Friday, February 27, 2009
James Jebbia is SUPREME: by Glen O'Brien
By Glenn O'Brien
Supreme is a different sort of fashion company. Some people would call Supreme street fashion, some would call it skater fashion, but really it’s beyond classification. They make clothes and accessories, but they also make skateboards, and the skateboards are collected like art. In fact, they’ve put out skateboard decks by artists such as Larry Clark, Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, Christopher Wool, Nate Lowman, and most recently, Damien Hirst. Their shoes and other products are collected as fanatically as art. Sometimes when a new item comes in, customers line up on the sidewalk for 24 hours, sleeping on the street to be among the lucky few who are able to buy it—there’s a big secondary market for Supreme stuff, in part because it is produced in only very small quantities, but also because Supreme has just two shops in the U.S. (one in New York and one in L.A.), five in Japan, and they sell to a very limited number of other stores, like Hide Out in London and Colette in Paris.
Supreme’s founder James Jebbia was in on the first wave of skater fashion, partnering with Sean Stüssy. When Stüssy left the business, Jebbia opened up Supreme in 1994 in a small storefront on Lafayette Street in downtown New York. Fifteen years later, Supreme is at the pinnacle of populist youth fashion. It’s as big as it wants to be in New York and L.A. and huge in Japan. It’s got a renegade eye, outlaw good taste, and a sort of cult following that lives on the razor’s edge of fashion, art, and sport.
GLENN O’BRIEN: So how is the recession treating you?
JAMES JEBBIA: Our business is really good. We didn’t plan for a financial crisis, but we were
already working hard, trying to make really good product, and we’ve always tried to keep our prices as reasonable as we can.
GO: We’re seeing an interesting moment in the marketplace. I think it’s a time for new values. I think some of these empty luxury brands are going to disappear.
JJ: I agree. I don’t wish for anybody to go out of business, but I think there are far too many things in New York that really shouldn’t be here. I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing for more than 20 years, so three or four times I’ve been through things where it’s like, “Wow, it’s a tough time.” Ever since September 11, I’ve been quite conservative in what we’ve ordered. We’ve never really been supply-demand anyway. It’s not like when we’re making something, we make only six of them. But if we can sell 600, I make 400. We’ve always been like that—at least for the past seven or eight years. For every season, we put in a lot of work to try to create exciting stuff. So it’s not like in these difficult times we’re going to suddenly pull up our socks—we’ve always been busting our asses every single day to try to get it right.
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