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.
With the unveiling of their Spring/Summer 2018 season last week, New York brand Supreme are once again creating conversations worldwide with an eclectic mix of products ranging from two-piece suits to all-over prints by graffiti artist Lee Quiñones.
Alongside the fascinating array of accessories, bold prints and ubiquitous branding, there is also an underlying social commentary about the current political climate in America. With the Trump administration dividing the country, America has witnessed a tumultuous period that has seen the business mogul turned POTUS offend pretty much every demographic you can imagine.
This season Supreme continue to air their views via their products with politically charged items such as the ‘MLK’ flannel and hoodie, the ‘Justice’ pendant and the ‘Molotov’ tee and pin badge. Also making a welcome return is the “Illegal Business Controls America” graphic, first seen in 2006.
Supreme was born from the streets of New York City, the planet’s most renowned melting pot of diversity and cultures. From the 1850s through the early 1900s, thousands of immigrants arrived in the United States to make their home in New York City via the first Federal immigration station on Ellis Island. Early settlers came from Ireland and Germany, then later from Italy, The Netherlands, Eastern Europe and Asia. The densely populated Manhattan Island, alongside the other four New York boroughs, are home to every race, religion, class and ethnicity so therefore can be a very liberal, creative and inspiring city.
Right from the start Supreme was always more than just an average skate store - the sheer diversity of the staff and shop regulars meant that there were always an interesting mix of views and opinions on everything from a certain skaters style, to the latest Jordans, to the current form of the NY Knicks. Politics and social commentary were often discussed, with the very landscape of NYC changing through the “zero tolerance” administration of Mayor Rudy Giuliani who took the position in Supreme’s founding year 1994. Although you can’t deny the impressive drop in crime rates during Giuliani’s time, many New Yorkers felt that their freedom was impeded by some of the stricter elements of the new policing policy. Skateboarders were particularly hit hard with bike cops busting skaters with tickets at popular Midtown skate spots like Union Square and the Ziegfeld Theatre, or simply for running red lights!
The graphic T-Shirt has always been a simple and effective walking billboard to express one’s social commentary and political views and Supreme are a brand unafraid to comment on the events surrounding them, so here’s a look back at some of Supreme’s most important political pieces.
Alabama 1963 T-Shirt
In 2002 Supreme released a photo graphic tee depicting a scene from the 1963 civil disorder in Birmingham, Alabama. On the night of 11th May 1963 a series of bombings targeted black leaders of the Birmingham Campaign - a mass protest for racial justice. The places bombed were the parsonage of Rev. A. D. King (brother of Martin Luther King Jr.) and a motel owned by Arthur George Gaston, a prominent African-American businessman in the South.
It was believed that the bombings were most likely planned and carried out by members of the Ku Klux Klan with the assistance of the local police. Following the attacks, a riot began as a protest against the police involvement and the United States government intervened with federal troops for the first time to control violence during a civil rights related riot.
9/11 Box Logo
After New York was struck by one of the deadliest terrorist attacks that the Western world had ever witnessed, Supreme stepped in to pay tribute to their home city. The simple Box Logo tee featured the stars and stripes of the American flag within the fill, and the fitting slogan “Home of the Bravest” on the rear to pay tribute to both the first responders who lost their lives at the scene and the resilience of the people of New York City in such a dark time.
Martin Luther King Jr
For their S/S18 collection, Supreme are officially working with the Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr. but back in 2003 they produced their first tribute to the civil rights legend. The airbrushed graphic tee depicted a portrait of the Baptist minister in a style often produced for memorials, wakes and funerals.
In an almost identical style to the previous years MLK shirt, Supreme paid homage to revolutionary advocate of human rights, Malcolm X. The airbrushed design features a rendition of the iconic Don Hogan Charles photograph of Malcolm X holding a rifle at the window of his home, that first appeared in the September 1964 issue of Ebony magazine.
The activist was once again adorning Supreme clothing in 2007 for a t-shirt graphic, and again in 2015 for an all-over-print capsule consisting of a baseball shirt, hooded sweatshirt, shorts and a beach towel.
I Hate Texas T-Shirt
Inspired by the lyrics to the Misfits song “Bullet”, here Supreme take a subtle dig at George W. Bush, the former Governor of Texas from 1995-2000, who would go on to become US president in 2001.
In light of the Iraq and Afghanistan war being given the go-ahead by President George W. Bush, Supreme showed their feelings when they released a series of anti-presidential products.
Bush Jr. wasn’t exactly the most popular guy in America when he was re-elected for a second term so Supreme decided to take voice their political views across clothing, stickers and skateboards.
The “Fuck Bush” box logo stickers were plastered all over NYC and LA and was also the message on one of Russian artist Andrei Molodkin’s hand drawn skateboard graphics for Supreme. This Molodkin designed “Fuck Bush” deck was also produced as a miniature finger-board to accompany Arktip Magazine issue 0024 later that same year.
This excellent T-Shirt graphic featured a clever rework of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Bagdhad in 2003, but switching out Hussein's face for that of the then US president George W. Bush.
Supreme continued their distaste for Bush Jr. with this not-so-subtle t-shirt graphic borrowing the logo from the movie “Dead Presidents”. The 1995 crime thriller was directed by the Hughes brothers and also lent its title to the 1996 promo single for Jay-Z’s debut album “Reasonable Doubt”.
Illegal Business Controls America
In 2005 Supreme released a t-shirt featuring a grainy black and white photograph of a man being held in handcuffs by F.B.I agents with a back print featuring lyrics from the Boogie Down Productions song “Illegal Business”.
Two years prior to the shirt’s release, a group of Manhattan brokers conned investors out of $2.5 million in fraudulent shares. One of these men, Igor Kotlyar, happened to be wearing a Supreme Box Logo t-shirt when arrested and Supreme saw an opportunity to utilise the photograph for their own benefit.
In 2007 Supreme revisited the slogan for an all-over-pint hoodie that was known for being favoured by Supreme affiliate and legendary New York writer Glenn O’Brien and can now be seen once again on the brands S/S18 skate decks and hoodie.
This graphic tee from 2005 depicts the image of an F.Z.L.N. solider (a left-wing revolutionary political movement based in Chiapas, Mexico) within a quote from Emiliano Zapata, the leader of the Mexican Revolution in the state of Morelos and the inspiration of the Zapatismo movement (later to be referenced in Supreme’s S/S17 collection).
The quote “prefiero morir de pie que vivir siempre arrodillado” translates to “I'd prefer to die standing, than to live always on my knees”
Black President T-Shirt
Almost an exact replica of the George W. Bush-baiting “Dead President” tee, the design was flipped three years later to pay tribute to Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States.
Democrat John F. Kennedy was a young and popular leader when he took office in 1961 and was voted third (behind Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa) in Gallup’s List of Widely Admired People of the 20th Century. His presidency only lasted a couple of years when he was tragically assassinated in Dallas, Texas on Friday 22nd November 1963.
Using a still of John and Jacquie Kennedy in their presidential motorcade just moments before the assassination, Supreme’s JKF t-shirt graphic is presented in an almost pop-art style image lovingly depicting the all-American couple smiling for their well-wishers in the crowd.
For their S/S 2013 collection Supreme released a “Kanga” style button up short sleeve shirt (in a similar vein to 2017’s Obama piece) as tribute to the 35th President of the United States.
Supreme “UnAmerican” Tee
Another example of Supreme taking a design and replacing a key element with their own branding is the “Supreme Is UnAmerican” t-shirt from 2014.
In 1990 illustrative artist Josh Gosfield produced a painting entitled “Censorship Is UnAmerican” that released as a limited edition run of 200 printed posters all signed by the artist himself. Later that year, MTV used the image for T-Shirts to promote their “Rock The Vote” campaign, highlighting the First Amendment right to protect freedom of lyrics in music.
Replicating the MTV shirt but replacing the title with “Supreme is UnAmerican” was another bold statement for Supreme to show the world they didn’t necessarily agree with some of their country’s policies.
With the sparsely attended and most protested presidential inauguration ceremony in history happening in Washington, over in NYC Supreme paid tribute to the outgoing head of office with their Obama portrait collection.
The range was inspired by the locally-made Kangas that residents of Ghana produced in honour of Obama’s first visit. Changing the word “Akwaaba” (Welcome) to “Supreme” the capsule of trousers, anorak and shirt didn’t go without controversy but was considered by most to be an excellent tribute to the former Mr. President.
Fuck The President
A short, simple message to the property tycoon turned POTUS lovingly displayed across a range of T-Shirts, pin badges, key chains and stickers.