What to Watch: Supreme Street Cred Challenged With Luxury and Art
On January 8, 2020
The streetwear brand risks forgoing its street cred with younger consumers in favor of its new positioning in the art world.
The past 10 years have seen the rise of streetwear to the mainstream and one of the undisputed leaders of the movement was skate brand Supreme.
Limited releases, countless drops and a myriad of collaborations gave the masses a glimpse into the hysteria surrounding the brand and defined what “hype” looked like in real time. And companies from luxury houses to fast-fashion brands have since adopted the Supreme model.
A few key moments from recent years helped cement Supreme’s prestige and marked a new beginning for the brand, which began in 1994. In 2017, The Carlyle Group paid $500 million for a 50 percent stake in the business, giving the company a $1 billion-plus valuation. Supreme then teamed with Louis Vuitton as well as Rimowa, aligning the label with luxury fashion. The final seminal moment was the closing of its Lafayette Street store in September 2019, which marked a symbolic end to its 25-year ascent.
The label is no longer a niche branded T-shirt, apparel and tchotchke purveyor catering to Millennials and Gen Zers, but a legitimate leader in the growing and ever-evolving streetwear market. With contemporary streetwear designers, premium brands and retailers, and lower price point offerings vying for position in the streetwear market, all eyes continue to look to Supreme for its winning formula that still has young consumers lining up outside its stores.
But will Supreme’s reign continue? A $1 billion valuation is the antithesis of what a skate brand and counterculture fashion stand for. How does a brand retain its street cred when it has the figures to show that it’s more of the top dog than the people’s champ?
The Louis Vuitton x Supreme collection was not universally well-received, with skaters who preferred anonymity saying the collection was “stupid as s–t,” and that “it solidifies Supreme’s place in fashion, which is so stupid. They started the brand as a f–k you to fashion, and now they’ve become it.” One student said, “People are saying it’s going to separate the men from the boys. Also change and divide the audience,” and another teen said, “If you buy that Louis Vuitton s–t, you’re stupid.”
Despite some naysayers, the collection drew throngs to various pop-up shops around the world, created a frenzy and sold out.
If one looks to resale, Supreme’s cred may be waning. On StockX, sales premiums for Supreme in the fall/winter 2019 season were down as much as 25 percent from the spring/summer 2019 season, and down over 40 percent from fall/winter 2018.
More players have emerged, with Palace moving to New York City and Patta opening a pop-up in New York City in September. There’s Awake NY by Supreme alum Angelo Baque, Pharrell Williams’ favorite Cactus Plant Flea Market, and brands like Chinatown Market — a big favorite at ComplexCon in November — along with Pleasures, Girls Don’t Cry, and Nigo’s Human Made.