It’s summer 2017. The first Supreme x Stone Island drop has just landed. The streets are packed with teens and streetwear fanatics slathered in Supreme, Palace, Comme des Garçons and Stone Island.
There’s a commotion, people shoving and pushing to get in the store. In a video documenting the drop, the camera pans to a 13-year-old boy who tells us, through braces, “the drop’s been shut down.” The Unknown Vlog footage provides a glimpse of the good old days when Supreme reigned supreme.
I can’t remember the last time I saw someone at a party, or even on the street, wearing the tell-tale Supreme red letterbox logo.
A cold feeling creeps in, which feels a lot like getting old. Wait a minute, is Supreme still cool?
It’s a Thursday in May. The year is no longer 2017 but 2022, and the landscape outside the Supreme store tells a very different story. It’s another Supreme x Stone Island drop. Still, only 14 people are found this time, standing in two separate orderly queues, heads bowed down into their phones, occasionally looking up. They’re bored and distinctly uninterested. The dozen or so patrons are monitored by six security guards, whose presence seems a little over-prepared.
To be frank, there’s a bigger queue outside Swatch.
The teenagers are nowhere to be seen, and the demographic is overwhelmingly…old. It seems people wearing Supreme are going extinct, and we have found the last of a dying breed.
“Times have changed!” I hear you say. “Online shopping, ever heard of it?”
The stats show people are definitely still copping garms (ew) online, using robots for a speedy checkout. The sell-out times for this 2022 drop ranged from 12.6 seconds to 161 seconds. This may sound quick, but it pales compared to the 2017 heyday when the drop clicked at just 3.2s.
Part of Supreme’s success and cultural allure is the limited supply, timed drops, and fast checkout times. It’s a ‘supply and demand’ dream come true. Limited pieces sold out quickly online, pushing resale prices up – often selling for thousands.
With a 22 per cent revenue increase this quarter, these tactics are clearly still working. People are still buying. But something’s not adding up here, and Google search results are suspiciously quiet.
The day after a drop used to be filled with items up for resale, journo write-ups, and YouTube video hauls. How can a brand be so successful and not even generate a murmur on Twitter?
I’ve taken to the streets to speak to the last remaining Supreme stans outside the store and find out quite what brought them here.
“This is my first supreme drop, I’m here more for Stone Island, I wear Stone Island more,” says one.
“I wanted to get a jacket and cap,” says another.
“I wanted to come in and see the pieces themselves, online they sell out pretty fast and the bots aren’t so good anymore,” adds a third.
Somewhat insightful, but I want more: when did you first hear about the brand?
“Supreme has always been around.”
“About 6 years ago.”
“Years ago, I saw celebrities wearing it.”
When I ask the question, ‘Is Supreme cool?’, a couple of people respond with a half-hearted, “I guess so.” Another claims, “Supreme is the best streetwear”, but does so in a way that feels so scripted, I can’t help but think she’s been planted there by the brand. I turn and ask someone else.
“Yeah, I think so.” When I ask why, he says, “I’ve never really used that word ‘cool’ to describe things. You have to define cool… it’s for the culture, the youth, skaters. In terms of staying true to the brand, I think they have done alright in that.
“It’s the culture that drives the hype,” he explains, when I ask if Supreme is still culturally relevant. “It can deliver the hype, but it’s not a hype-worthy brand anymore. When something becomes mass accessible it takes away from the hype, and exclusivity drives the hype.”
And from the sounds (and looks) of it, that seems to have diminished.
No one seemed particularly enthused by Supreme, even though they were in the queue about to enter the shop. The only slight whiff of the good old days was when I was asked to stay away from the queue and stop interviewing there.
So maybe the question to ask is not ‘Is Supreme still cool?’, but rather, ‘Where has the culture gone?’
Each person I spoke to said they would keep, rather than resell, their items. Perhaps there’s no demand anymore to push people to resell. Perhaps that part of the culture has gone too.
I don’t think the answers lie solely in the numbers. The atmosphere on that Thursday was sad. In the middle of Soho, there was no buzz, no atmosphere to speak of. It was eerily quiet.
Despite that 22 per cent revenue rise, a closer look shows this is mainly down to investors rather than profit. Supreme are part of a larger family – VF Corporation – which also includes brands such as North Face and Napajriri, making high-end collaborations with Louis Vuitton or Burberry far easier.
But maybe I’m just getting old; maybe I’m the deeply uncool one.
Beanie Stolper, however, stylist and editor at Pop magazine, no doubt is cool – whatever that word actually means. She assured me it wasn’t down to my age and social clout. Still, a potential reason for a cultural switch-up could be Supreme’s merging with the VF corporation. With many different voices through their investors, Supreme’s OG voice is drowned out. Compare this with Palace, Beanie cites as an example, who have stuck to their British roots.
It sounds like Supreme got lost in the sauce and is relying on collabs to stay relevant, pushing it further into being unable to stand alone.
The Supreme x Stone Island drop itself seems disappointing above all else. I can’t help but feel nostalgic for the small skate brand that started on Lafayette Street in New York’s SoHo. That store, which is now shut, placed skate rails around the outside of the shop to give skaters space to move in the middle of the store, feel the clothes, and buy T-Shirts for $34.
The true essence of what it once was, has been lost. The skaters now wear Palace, and even poster boy A$AP Rocky doesn’t wear Supreme anymore. This isn’t to underestimate the cultural value and true legacy that remains, however, which is seeped into our everyday shopping experience. Supreme changed how stores were organised, how we shop online, and the value of streetwear as high art itself.
But the brand doesn’t seem to be riding the waves of current streetwear trends like it used to.
Get the 21-gun salute ready. Here lies Supreme, which has quietly given way to a brand acting under the pseudonym of ‘Supreme’ but with none of the original culture left. Like a borough in London so gentrified the streets have become a parody of themselves, Supreme is now soulless and – I believe – boring.