When New York designer James Jebbia first started Supreme as a downtown skate shop in 1994, nobody knew it would become the billion-dollar brand it is today, partly because it was struggling. As the first Supreme shop stood on Lafayette Street in Lower Manhattan — the city’s first real skate shop — it faced meager sales, up until they started to manufacture their own T-shirts. The brand was born.
But how did Supreme become the global mainstay it is today? A recently published encyclopedic book titled Supreme (Vol. 2), features more than 800 images detailing their streetwear story and all the friends they've made along the way. Counting collabs with David Lynch, KAWS, Public Enemy, Martha Cooper, and Damien Hirst, they’ve also staged shoots by Ryan McGinley, Harmony Korine, Larry Clark and Kenneth Cappello and campaigns featuring Lady Gaga and Nas. It’s almost as if anything Supreme touches turns to cool.
Supreme is defined by their attitude. As Jebbia says, “The staff would come out with the cocky attitude, but everything always looked really good.” While their first Phaidon book, Supreme (Vo.l 1), featured its peak moments from 1994 to 2009, the second installment looks at all their more recent highlights from 2010 to 2018, including a shoot with Kate Moss, a poem by Korine, and collabs with Nobuyoshi Araki and David Sims (and there’s stickers, too). From their own Fender guitar to an Everlast punching bag, toys, backpacks, lawn chairs and even cookies, here’s a quick and dirty oral history of artists, designers and filmmakers who have worked with the brand in recent years.
Jakuan Melendez, 360 Toy Group
“My experience working and collaborating with Supreme was memorable. James Jebbia is someone who knows exactly what he wants and wants to achieve. Working with him was trying and true. But the experience I wouldn’t trade. It was early on before the “board” and before the hype came on. It has changed a lot since then. Hard work and perseverance made a good brand back in the 1990s, where now it’s all about hype and social presence that can make and break a brand overnight. But James always had a plan. So, it was a lot easier to collaborate with Supreme than now, being that James and I have been friends and associates since the 1990’s. I managed his Union store in Soho before he started Supreme. When I left to start the 360 Toy Group, it was only natural that he entrusted me to make Supreme’s first toy named Camacho. Also, no one was doing this kind of product back then. Whereas, nowadays, there are so many companies doing the same things. More like a copycat culture. I definitely miss the old New York, where everyone did their own thing and shared ideas and resources —before things became corporate.”
Carlo McCormick, Culture Critic and Curator
“The brand strategy is precisely that of the skaters it represents: subversive and invasive, antiauthoritarian and iconoclastic, about velocity and elevation, mischief and magic, the moment of gravitational defiance and that of sudden impact. This is search-and-destroy, trespass, impolite, and in-your-face yet born of an infinite grace.”
Justin Norvell, EVP of Fender Product
“Supreme as a brand means a lot to the Fender team. Many of us came up in skate culture, and their iconic music collab like Neil Young and Lou Reed, as well as more contemporary artists like OFWGKTA, felt like a brand that was well aligned with us. Fender’s musical lineage goes from Motown to the birth of funk and hip hop to punk rock, and the rebellious spirit resonates with us. We had mutual friends and acquaintances, so the collab was super organic and was not a cold call and didn’t start as just business. The experience was great, and it was really cool to see the degree of care and quality control they have. It was an elegantly simple interpretation of the Fender Stratocaster, in a semi-deconstructionist and minimalist way. It turned out amazing. I was in the store on Fairfax in Los Angeles the day of the drop when they opened the doors — it was unreal!”
Ralph Bakshi, Director
“My 1975 animated film ‘Coonskin’ was always hip-hop in animation. It was easy working with Supreme, who loved it also. Supreme understood what my art and films are about and their cultural relevance to our nation’s ongoing history. Let’s keep reminding all of us to keep telling our stories, our real stories, no matter what people want to truly acknowledge. Supreme brought these images to the forefront of our minds again. Kids looked. They questioned. They researched. They asked. I like that.”
Harmony Korine, Director and Writer
“James tapped into a secret sauce... and they've kept strong because youth propels the culture, and they are always on the side of the youth. You can’t fake that.”
Russ Karablin, Founder of SSUR
“I’ve ghost designed for Supreme for the past two decades, maybe even longer. It has been both an inspiration and a vessel for expression. I’m also one of the few who have done several collaborations with SSUR and Supreme; graphic tees, like the ‘King Kong’ shirt, another was ‘Once Upon a Time in America,’ and one was ‘Public Enemy #1.’ Some of the stuff I did for Supreme about 20 years ago has resurfaced recently, as well, like the ‘Illegal Business Controls America’ sweater and the blinged out bogo logo tee. The brand is always on time. The planets were aligned when they started to surface. I believe there was definitely a need for Supreme for skater kids — there was a need for a place to be identified with a cultural movement. Supreme was the first relevant skate shop in New York City. It made sense at the time; it was a great name. James was methodical and knows what he’s doing, basically. The brand has always been on point, it’s not like they started doing things different. The reason they are where they are is because they maintained a certain posture throughout the years, and certain guidelines of how the brand was going to be seen. Now that it’s in the limelight, it always has been steady, in my opinion.”
Darryl “Joe Cool” Daniel, Artist
"I was truly blessed that they reached out to me. They were straight business from start to finish. I was given the freedom of ‘DO WHAT YOU DO!’ I wish that I could remember the kid’s name who flew from NYC to give me an advance in cash, plus their instructions. They were fair but not generous. The ‘Joe Cool’ line that I did with them did well in its opening and continues to do so — if you can find any shirts. They sent me six small shirts that I couldn’t fit in! My manager at the time stole three of them. I would gladly work with Supreme again on a new piece or pieces to create more of that iconic Joe Cool Supreme magic. I wish I could remember who to contact over there. Supreme: Hit me up! Let’s do something!"
R. Crumb, Cartoonist
“Highsnobiety? What’s their main area of focus, and is it supposed to be funny, or what? I don’t have a computer myself but I s’pose I could get my secretary to look for it and check it out. But I must confess that I have no idea what you are talking about here. The Supreme brand? What was it like collaborating with Supreme…? You will have to elucidate further, I’m afraid. They make T-shirts? They used images of mine “a number of years ago?” Where are they located?”