Supreme is the most influential streetwear brand in the world. You might have seen its white-on-red rectangular logo on Drake, Kanye West, or Tyler the Creator. Or noticed the lines that form outside its stores on Thursdays. Or caught a glimpse of a sticker on a city lamppost anywhere around the globe. Today, Supreme is the sacred sigil of young skateboarders as well as the go-to office wear of hipster ad execs and other would-be culture creators, all thanks to James Jebbia, the self-made millionaire many times over, who launched the company in 1994.

How this happened is a complex story. It's not just a matter of style, but art, hype, economics, and the internet. Any one attempt to explain the brand feels like a false start.

In Japan, one of Supreme's biggest markets and the location of most of its stores, there's a Zen rock garden called Ryoan-Ji. Built in Kyoto in 1450, Ryoan-Ji contains 15 stones in a field of raked gravel. The stones are laid out such that it is impossible to view all 15 at once; understanding, the garden suggests, is a process that requires movement between vantage points. Here we present 15 views of Supreme, each from a different angle. How much can a logo possibly mean?


Words by Kyle Chayka
Photos by Greg Gentert


Words by Kyle Chayka
Photos by Greg Gentert

Supreme is the most influential streetwear brand in the world. You might have seen its white-on-red rectangular logo on Drake, Kanye West, or Tyler the Creator. Or noticed the lines that form outside its stores on Thursdays. Or caught a glimpse of a sticker on a city lamppost anywhere around the globe. Today, Supreme is the sacred sigil of young skateboarders as well as the go-to office wear of hipster ad execs and other would-be culture creators, all thanks to James Jebbia, the self-made millionaire many times over, who launched the company in 1994.

How this happened is a complex story. It's not just a matter of style, but art, hype, economics, and the internet. Any one attempt to explain the brand feels like a false start.

In Japan, one of Supreme's biggest markets and the location of most of its stores, there's a Zen rock garden called Ryoan-Ji. Built in Kyoto in 1450, Ryoan-Ji contains 15 stones in a field of raked gravel. The stones are laid out such that it is impossible to view all 15 at once; understanding, the garden suggests, is a process that requires movement between vantage points. Here we present 15 views of Supreme, each from a different angle. How much can a logo possibly mean?


Supreme exists within the nebulous genre of streetwear, which emerged from the nexus of workwear brands, athletic gear, and hip-hop style in the early 1980s. Nike released its Air Jordans in 1984, just as Run DMC repped Adidas and LL Cool J popularized Kangol bucket hats. Also in 1984, a California surfer named Shawn Stussy launched a clothing label, Stussy, to sell apparel tagged with his name in a handwritten scrawl, quickly opening retail locations in Los Angeles and New York, where James Jebbia worked before launching Supreme. These were opportunities for a new generation of consumers, most of whom were male, to associate celebrity and aspirational success with a wearable logo.

Stussy provided a template for the coming decades of streetwear: slap a logo on durable basics and seed the clothes to a group of influential customers — in Stussy's case, a handpicked "International Stussy Tribe." Stussy's diaspora allowed it to be the first independent streetwear brand to go global. Then came Ecko Unltd., FUBU, Supreme. Much like luxury labels, the logos themselves became a commodity; a 1995 Vogue article even directly compared Supreme and Chanel.

Luxury brands also use the visibility of a few iconic, expensive products to create a sense of prestige for their real money-makers, cheaper accessories like sunglasses or lipstick. Streetwear adopts a similar scheme, though rarity subs in for high price points to produce exclusivity. Allowing customers to buy into the brand is the important part — you can start with a $6 Supreme sticker and graduate to an $800 fur coat. Once you're in, there's no end to the collectible depth.

Designers like Rick Owens, who launched his own line in 1994, adapted streetwear's rough-and-tumble minimalism into high fashion. Fashion has long taken inspiration from the street, however. Style trickles up as much as it does down. "The late 17th century is the first period ever that a fashion that was not associated with the highest rank became more popular than the highest rank," says Joan DeJean, a fashion scholar and professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She cites the example of serge, a gray twill fabric that was worn by Parisian shop girls but then became fashionable for nobility as well. Like today's streetwear and athleisure, DeJean says, the trend was "a revolt against the top of the fashion industry."


James Jebbia was born in the United States, but grew up outside of London in the 1970s. It was a time of cultural upheaval in the city, with the rise of Thatcherite social conservatism, the climax of punk, and the emergence of New Wave. Fashion magazines like i-D provided inspiration to the young Jebbia. He left for New York at the age of 19 in 1983 and worked in fashion retail at stores like Soho's Parachute, which sold "bright-colored tweed jackets with big rounded shoulders and overcoats with military or asymmetrical spacesuit details," according to the New York Times, and was just around the corner from Comme des Garçons and Agnès B.

Jebbia's first solo venture was Union NYC, which sold English clothing brands and opened in 1989. The store was "more on the hip-hop tip instead of the techno-rave kind of thing," Jebbia's co-founder Mary Ann Fusco told the Times in 1993, when they were selling double-knit polyester shirts for $75 (Union NYC closed in 2009). In 1991, Jebbia worked with Shawn Stussy to open his eponymous brand's New York City store. Out of this streetwear network, Jebbia launched the Lafayette Street Supreme in 1994. During those early days, "James embodied the brand. He seemed like a no-bullshit type of guy," says Eddie Pak, a graphic designer active in the streetwear scene at the time.

Supreme might be Jebbia, but Jebbia isn't quite Supreme, though he is as secretive as the brand he founded. He's maintained a reputation for press-shyness that has receded only in the past year, after the brand's Paris store opened and its fashion reputation looked increasingly cemented (Supreme declined requests for comment for this project). He lives in a bare Greenwich Village loft filled with minimalist furniture that looks like an art gallery, fitting given Supreme's high-profile artist collaborations. "Jebbia was always there behind the scenes compared to other guys," recalls W. David Marx, an author and editor of Tokion magazine in the early 2000s. "The joke was, James walks around wearing Prada. He doesn't wear streetwear."


Supreme descends from the Latin supremus, or highest, and is the superlative of superus, situated above, which in turn comes from super, above. It signifies the absolute, the best, the foremost, the peerless, the first, the final, the paramount, the prime, the transcendent. The description of the Christian god as a "supreme being" likely came from Deism, the 17th century movement that believed in an omnipotent creator who set the world in motion, but does not interfere in it.

Supreme the company didn't have religious transcendence in mind. "I just was like, ‘Hey, that's a cool name for a store,'" James Jebbia told Interview magazine in 2009. In fact, the ubiquity of the word "supreme" meant that for a long time, Jebbia didn't even own the name of his brand. The trademark was only filed in 2011 and granted in 2012 under the category of "Goods and Services," specifically, clothing. But the word itself is substantial, encapsulating its own beginning and what will inevitably be its eventual end.


The Supreme logo is red. Not just any red — pure, unadulterated red. In hex code, Supreme red is #ff0000: no blue, no green, just red. It calls to mind a putrescent strawberry or tropical sunset, but it's an altogether inorganic hue, more dyed bodega flower than blushing rose.

In the Bible, red symbolizes sin but also redemption, the lamb's blood brushed on doorways during the inaugural Passover. In China, red is the color of money envelopes exchanged at New Year, a sign of fecundity and happiness, not to mention wealth. The redness of ripe fruit, some scientists theorize, may have lead to "a general preference for red coloration, which can manifest itself in greater attraction to red individuals," which meant primates evolved to be as red as possible, according to Cambridge University's Handbook of Color Psychology. In mandrills and baboons, red skin caused by pumping blood denotes dominance. Red is anger, red is arousal, red is aggression.

Red thus makes perfect sense for Supreme. It's the latest in a long line of chromatic nods to power and authority — the imperial purple of Byzantine royalty, for example, which was imbued by a rare dye made from sea snails, or cochineal, a crimson color similar to Supreme's made from crushed insects in Central and South America which became a luxury commodity in colonial Europe. In centuries past, Supreme red was rare thanks to the limits of its natural sources; scarcity creates value. But now it is artificial and universal. Supreme red is both a middle finger to subtlety and the most generic hue possible.


Streetwear design is a kind of shibboleth — you either get it or you don't, and that's all the wearer needs to know. Albeit an influential example, Supreme is just one of an ever-expanding profusion of brands, each with its signature quirks. Palace is London's answer to Supreme. New York's Only is popular, too. Then there are tiny labels like Bronze, selling hats labeled JAMAICA (sold out), and Coke Magic, which remakes 1990s hip-hop shirts for $75 in an aggro-normcore gesture of appropriation.

Brands are under constant pressure to iterate and innovate, keeping new releases provocative enough to be compelling without straying too far from their origin story. Eddie Pak ran a small design agency on the Lower East Side in the early 2000s, and James Jebbia commissioned a few Supreme T-shirt designs from his company. "I remember going in and having a conversation with James, and he really had a very clear vision of what Supreme was. He made references to very iconic New York stuff — the movie Taxi Driver to the Brooklyn banks where all the kids were skating," Pak says. But after explaining the Supreme spirit, Jebbia "really left it in our hands to see how we could embody it." (Pak isn't sure if the designs were used, but he got paid anyway.)

Supreme's current brand director is Angelo Baque, a New York native who worked with Jebbia at the Stussy store and eventually moved to Supreme in the early 2000s. By 2010, he was the director of marketing, which meant art directing and styling photo shoots in New York. Baque is the creative face of the brand, a position previously occupied by Brendon Babenzian (who left in 2015 to start his own brand, Noah) and Jebbia himself, but the design process is collective rather than auteur, open to outside influence. As Baque told the French magazine Clark, "Not everyone at Supreme is like-minded, which works for the better."

Like Jebbia, Baque's tastes are wide-ranging; he cites inspirations from photographer Richard Avedon to Nas, Shaq, Morrissey (who has appeared on Supreme tees), and old-school radio DJ Art Laboe. Baque's sensibility points toward a preppy, international-via-New York Supreme. He has described his own clothing brand, Awake, as a combination of "the old school leftist, academic-leaning Upper West Side and the radical, melting pot mentality of downtown Manhattan."


Supreme is a privately held company, and so its finances are almost completely opaque. James Jebbia is said to be worth over $40 million, though the citation's source is unclear. Stussy, Supreme's spiritual predecessor as a major streetwear brand-turned-relatively mainstream fashion company, did $50 million in sales in 2014.

The streetwear market as a whole was estimated at $75 billion in 2014 in a report by We Connect Fashion, and it has only grown. Forbes reported $2 billion in fashion spending linked to athleisure in 2015, an adjacent category that shares momentum with streetwear. While the boom lasts, luxury brands are looking to companies like Supreme for inspiration rather than the other way around. "Fashion is definitely head-over-limited-edition sneakers for streetwear," says E.P. Cutler, the author of the report.

Supreme's strategy is to keep its operation as lean as possible. While luxury conglomerates like Kering (which owns Gucci, Bottega Veneta, and Balenciaga, among other brands) have more than 10,000 employees, Supreme has less than 50, according to LinkedIn.

It works with a small selection of manufacturers like Canada's CYC, for jersey and fleece, and Alpha Industries, an American military contractor, for flight jackets. It maintains just 10 retail locations, with only a few wholesale partners, like the ultra-hip Dover Street Market which has outposts in London, New York, Tokyo, and Beijing.

The brand can't compete on scale, but it can compete on cool. New hires in 2015 included former employees of Converse (Dan Connor, designer), Hood By Air (Emily Gruca, development and production), and Dover Street Market (Lia Schryver, production), pointing to Supreme's attempt to "attract more followers from the fashion market and the sportswear market," according to Cutler. The new talent mean "fresh blood and ideas for the business going forward"—and, of course, more revenue.


Every Thursday, Supreme releases new pieces, and lines form outside all of its stores in advance of 11 a.m., the time the doors open as well as when the products appear on the website (always in local geographic time). This is The Drop. It's Supreme's mechanism of exclusivity; rather than debut its latest work once a season, it drips out continuously, like morphine through an IV. Each week brings a new set of logoed shirts, shorts, tees, hats, and accessories. 2016 will see, among many other things, Supreme basketballs, sunglasses, bolt cutters, Everlast punching bags, and camping chair sets.

The original Supreme store on Lafayette Street sits behind an anonymous glass facade differentiated only by a small logo sticker on the door. On a recent Thursday morning, the Drop line comprises hundreds of people stretched around three sides of a block for a collaboration with the UK skate brand Anti Hero. Though fans sometimes camp (the official term) for days on end, the chaos this time is tightly managed by metal barriers. Those at the head of the line are given wristbands and watched over by a quartet of bouncers several times larger than any prospective customer, who skew young and wiry. They have no problem with letting someone out for a quick bathroom break.

The store's metal gate goes up at 10 a.m. Collective desire charges the air, but the scene feels decidedly PG-13, and not just because of the age of the fans. The vibe is safe, secure, almost wholesome — like waiting in line for a roller coaster. "I like the kids, it's the adults I don't like," one bouncer says. At the front, buyers in their late teens fan out rolls of cash containing $800 or $1,000, the better to grab a bunch of drops and resell them, or buy for their patrons who'd rather not wait in line and keep a little for themselves.

A little farther back, fans are more likely to be buying just for themselves. Arbaz Qureshi, a student from Bed Stuy, brought a backpack of snacks for his brother, who had been standing in line for hours on the other side of the barriers. "I told him I'd bless him up. Pringles, chips, Chips Ahoy, Gatorade, a care package," Qureshi says. Does he ever wait on line himself? "I don't like this Supreme, I like the old Supreme, that's why I don't camp out. They're pretty repetitive now." He mostly buys from Grailed, the online streetwear market named for the slang for a particularly lusted-after product. "I feel like Supreme is so herbed out now," Qureshi says. (Herb: someone who follows trends.) "You see 13-year-old kids waiting on line. It's cool though, I'm not a hater."

Mike, a 33-year-old who goes by Meezy, shows up to the line almost every Thursday, though it's hard for him to stand without the aid of a cane. He's collected most of this season's Supreme. He buys for himself, he says, ever since seeing the brand while in high school on the Lower East Side. Things are different now. "It's a lot of resellers, that's what you see more. Back then it was people who wanted it for themselves. That's the only thing that sucks." Morgan, another student, succeeds in buying a T-shirt through the website while he waits. It's a two-pronged strategy. "Sometimes when we get in they don't have our color, don't have our size, so we try to get it online," he says.

As time wears on after 11 a.m. and fans trickle into the store via a bouncer-regulated one-in-one-out policy, the New York Drop splits itself into two camps, the fans and the resellers. The former sometimes turn into the latter after emerging from the store. Resellers assemble themselves across Lafayette, stacking product on the trunks of cars and calling out prices. It's the official economy versus the black market. "The sheep that strays from the flock becomes the goat," says Racks Hogan, who paces around the reseller arena. Is he the goat? "Yeah, that's why I got banned."

The 10 Drop Commandments

  • Box logo is best.

  • Small always sells out first.

  • Resale prices are high for brand-new products directly following a drop, but decrease in later weeks.

  • Collaborations are in demand, especially North Face and Playboy.

  • Resale margins aren’t always high, and sometimes just $10 or $20 per item.

  • If it’s a high-profile drop, expect to wait in line for up to 24 hours.

  • There will always be people skipping the line.

  • Bribing security is one risky way to skip ahead.

  • Buying too many of the same product or looking like a reseller will get you banned.

  • If the line is too rowdy, it gets shut down entirely.

  • Hype

    Hype is a measure of frenzy — how much a particular product is desired. The closer a drop is to classic Supreme, like the original box tees, the more hype it gets, and the more fans want it. Supreme's success is based on its continued authenticity, to the skate culture it emerged from and the clothing memes it has created in the past. Unlike labels like Chanel or Prada, the brand is less about associating with luxury than consuming a particular identity.

    That means every weekly drop needs to be on point. Supreme has to remain accessible to new converts, but not so accessible that everyone gets it. (Though, for those on the semi-outside, there are cheap Supreme fakes, which are easily spotted by experienced collectors.)

    The term "hypebeast" originated on NikeTalk, a sneaker forum. It's a derogatory term that refers to "those who buy blindly into hype on the basis of acquiring cultural currency and wanting to exude a perception of cool," says Eugene Kan, the former managing editor of Hypebeast, an influential Hong Kong-based streetwear blog and burgeoning media company. "People that consume products they barely care about so they'll look cool to their friends and peers."

    If Supreme is seen by streetwear tastemakers as only desirable to lame hypebeasts, it might not hurt the brand's sales right away. But it could slowly erode its credibility, something the brand has preserved by curating its releases and staying invested in skate culture, supporting skaters and producing skate videos like the 2014 Cherry.

    There are always challengers, like upstart skate brands Palace, Noah, or Bianca Chandon, some of which that were launched by former Supreme employees. But no one wins the credibility game; they merely survive. "As for what cult streetwear label is the most authentic at the minute, that's going to change in a minute," says E.P. Cutler, a fashion critic and author of a We Connect Fashion report on streetwear. Still, she explains, "Supreme reigns, well, supreme. Twenty years in, that's basically OG status. So, any consumer interested in streetwear or even wanting to be casual on the weekends can't really go wrong with that brand."


    As evidenced by the demographics of the line that forms outside every Supreme store every Thursday for the weekly product drop, the brand's most committed fans are often its youngest. This is the secret to Supreme's longevity: it keeps finding new believers. It spreads through word of mouth, but eyes alone will do the trick. All you have to do is see the logo at a skatepark or in a schoolyard and look it up. Before you know it, you're waiting on line yourself.

    Jon Epstein is a 23-year-old from Montclair, New Jersey who works at a non-profit in the South Bronx. One day in high school, he saw another kid wearing a Supreme Veritas sweater in heather green, then bought his own in blue after mulling it over for a week. "My mom was like, ‘What are you doing spending $118 on a sweater?' I was like, ‘I don't really know,'" he says. Going to the store in New York with friends was an escapist vacation. "It was before we drank or anything. We would save our money and go buy sneakers."

    To Epstein, the clothes were empowering in a way that men don't often consider, or at least verbalize. Supreme "allowed me to curate my appearance at a time when I really didn't feel like I could control much in my life," he says. The brand became an identity. Epstein once slapped a logo sticker on his mom's 2001 Toyota Sienna, henceforth known as the S.S. Supreme.

    "It's definitely a way that someone can try and separate themselves from everyone else, being unique but also not being very unique," says Sterling Van Vry, a 16-year-old high schooler in Brooklyn. Wearing the right product can also be a social power play. "‘I can drop this amount of money on this thing and you can't.' That person is in a better financial situation, making them superior."

    His first Supreme was a beat-up hat that he bought from a friend at a skatepark for $10 when he was in eighth grade; finally getting some Supreme after years of following the brand is a milestone. "I'm in love with that logo that I looked up to as a little kid," Van Vry says.

    Alston Watson, a 19-year-old New York University student who grew up in North Carolina and was also introduced to the brand through skate culture, went to the Supreme store right after he arrived in New York for school to pick up a few T-shirts. "It wasn't life-changing, but I was so happy," he says. "I finally attained a goal that I had been striving for for so long, being able to have a physical representation of what I had come to appreciate over the years."


    Supreme's core demographic hasn't strayed much from male teenage skaters. Jebbia says he has no plans to expand into womenswear. This isn't entirely surprising since the brand's basic offerings are relatively ungendered, but it's the community, not the clothes, that can make it harder for non-male fans to identify with the brand.

    Female Supreme collectors aren't difficult to find. You can see them in line for the drop, though they make up a clear minority, and active online, particularly in the Supreme subreddit. Yet not unlike Gamergate's misogyny or the proliferation of Fake Geek Girl memes, male Supreme fans have a way of discounting women. Women don't get the brand, they say; they're not allowed to partake in it because it requires masculine swagger, even though collecting pieces from a fashion brand is almost always coded as female. In 2012, Complex dismissively referenced "Corny Internet Alt Girls" buying Supreme.

    Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams became an unwitting target of young Supreme fanboys when she recently appeared on a Brooklyn boutique owner's Instagram wearing a Supreme shirt that Reddit commenters immediately decried as fake. "A girl has no Supreme," one wrote. "If it were Jon Snow wearing Supreme, no one would have said shit," the owner responded.


    Supreme is geographically limited on purpose. Its stores link the brand's identity to specific cities and even neighborhoods rather than diluting it all over the place like a J.Crew. The internet is what ties the larger community together. Supreme doesn't go too far out of its way to make space for fans (the inaccessibility is part of the image, after all), but it does maintain a Facebook page with over 1.3 million likes that hosts preview videos for product drops and details its collaborations. Fans often attempt to sell their excess Supreme on the page.

    In fact, commerce drives much of the online Supreme community. Reddit's r/supremeclothing has over 25,000 members; at any given time a handful of threads on the front page are labeled FS/FT: for sale or for trade. Strictly Supreme is a well-known board to buy and sell, but its registration is often closed, so fans sometimes must wait, ask for help on Reddit, or even buy accounts ($10 is an acceptable price tag).

    But fan websites are also the only places neophytes can really learn about Supreme. On Reddit, new buyers post their first pickups and vet their best steals. Others discuss just how much Supreme they wear on a daily basis ("If it doesn't say Supreme, I don't wear it," one member boasted). The internet is where anyone can join the Supreme club, no matter where they live or if they skate. You just have to appreciate the clothes.

    Long Hoang, a startup employee in Toronto in his late twenties, discovered Supreme online a few months ago and only last year picked up his first item, a black mesh varsity jacket. "I had never seen anybody wearing it in Toronto. It wasn't until I looked it up on sites like Reddit that I realized how popular the brand was," Hoang says. "The community for the most part is very receptive as long as you have something to contribute."


    Supreme openly discourages its own secondary market, a tactic that only seems to goad it further. "I much prefer if someone buys something from us that they plan on wearing it and not selling," Jebbia said in a 2002 interview. "We're a brand for the people," he told Business of Fashion early this year. Yet there's an engineered rarity of each release that keeps demand high. "If we can sell 600, I make 400," Jebbia told Interview magazine in 2009.

    Fans have to pick up new products during the weekly drop at a physical store or online, but over time, new strategies have evolved to game the latter in order to resell more efficiently, like employing automated bots. The Supreme Reddit community disapproves, but Supreme bot software is easily purchased online, as are programs to game Adidas or Nike drops. They "simulate what it would be like for someone to be on the website," says Chris Allick, a Supreme collector and creative technology director in New York who has programmed his own Supreme bots.

    New products get their own unique URLs that bots can detect. Bots check the Supreme site to see when the new URLs have gone live, then when they do, zoom to a specific product page, select a preset size, color, and quantity, and continue through to checkout. The Supreme website is as basic as it gets — "it's really late ‘90s web, that's kind of cool now I guess," Allick says — so no Captcha codes or other roadblocks stand in the way, though buyers who look like they're using bots are sometimes blocked from the site.

    Reselling happens on eBay, menswear marketplaces like Grailed, on Facebook or Instagram, or just at school. "Say I'm wearing it, somebody says, ‘I want that, how much you want for it?' I'll make a reasonable offer," says Kaleb Lay, a 17-year-old avid reseller in Brooklyn who started buying Supreme on trips away from the Caribbean, where he grew up.

    Lay measures the hype for various products on Facebook fan communities or by how fast they sell out online in London, before the New York drop. If a product lasts "more than 1.5 minutes, you don't have to regard it because they don't really sell out that quick" in the New York store or on the US website. But in the end, it's just about the logo. "If they were to have Supreme condoms, they would buy them because it's Supreme," says Lay. "If they had Supreme toilet paper, they would buy it because it's Supreme."


    Despite its small size, Supreme is a global fashion brand. It has 10 stores; the most recent opened this year in Paris's fashionable Marais shopping district. Even in the midst of recent flooding in the neighborhood, "I saw two Supreme bags," says Joan DeJean, an American fashion scholar who lives in the Marais. Japan, however, hosts the most Supreme stores by far, with three in Tokyo and another three across the rest of the country.

    With avant-garde labels like Rei Kawakubo's Comme des Garçons, Japan was already part of the fashion vanguard in the 1980s, and streetwear leapt from New York to Tokyo almost instantaneously. Hiroshi Fujiwara, a Japanese surfer, had befriended Shawn Stussy, and became part of the International Stussy Tribe, Stussy's name for the tastemakers he distributed free gear to. Fujiwara launched the Japanese streetwear brand Goodenough in 1990, and mentored Nigo, a Tokyo DJ who started his own brand, A Bathing Ape (named after Planet of the Apes and now often referred to as Bape) in 1993.

    Streetwear went mainstream in Tokyo before New York. "That principle of people waiting in line to buy a product, it was definitely a 1998 thing in Japan," says W. David Marx, author of Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style and a long-time Tokyo resident. Bape blew up, became omnipresent (thanks in part to the support of Pharrell, who launched his streetwear line Billionaire Boys Club with Nigo), and then faded again, at least in Japan. "Everyone who stopped buying Bape started buying Supreme," Marx says.

    Though the first Japanese Supreme stores opened in 1998, Japanese buyers were still ransacking the Supreme New York store in 2001 for tees to resell back home (the Japanese stores are run through a distributor and aren't always consistent with the mothership). Despite its popularity in the US, however, "the idea of wearing a T-shirt and it's fashion is out" in Japan, according to Marx. Trends don't end so much as move back and forth from New York to Tokyo and back again like waves in a pool. When the tide will ebb is anyone's guess.


    Brands are easy to recognize but hard to define. The personal brand is an individual identity. The corporate brand is an artificial personality built around products. The fashion brand is an aesthetic viewpoint disseminated through clothing, accessories, and advertisements. Supreme is perhaps the perfect brand. The company applies its logo to a seemingly infinite expanse of items — not just clothes, but hammers, fire extinguishers, and cigarette lighters — and its goods are relevant less as functioning objects than as manifestations of Supreme itself. But how do we talk about the brand as its own entity, rather than simply a collection of stuff with red-and-white labels?

    The philosopher Timothy Morton coined the term "hyperobject" to refer to "objects that are so massively distributed in time and space as to transcend spatiotemporal specificity." In other words, things that are not so much things as ideas with physical manifestations, like global warming, styrofoam, and the English language. Hyperobjects are massive collections of objects and interactions aggregating under some identifiable whole that exceeds the sum of its parts. Supreme is a hyperobject.

    Taken to their extreme form, every hyperobject envisions its own unique end. Global warming's apocalypse is a catastrophic flood accompanied by a gradual baking of the world and everything in it. Styrofoam's is an endless landscape of crumbling white composite. In the Supreme apocalypse, a bright red rectangular logo set with white text adheres to every surface in the known universe. Supreme consumes us instead of the other way around.

    This apocalypse is already happening as Supreme reproduces itself with each incremental sticker and hoodie in the hands of its fans and communicants, a word that refers to a person who receives communion in the Catholic church or, archaically, someone who imparts information. You are living in a Supreme world, even if you have never bought a T-shirt, don't understand the significance of its hats. As Morton explains, "Hyperobjects are real whether or not someone is thinking of them."

    In the context of hyperobjects, criticism becomes "a form of meditative practice," writes Bart H. Welling in a review of Morton's work in The Goose, not unlike contemplating the 15 stones at Ryoan-Ji. Hyperobjects must be understood as networks rather than monoliths. Supreme the brand is a flickering web of projections connecting all of its products and wearers to each other, a tangible symbol of the cultural globalization of cool that transcends everything but itself. Supreme is the space between the rocks.

    Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously identified James Jebbia as a former skater.

    Published on July 18, 2016



    Kyle Chayka


    Greg Gentert


    Julia Rubin


    Tyson Whiting, Brittany Holloway-Brown


    Aidan Feay

    Special Thanks

    Kelsey Scherer, Tiffany Yannetta, Annemarie Dooling, Jon Douglas, Nancy Seay

    a Vox Media Storytelling Studio collaboration