Taking It Back: Supreme in '90s Pop Culture

Taking It Back: Supreme in '90s Pop Culture

Posted by Ross Dwyer on

You can’t look anywhere in 2017 without seeing something Supreme, no matter if you’re cruising around the streets or surfing the Internet. What started as a small New York skate shop has grown to become one of the most ubiquitous brands in the world since their founding in 1994.

The brand’s massive success begets its humble beginnings and early cult status, and some forget that in the mid '90s it was a brand for those truly “in the know,” like downtown NY skaters, cool kids and savvy Japanese tourists. However, before the legendary collabs with brands like Nike, Lacoste, Coca-Cola and Budweiser and the crazy, all-consuming hype that surrounds their every move today, Supreme did have its share of moments in the pop culture limelight.

To understand how a brand the size of Supreme got to where it is, you have to understand where it came from, so today we’re taking it back to the 90’s, and highlighting four iconic times Supreme was a piece of '90s pop culture~

Kids-1995

One of Supreme’s first and most well-known moments in the pop culture spotlight was Harmony Korine and Larry Clark’s hugely influential 1995 film Kids, an independently made coming-of-age tale about a day in the life of troubled teenagers in New York City. The film caused an uproar when it was released, with its detractors questioning its artistic merit, and it was classified as NC-17 by the MPAA before being released without a rating.

Many of the actors & actresses cast in the movie, like Harold Hunter and Chloë Sevigny (plus others with bit parts and appearances) had/have ties with Supreme, as did Korine and Clark, who’ve both worked with the brand since (most recently, Korine shot the iconic Gucci Mane advert, and Clark provided the imagery for S/S ‘17’s “Girl” tee). Hunter’s influence and importance in the early days of the brand was so great that he was honored with several pieces in Supreme and Comme des Garcons 2014 capsule collection. In 2015, Supreme also released a Kids 20th anniversary capsule collection paying homage to some of the most iconic moments in the film.

Vogue-1995

Supreme appearing in high-end, world-renowned publications is no new development. Less than two years after the brand opened their doors on Lafayette, they were featured in a Vogue article alongside Chanel, comparing their clothing, vibe, and aesthetic to Chanel’s high-fashion designs. Even prices got compared: the most expensive thing in Supreme at the time of the article was a $66 Ben Davis workman’s jacket, while Chanel offered a $6,410 evening pants outfit (just imagine the cost today with inflation).

The Vogue piece showcased the die-hard cult following both brands had, commented on their strong and instantly recognizable logos (Supreme’s box logo and Chanel’s interlocking C’s), and profiled the regular customer you were likely to find at either shop, who was obsessed with the logo. The magazine stated: 

"As at Chanel, name is very important at Supreme. All the apparel is emblazoned with the logo of either a skateboard manufacturer or Supreme. Employees as well as customers are encouraged to place red-and-white eight-inch-long 'Supreme' stickers on posters around town as Supreme's seal of approval. One especially favored spot was over Kate Moss's bikini in Calvin Klein ads. Apparently, Calvin Klein lawyers didn't get the concept, that the sticker was a compliment, and threatened consequences, so that particular location is now off-limits."

However, it was more than a mere comparison piece. Vogue stated that Chanel was much more likely to be influenced by Supreme than Supreme by Chanel, writing:

"Generally the vector of fashion influence points from downtown toward uptown, from the young-and-street to the mature-and-moneyed...Chanel's heavy molded-rubber boot echoes Supreme's affinity for practical workman's gear. You would probably see the construction-worker jacket translated into Chanel before you would see Chanel knocked off for Supreme.

Even now, more than two decades later, the statements made in the piece still ring true, showcasing Supreme’s longevity and strong brand identity. The whole article is sadly not available anywhere online, so if you want to read it for yourself (which you certainly should), you can either zoom in on the images below, or find it in Supreme and Rizzoli’s retrospective book, released in 2010.

 

To this day, it’s amazing that the rough and rugged skate shop, still in its infancy at the time of the article’s publishing was worthy of a comparison to one of the most iconic brands of all time. And to make things even better: in 2004, they officially collaborated with Kate Moss for the first time, the model who was the centerpiece of the Calvin Klein ads mentioned in the Vogue article.

MCA & Dali Lama-1996

The Beastie Boys were one of the most popular groups in the world during the '90s, and frontman MCA was one of the earliest streetwear style icons, rocking pieces from the likes of Supreme and X-LARGE before “streetwear” was even officially a thing. MCA converted to Buddhism around 1996, and wore a Supreme coach’s jacket to a meeting with the Dali Lama, a moment that was captured in the now-iconic photograph above.

If an occurrence this legendary went down in today’s Instagram-loving, celebrity-driven world, the image would be on the front page of every blog and the top of every Instagram feed, but the world was different in the '90s, and only those who were truly in the know peeped what MCA was rocking during his meeting with the important monk.

Even today, the image is still an “if you know, you know” kind of deal, with many a Supreme head pointing to it as the brand’s first major public celebrity co-sign. Now that’s historic.

Thrasher Presents Skate And Destroy-1999

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater wasn’t the only skate game to hit the market in 1999. Thrasher’s “Skate And Destroy,” available on the PS1 was meant to be a competitor, and even though it received high marks from several gaming publications, it featured inferior graphics and a much steeper learning curve than the first installment of THPS (we’ll be honest: the game was extremely difficult). It faded into obscurity, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater went on to be one of the biggest video game franchises of the next ten years.

However, there was one special thing that Thrasher’s game offered that Tony Hawk couldn’t match: Supreme. The game’s levels were peppered with giant Supreme logos, and you could select them as a sponsor mid-game, cruise around on a motion logo deck, and adorn your skater’s t-shirt with a giant box logo, Dwayne Wade style.

This begs an extremely interesting hypothetical question: what if the roles were reversed? What if Thrasher Presents Skate And Destroy popped off and THPS didn’t? Would Supreme have become the pop culture juggernaut they are today sooner? We’ll never know, but it certainly is an interesting possibility to consider.

 

What’s your favorite moment on this list? Are there any other moments from Supreme in the '90s that stand out to you? If so, what are they? Hit us up and let us know on Twitter, check our Facebook page for updates, and, as always, be sure to follow us on Instagram for all the fire pictures you can handle.

 

-RDwyer