stories about hanging out with our mates, who’d ask what the fuck we were wearing. Or that time we’d tried to explain “the Supreme thing” to them and they’d just looked at us like we were absolute maniacs.
So bumping into each other every couple of weeks and having a group of people to actually talk to on a level and relate to was a relief; once we’d got our stuff and could relax, we’d compare purchases, curse the person who managed to get one of the hyped pieces, then just hang out, go get lunch, hit up all the other stores and just do the usual ‘yoots in the city’ bullshit.
A large part of being a teenager, for some kids, is the realization that you don’t really fit in. Most schools in the UK have compulsory uniforms, so when you turn 16 and start going to college, wearing your own clothes, you start to notice the cliques a lot more. At my college, if you weren’t wearing Abercrombie & Fitch or Jack Wills, you were an outsider.
I think a lot of youth phenomenons, whether music, or Warhammer, or Supreme, or whatever, are an outlet for the kids coming to terms with the fact that they don’t quite fit in. That was certainly the case for me; it might sound stupid, but being able to walk into college wearing a brand that nobody knew, understood or cared about, was good for me.
It helped me to become okay with the idea that not fitting in could be empowering, and Supreme’s deeper layers of cultural references and celebrating counter-culture made that even more powerful; it turned my desire to be accepted into the realization that I was actually really switched-on to a lot of stuff. It wasn’t that I had failed at the popularity contest. The whole game was just beneath me.
When I started wearing Supreme and a lot of streetwear brands, I know now that it was a conscious effort to distance myself from the kids wearing all the same clothes and doing all the same things.
Today, Supreme is the cool brand, and when I occasionally walk past the massive lines on Peter Street, I see the types of people that I was desperate to not be a part of back when I was at college. But I don’t say that as an attack on those people; it’s all about me and how I view myself. I still have a desire to differentiate myself and mark myself as an outsider, so the idea of standing in a line of hundreds of people wearing the same thing turns me off, whether they’re wearing Supreme, Abercrombie or H&M.
What I do understand is that, in fairness, the basic experience hasn’t really changed. It just got a lot bigger. There are still groups of kids hanging out, making friends, enjoying themselves, doing all the same shit that I did, and I’m happy for them. The debate about Supreme’s status a brand of outsidership and rebellion will rage on.
Discussions about whether it’s possible for something to be counter-culture when everyone’s doing it will continue. Thinkpieces about why the youth have turned so heavily to fashion and clothing will continue to be written. Supreme is doing the same thing it always did. What changed is the youth. Because that’s what youth is all about; change.
Now see the guy who has $100,000 worth of Supreme in his bedroom.