Supreme has no qualms with provoking the sensibilities of religious groups, as the collaboration with Andres Serrano and his backlash-inducing "Piss Christ" artwork from 2017 made very clear. Four years on and the brand is at it again, this time an item from the forthcoming SS21 drop could lead to a copyright case filed by Thailand’s National Office of Buddhism.
The SS21 camouflage "Blessings Ripstop Shirt" features an image on the back depicting the highly celebrated late monk Luang Phor Koon smoking a cigarette. According to The Fashion Law, this is one of the "most popular" images of the monk. It was apparently taken with his permission circa 2002 and initially used to raise funds for Wat Ban Rai, a Nakhon Ratchasima province temple.
Supreme has used the image and surrounded it with Yant script (a tattoo design reserved for Buddhist monks and Brahmin holy men; it is also potentially subject to copyright), patches, and a Supreme logo. Take a look below.
The Bangkok Post (via TFL) reports that the temple was never approached by Supreme to ask for permission, nor query the potential appropriation of a religious figure. However, the question of whether they needed permission in the first place remains up for debate.
According to Thailand’s Department of Intellectual Property director-general Vittikrai Leewiraphan, the intellectual property body does not currently maintain a copyright registration for the specific image of Luang Phor Koo or the Yant design, so the Wat Ban Rai Temple will need to present proof that it created them.
Nick Redfearn from Intellectual Property global leader Rouse said that the image of the smoking monk "is probably protected by copyright, but subsistence and ownership may need to be proven." He added that the Yant script could be considered an applied art and, in Thailand, this copyright expires 25 years from the date that the work was created.
Finally, Tawatchai Sanprasit, manager of the Wat Ban Rai temple, has said a statement "we will discuss the issue [with Supreme], and find out what the brand’s purpose is,” noting that the temple will then decide what action can be taken against the brand."
For more details on Supreme's latest copyright quagmire, head to The Fashion Law for the full report.
Updates to follow.