[Music up and under, B$ Reg by Brian]
Anon: We’re only here for 12 hours, flight to Greece at around 11:30, we figured we would make a pit stop to New York, then go back to the airport and fly out.
Maddy: Ok, so you have twelve hours, two suitcases, two neck pillows. And Supreme is one of your stops, why?
Welcome back to Relentless, a podcast about the pursuit of unusual aspirations, farfetched ideas, or that perfect pair of sneakers. [music fades out] I’m Maddy Russell-shapiro and this first season is my exploration of New York City’s super-dedicated fans of the brand Supreme.
[SCENE: THE HYPE]
Last week’s episode focused on what makes supreme special. We talked about how it distinguishes itself as a brand. We acknowledged the blurring lines between streetwear and fashion. This week, the question is, who are these supreme fans?
First, there are the legions who like the brand because it is just so popular.
Anon: I just kind of like the simplicity of the shirts and hoodies. It’s just like hyped up. I was like, why not, I was following the hype.
Anon: I guess when you’re wearing Supreme, people see the idea that you’re into that kind of streetwear, sneakerhead type of vibe. It’s pretty cool. It’s simplistic and it’s just a great design.
Well, some of the designs are simplistic, like the box logo, the classic version is the bright red rectangular box behind the word supreme in white letters. It’s often affixed to the chest of a t-shirt or sweatshirt, or the front of a hat. Each year, Supreme releases a limited number of items with the box logo and those are usually the most coveted. Often, they play on the color scheme. This fall, there was a hooded sweatshirt and a beanie. They came in colors like pastel blue, light gray, and caramel with the box logo in contrasting colors. Neon lime green with white letters on the black hoodie. Raspberry pink with an apple green box logo. Supreme red with a purple box logo.
But there are plenty of other pieces that are quite…elaborate and flashy.
My name is Malik, from Harlem, NY, I’m 21.
Maddy: What are you wearing?
Malik: They call it the nameplate jacket.
Nameplates, as in license plates.
Malik: The base color is black, all types of nameplates all over it, say Supreme, little slurs, See U in Hell, it represents New York and Supreme, I think it’s pretty cool.
Last year there was an anorak with matching pants. It came in a patterned print of olive green or burgundy. Emulating a tradition in Kenya and other African countries of printing textiles with political graphics, these were covered in a repeated image of President Barack Obama’s smiling face.
Here’s another common reason that people like Supreme,
Other people can’t get it and you have it so I like that.
The scarcity model is not to be underestimated. Supreme limits what customers can buy to one of any item, whether on the internet or in the store. A lot of fans, especially younger ones, mention the limited quantity as the foremost reason why they like Supreme. They like having something that other people don’t. When you hang out down by the store, it’s easy to forget that not everybody wears Supreme. But anywhere else in the city, Supreme is not ubiquitous and it does stand out in a crowd, if you know what you’re looking for.
Ok, here’s another key ingredient for the recipe that is Supreme’s popularity,
The hype created when the celebrities started wearing the clothing, epitomy of success, whatever they wear or do is whatever people in society will follow.
When I researched celebrities who wear Supreme, I found recent photos of the model Kylie Jenner in a Louis Vuitton Supreme t-shirt and photos of her brother-in-law, Kanye West, in a black Supreme box logo t-shirt. I saw pictures of the model Cara Delavigne and musicians Justin Bieber, Rihanna, and Drake. This month, December, Supreme released a basketball shooting sleeve with the NBA logo. It is black or red with Supreme in large white letters stretching from wrist to elbow. On TV, I’ve seen two NBA players wearing the sleeve during games. And the NFL star Odell Beckham recently sustained an ankle injury. Since then, he was photographed wearing some kind of custom decorated medical boot. It’s covered with the red Louis Vuitton-Supreme monogram.
Here’s a French fan who lives in London and lines up weekly,
My nickname is Davidoff, 32, from France, Paris.
Maddy: Why international appeal?
Davidoff: A trend, became famous because famous people wore it. People want to identify as famous person, kind of copy. Supreme is playing on it. Dropping stupid accessories sometimes and even people are buying. Last time it was the brick and peoplewere buying. I bought it to be honest. Stupid stuff to be known for that. People want to follow their idol. At same time it’s known because it’s crazy what they are dropping.
This bears repeating. Last year, Supreme released a box-logo branded brick.
[Music up and under, OTGBOY by Wayne]
A standard red clay brick. Do I have to tell you? It sold out.
One more thought about star power, from Curtains, [music fades out] the creative consultant from Brooklyn who was in the last episode of Relentless,
Curtains: Celebrities gravitate towards whatever can amplify their profile. So if a brand is the hottest, restaurant is hottest, highlights them in a conversation.
So, celebrities of course have their own reasons for wearing what they wear in public. But those unofficial endorsements when they are photographed wearing Supreme surely attract more people to the brand. It reinforces the feeling that Supreme is special, desirable, elite.
Tourism provides another steady stream of customers to Supreme. Security at the store regularly turns tourists away on Thursdays because they don’t have reservations for the line. But there is no shortage of tourists in the line the rest of the week. Supreme is on the itinerary of people visiting from all over the world. Why? You come to New York City on vacation from another state, or another country. You can only visit a limited number of places.
French tourist: L’Empire State Building, Tour Jumelles, Soho, Bronx, Brooklyn.
[Translating from French] Empire State Building, Twin Towers, Soho, Bronx, Brooklyn
And Supreme. It ends up on a lot of visitors’ itineraries.
Italian tourist: We arrived yesterday because we are here for holidays.
There are no Supreme stores in Italy.
Russian tourist: My name is Marta, I am 16 yo. Russia, from St. Petersburg. I want to have hoodie with Supreme box logo. I know about Supreme because my friends know this brand and I like it.
There are no Supreme stores in Russia.
Danny, 31, from Chicago. Stefanie, 27 this Friday, from Chicago as well.
Nope, no Supreme in Chicago.
Danny: We’re only here for 12 hours, flight to Greece around 11:30, make a pit stop to New York, then go back to the airport.
Maddy: Twelve hours, two suitcases, two neck pillows. Supreme, why?
Danny: Great brand, for the culture, skateboarding, hip hop, fashion.
Maddy: Have you been to the store before?
Danny: I have. Got this hat from this store about a year ago. Figured I’d stop by again to see what they have.
One teen I spoke to was visiting from Portland, Oregon with his father,
Tanner: I just kind of want to buy Supreme.
He was wearing a plain black billed cap, faded from use. From a distance, it looked like the only decorative detail was a subtle strip of white along the brim. Upon closer inspection, the white line turned out to be the word supreme, printed repeatedly in tiny letters.
Tanner: Feels good to buy something that’s expensive. For me, I don’t have a lot of money so when I buy Supreme or when I have enough money to buy Supreme it makes me feel good.
His dad, however, could not relate. He declared, “there’s no joy here.”
[Music up and under, Madi$ons Garden by Khalil Almighty]
Or, there’s no joy there for him. But plenty of other people do experience, well, perhaps not joy, but certainly something tangibly positive at Supreme. They’re a smaller subset of the people I meet at the Supreme line. These are the longer-time fans, like JP, who was lucky number 7 in week 1,
JP: The brand itself, I guess nostalgia wise, I grew up skating, 90s culture. My mom would have whooped my ass if I’d asked her to take me down to a skate shop to spend money on overpriced clothing. You know, this brand just releases so much that there will always be something to look forward to. For me, I try to make my wish list once the look book or preview comes out.
Curtains remembers discovering Supreme like this,
Curtains: The store looked like a place I needed to check out, the décor, energy, vibe, people going in and out, [Music fades out] felt like the right place to be. They haven’t changed their course. And there’s people grew up with that brand. Store opened 1994. People grew up with the brand, older gentlemen that still appreciate it. Kids identify because of aesthetic and message behind it. Anything authentic, it’s never gonna go out of style. They’ve probably been the most consistent brand in their world. Never waver to trends. Still making pieces reminiscent from the 90 – they stayed themselves. People identify with authenticity. 100% uncompromising.
Remember the photo tee that is released each season?
Curtains: A lot of people featured on their shirts are strong cultural references, 90’s references, Rakwon to Kate Moss. People they featured have that rebellious feature in their own worlds.
When I asked Curtains,
Maddy: Do you have any favorite Supreme things that you own?
He had a ready answer,
Curtains: My absolute favorite thing is a hat. It’s a beanie, it’s red, and around it are gold stars. Came out with second Supreme high top dunks, red, blue, and orange I believe with gold stars. It was a hat to go with that, a pompom at the top, my favorite Supreme piece ever. This was 2003, maybe? A lot of my favorite Supreme pieces are quiet, low key, no real super-graphic work. They had a mechanics jacket, still trying to find it in my size, couple years ago. Simple, down mechanics jacket, with simple logo. I dress really simple. So my favorite pieces are toned down ones. And I have a lot of accessories. My keychain is Supreme, metro card, home goods, for years.
He also said,
Curtains: I like all the Vanson stuff they’re doing. I don’t own any, when I was coming of age that was like owning a Mercedes, that jacket took me back to junior high school, high school.
There it is, nostalgia! Playing on memories of growing up in the 1990’s, Supreme provides longtime fans an opportunity to act like a kid. A kid in control of his destiny. A kid who can go to Supreme and buy everything he wants. Unless it’s already sold out.
Alan Mildor, 36, vlogger, photographer, videographer. I love bags, accessories, collecting stickers.
Alan offers another take on what it feels like to be a longtime fan of a brand that has more recently become enormously popular.
Alan: I just don’t like the whole hypebeast thing. In junior high, high school, collecting, it was much easier to get in and get out. Now it’s security guys dressed in black like you’re going into the White House. Gotta sign in secret lists, know somebody to know somebody to get in.
Yes, yearning for a simpler time. I think a lot of us can relate to that sentiment.
Supreme also taps into a broader strain of nostalgia, it directly relates to the clothes and accessories of childhood in America. Sneakers are a big part of this.
Evan: Sneakerhead since 7 or 8. My aunt, every year for my birthday, spoiled me, took me to the mall.
Maddy: What kind for sneakers?
Evan: Jordans, Air Force Ones, skateboarding, Adidas. Been the one constant.
Nearly everyone I have spoken to for this podcast can tell me the exact model of the first pair of sneakers they had as children. What about you? Do you remember your first pair of sneakers? Who bought them for you? What grade were you in school? Has that sneaker been re-released more recently? Did you buy a pair for your adult self?
[SCENE: PREVIEW SUPREME ECONOMY AND CLOSE]
Hype, nostalgia, celebrities and cultural references. Weekly releases and weekly sellouts.
Have we talked yet about how quickly things sell out at Supreme? The website also releases items on Thursdays, at 11am, the same time the stores open. Popular items sell out on the internet in 2 minutes, 90 seconds, 47 seconds. This fall, in week 1, the black photo tee with a picture of Nas sold out in 37 seconds. In week 2, the red chopsticks sold out in 20 seconds. The little inflatable blimp with the red box logo sold out in 19 seconds. More recently, in week 15, there was part of the highly anticipated annual north face collaboration. This year’s jackets were covered, entirely, in a vivid photo of a snow covered mountain range. One version of the jacket sold out in 11 seconds.
And still I continue ask, how can there be such demand for all this stuff? My exchange with rich the kid provides another part of the answer,
Maddy: [Asking Rich the Kid] What else would get you out of bed for this early in the morning?
Rich The Kid: Money!
[Music Secure the Bag by BNSYEA]
On the next episode of Relentless: the Supreme economy.
I got the box tee, already sold it, someone offered me $1000, I spent 30.
I’m a finance major, I definitely see different trends that are similar, rise and fall of prices of items and secondary markets, similar to stock market.
We both had a passion for sneakers and streetwear and decided to make business.
As much as they say they hate resale, they don’t. It’s what drives their business.
I continue my exploration of Supreme’s fan base and try to get a handle on the resale market. Who lines up to buy with a plan to sell? Are resellers fans?
[Cross-fade to Chinatown by BNSYEA]
Music in today’s episode is by Brian, Khalil Almighty, and BNSYEA. It was all created at Building Beats, a DJ and music program that teaches entrepreneurial, leadership, and life skills to youth in New York City.
Thank you to Curtains for sharing his insights into Supreme and to all the fans who chat with me.
Relentless episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, GooglePlay, and Stitcher. Subscribe through whichever one you use. To find out more, go to therelentless dot org, and come back for the next episode!