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The rich pursuing the young


M_Nerdy, his nickname, doesn’t hide it. Michael Miri–dreadlocks and designer glasses–is a genuine nutter. The young American with Asian roots is a collector. Not just any collector, Miri collects products from collaborative editions of the US cult label Supreme with remarkable ambition. His collection is recognized as one of the biggest in the US. T-shirts, jackets, baseball caps, sneakers, hoodies and sweatshirts, as well as brand name bicycle locks, folding shovels, crowbars, toolkits, motorbike helmets, punching bags, dominoes, feeding bowls, money boxes, fire extinguishers, ashtrays and bricks with the red and white logo of the skate label are piled up in his Las Vegas warehouse. Youtuber Just Wynn is visiting today and is clearly impressed–by the sprawling subterranean rooms and by Miri, who has a little story to tell about each item. For example, he proudly holds a sponge in front of the camera and explains in all seriousness: “No one has it!” To be honest: Unlikely. But the cameraman, Just, is confident and happy. “Uhh man, that’s insane. Superdope!”

And, indeed, the products of the approximately 200 collabs Supreme has done with all kinds of companies seem to be addictive in some way. Because, though he may be one of the biggest, Miri is by no means the only collector. His collection is valued at around $1 million, but that varies, because he also sells items on to others. His store in Vegas is called On the Arm. Rapper Travis Scott drops in regularly. Recently he bought a sweatshirt for five grand. Miri even offers sample T-shirts that never went into series production for a whopping $20,000.

Which is probably a good investment: In May 2018, Artcurial, a prestigious auction house in Paris just a few steps from the Champs-Elysées, auctioned off 150 Supreme products. The lot included a suitcase from the Supreme x Louis Vuitton collab that changed hands for just under €90,000. By contrast, a T-shirt from series production was already selling for €1,500 and the Supreme x Everlast punching bag was auctioned off for around €20,000.

The auction prices only confirmed what the scene already knew: Supreme is king. The brand truly leads the way when it comes to collabs. And it’s been that way for about a decade now. Supreme’s archived history goes back to 2006. At the time, the skate label collaborated withphotographer and filmmaker Ari Marcopoulos, artist Jeff Koons, the band Public Enemy and outdoor specialist Timberland. The North Face, Vans and Oakley were next, and from there it gradually worked its way into big-ticket deals. In 2009 Supreme worked with A.P.C. for the first time. Since 2012, Comme des Garçons has also been among its closest friends. There have been countless collabs with artists and musicians since then, but also with producers, sports and home and gardening products. Miri’s collection demonstrates this: No product seems too outlandish to be declared cool by the New Yorkers. But it’s notable how liaisons with high fashion attract Supreme again and again.

The collaboration with Louis Vuitton in November 2017 has been the jewel in the crown of the ongoing series. Despite the fact that Supreme founder James Jebbia was persona non grata in the Paris luxury fashion house for a good decade and a half. The reason? In 2000, he took the liberty of decorating one of his skateboard decks with a Louis Vuitton logo print. A tongue-in-cheek nod to the hype about logos going on in the hip-hop community. But the French were not amused–an injunction reached Jebbia just two weeks later. However, at the end of 2017, LVMH reconsidered and came around. Thanks to a collaborative effort–the first in the 160-year history of LV with another fashion company–the Paris luxury house emblazoned the Supreme logo on suitcases, backpacks, shirts and jackets. It was a smash hit: One of the limited edition sweatshirts selling in stores for €600 was able to fetch a price eight times higher when resold. It’s hardly surprising that investors are paying attention. A year ago, the Washington D.C.-based Carlyle Group bought 50% of Supreme’s shares for a fabulous $500 million.

The convergence of streetwear and haute couture is a fashion phenomenon that is burgeoning in extravagant ways. And it seems like the sky’s the limit. Supreme’s collab with the posh Parisian luxury label should only be a first plateau. Presumably, the skate label already has another prospective partner in its sights. Perhaps knock on Céline’s door? Or Mr. Lagerfeld’s? He has now also added track pants to his collection, though he had demonized them before.

Designers such as Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane have long been known for putting subculture street looks on the catwalk. They gave Dior a facelift with punk and New Wave references. Louis Vuitton has benefited from the streetwear expertise of Marc Jacobs and Kim Jones. Even so, the hype has taken on a new quality, and those who do not receive collab requests are almost becoming pitiable wallflowers. Because the others are obviously having fun with their changing partners. Nike has already flirted with Givenchy and the Japanese brand Undercover, while Puma has already had something going with Hussein Chalayan. Adidas switches partners so often you almost lose track: Yohji Yamamoto, Jeremy Scott, Stella McCartney, Rick Owens and at one time a threesome with Chanel and Pharrell Williams. Oh, yes, Moscow design prodigy Gosha Rubchinskiy was also in the lineup at one point. But he is endearing himself to Burberry now.

The motive is not difficult to understand: To high fashion, the devil-may-care attitude of streetwear is attractive. It gives high fashion access to coolness and that opens up new target groups. This is worth a lot, because at some traditional labels there were fears that wealthy customers were slowly getting up there in years. In return, streetwear feels that it’s being taken seriously. The quality standards of the collab partner enhance its status and justify higher prices. The doors to the best stores in the world open as if by themselves.

By all appearances, it’s a win-win liaison. Both partners value credibility and maintaining their image and both love status symbols and like to step outside the usual norm. In each case, the bond is sealed by the double name. If both LV and Supreme are on the T-shirt, it’s clear: This piece is exclusive and hip. Anything goes–this is no longer true just for a look or a skirt length, but also for collabs and mutual references. It has become the credo of a whole industry that is trying to reinvent itself in ever faster cycles. But will the love affair last? Won’t the interactions become interchangeable at some point?

Opinions differ on whether this is a justified concern. Detractors are worried about the most important asset streetwear brands have, their credibility, and caution against selling out because coolness will suffer. Supporters refer to tradition because collaborations are not a new phenomenon at all. In the hip-hop community and the skate and surf communities, mutual support has long been a way of life.

“My Adidas”– in 1986, Run-DMC were rapping the praises of their beloved sneakers at Madison Square Garden and 40,000 fans experienced the birth of the first legendary co-op between the hip-hop musicians and the sportswear manufacturer from Herzogenaurach. In addition to musicians, back then athletes were among the early influencers. In 1984 the then still insignificant manufacturer of athletic shoes, Nike, developed a basketball shoe for the NBA newcomer Michael Jordan. “Air” Jordan became a world star–and with his slam dunks, sales at Nike rose to unprecedented heights. Nevertheless, joint product development was still in the beta version. Here and there, the very first streetwear labels worked with bands or artists, but within the fashion industry everyone preferred to do their own thing. That is, until Supreme appeared: The young Englishman James Jebbia initially held down a job at a Stüssy boutique in New York’s SoHo neighborhood. Shawn Stüssy, who founded his surf label in the small West coast town of Laguna Beach in the early 1980s, is considered one of the originators of streetwear and served as a role model for the young Jebbia. When Jebbia discovered an empty store on nearby Lafayette Street in 1994, the former Stüssy employee started his own business. The Supreme store became a hangout, the brand a local cult, but the Web was still in its infancy, and so the label grew slowly. Unlike other brands at the time: Cross Colours, Mecca, Pelle Pelle, Ecko, Fubu, Wu Wear, Phat Farm–there were many brand startups emerging, often from within the community itself, to meet the huge demand created by the hip-hop movement as it entered the mainstream in the mid-nineties.

But the gold rush mood and resulting hype soon saturated the market. The protagonists of the rap scene, now international stars, preferred to dress in prestigious European labels representing the success and prosperity of an elite most black musicians had previously been unable to access. These were brands that did not care much about youth cultures in general or hip-hop in particular. Up until then, Prada, Gucci, Dior, Chanel, Hermès and Louis Vuitton had simply been traditional designer brands that created high-quality clothing and accessories for a wealthy clientele. They were familiar enough with T-shirts selling for several hundred dollars or euros. But punching bags and bricks?

This was a dream marketing experts at the big fashion houses didn’t dare to dream but which came true with Supreme anyway. Even younger colleagues have finally noticed. Like the high fashion line Vetements, which is as willing to collaborate as Supreme, though a little more selectively. The label, founded by the Georgian Demna Gvasalia, prefers to tap into the specific expertise of its partners, including Carhartt, Reebok, Umbro and Champion to send their creations onto the catwalk with a high-fashion label. And this model also seems to be paying off for both sides.

Sporty looks at high prices is a fashion formula that Virgil Abloh has also adopted. The graduate architect comes from the hustle and bustle of the enterprising Kanye West and founded his label Off-White in 2013. He quickly declared his streetwear to be high fashion and had the luck and marketing expertise to get away with it. The models at his fall/winter 2016 womenswear show in Paris looked like millionaire’s daughters who had eloped with their skateboarding buddies: They wore sneakers with corsage dresses and combined graphic print T-shirts with floor-length pleated skirts. Abloh had greeted his audience with the slogan, “You’re obviously in the wrong place,” a quotation from the movie, Pretty Womanthat also drew attention to his status as an outsider. Since he has become a designer for Louis Vuitton his status has changed. To undermine the exclusivity of the big houses and to democratize access to fashion–these were once Abloh’s stated goals. With advances made by digitization, both seem to have been achieved to a greater and greater degree.

In fact, the way trends go viral has revolutionized the fashion world. Never before have new styles been communicated to the masses as quickly as is happening through Instagram and Pinterest. Nearly all current marketing models work with digital technology. For sneakerheads eager for the next “drop,” there are apps for reserving sneakers and countdown clocks that remind them when a launch is taking place. The auctions of resellers, the resales of limited editions, would be unthinkable without corresponding Web platforms. Today’s street fashion hype is the child of digitization.

Supreme and companies like them that propel this hype are showing their street smarts. Limited editions are intended to counteract the loss of credibility. Self-regulated online trade prevents the products from being sold off cheaply and thus lose sex appeal. But will it work? Ultimately, investors such as the Carlyle Group or LVMH won’t waste any time on brands that want to keep their cult status forever. Although a Carlyle Group spokesman has stated that they “are very confident about the credibility we have established over decades,” and sees no danger in extending this credibility to other products. Nevertheless, as everybody knows, nothing lasts forever.

Birkenstock recently indulged in the luxury of turning down a request from Supreme to collaborate. And in an interview with i-D, with deadpan earnestness the designer Raf Simons even declared street fashion dead. But still, it’s one person’s word against somebody else’s. According to Emma Hope Allwood, fashion features editor at Dazed Magazine, the LV monogram bags with the Supreme logos printed on them are so cool right now because they resemble the fakes in Asian street markets. Fake bootleg? So, the fake counterfeit at the original price?

Though that may seem absurd, in the world of fashion, though not openly welcome, a certain amount of absurdity is often tolerated. The story of Dapper Dan bears this out, too. In the 1980s, the New York tailor was able to find fabrics with logo prints of major European luxury fashion houses and turned these into striking fashion styles–but was sued in 1996 by Gucci, Fendi and Louis Vuitton. Now the belated rehabilitation: As part of a capsule collection, this fall Gucci mastermind Alessandro Michele will present designs inspired by the legendary tailor’s style. “Dapper Dan” is now emblazoned in large letters across the iconic Gucci all-over prints. Pretty crazy.

Sportswear International
Issue No. 287, Winter 2019