My exploration of streetwear designers and their sought-after collectibles continues this week with Supreme. The iconic red rectangular logo is hard to miss. You can find it on everything from $148 hoodies and $38 beanies, to an ever more bizarre list of collaboration and odd limited-edition objects. This lifestyle brand has become incredibly popular within certain circles, with many of their “drops” (or releases) selling out within a matter of minutes. Supreme represents a new trend in collecting for younger generations and offers a glimpse into the power of marketing in the digital age.
Supreme has partnered with brands like BE@RBRICK’s parent company, Medicom, to produce a range of collectible items like this Kermit toy.
Skate and Streetwear Beginnings
Much like KAWS and BE@RBRICK, Supreme’s roots are within skate and streetwear culture. Founded in 1994 by James Jebbia, Supreme started off as a storefront in New York catering to the skateboard market. The recognizable logo has been there from the start: bright red logo box with “Supreme” written in white Futura Heavy Oblique (which is often believed to be inspired by the work of artist Barbara Kruger). The storefront space gained traction as a hangout spot, known for its loud music, unusual video loop, and quality hoodies.
This Hohner Harmonica collaboration features the classic Supreme logo.
Jebbia had previously worked with different skateboard-related brands in the years prior, including opening the first Stüssy shop (another now well-known skate brand). Utilizing this experience, Jebbia was able to slowly build the Supreme brand. By the early 2000s, the brand had taken off, collaborating with major fashion labels like Louis Vuitton and Comme des Garçon, and common streetwear brands like Nike. This fashion influence is seen in the ways in which Supreme markets new items, using the same bi-annual collection schedule. Before releasing a new collection, a lookbook is released online, so followers know what items to target (much like an art auction), and the items themselves are released in small batches on Thursdays.
Louis Vuitton has collaborated with Supreme to create many different products, like this skate deck.
These scheduled Thursday drops have been essential to the brand’s success. Supreme only produces a limited number of each item in a collection, which often sell out quickly. Items are never reproduced, creating scarcity within the market that helps drive these fast sales. The brand prices items to reflect this scarcity, operating under the thinking that you will not only want to purchase a Supreme item because of its quality but also because you recognize how trendy Supreme has become. This is evidenced by Supreme’s carefully curated online presence, with a healthy following of over 13 million followers on Instagram alone.
Supreme has come under criticism for their sometimes bizarre or unsettling collaborations, like this Hardcore Hammer.
This is not to say that Supreme does not come under scrutiny for its practices and artificial market manipulation. Many of their loyal collectors believe the brand to be authentic, representing a cultural critique of corporate shenanigans, that dances the fine line between “high” and “low” culture. Others see their success as representative of very clever marketing, with their endless string of unusual collaborations as overwrought and calculated to ensure press and visibility. No matter how you understand the intention of the brand, they are still an especially successful business. As a brand, they were recently valued at over $1 billion dollars.
Collaborations are available for nearly every facet of life, like this inflatable Supreme-branded kayak.
Supreme has become known for their unusual collaborations. They have worked with many artists to create skate decks (the board portion of a skateboard) like Christopher Wool, Jeff Koons, John Baldessari, and Damien Hirst. They have also produced clothing in collaboration with Budweiser, Nike, The North Face, A Bathing Ape (BAPE), Everlast, Hanes, and Levi’s. They have also offered a strange array of consumer products, like a custom ax, a Coleman mini-bike, a measuring tape, a collapsible shovel, and even a kayak. If that list wasn’t strange enough for you, they have also sold drum kits, branded Super Soaker water guns, and even Band-Aids.
Supreme has collaborated with many high-profile artists to design limited-edition skate decks, like these designed by Conceptual artist John Baldessari.
Supreme items not only often have a somewhat elevated price tag upon release, but some items fetch considerable sums on the secondary market. A Supreme pinball machine was released in 2018, retailing at $9,600, but can often be found on the secondary market for upwards of $30,000. Supreme’s numerous collaborations with Louis Vuitton are considered highly collectible, with hoodies and baseball jerseys from this pairing easily selling for over $5,000. A hand-painted porcelain figure of Cupid wearing a Supreme t-shirt manufactured by Meissen can be yours for around $5,000. Or, my personal favorite, camera maker Leica’s Ultravid binoculars in the classic Supreme red, often sold for a cool thousand dollars.
Supreme is often marketed towards those in their twenties and thirties, but collectors can be found across all demographic groups. Many collectors attempt to purchase all releases of a certain type, like all hoodies, or all collaborations with a certain brand. The success of Supreme is overwhelming, and many of their items can be a great flip if you see them on the secondary market for a reasonable price.
Some collaborations seem downright weird, like these Band-Aids.
There are many sites that sell Supreme clothing and collectibles secondhand, but always tread with caution. For many years the Supreme logo, being as simple as it is, was not able to be trademarked within certain countries. This fact, coupled with the insatiable desire of many Supreme collectors, means that there are many fakes on the market. The easiest way to ensure you are purchasing an authentic item is to wait for a Thursday drop and purchase directly from Supreme, or to purchase from reputable sellers on the secondary market.
Megan Shepherd is a curator, freelance writer, and artist. She has worked in fine art museums for a decade and holds two master’s degrees in the field. When she takes a break from art, she enjoys science-fiction books, antiquing, backpacking, and eating her weight in Dim Sum.
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