Supreme Leader: The Extended James Jebbia Interview

But there was a consciousness of what these skaters could afford, too?

Yes, but it’s the same as I feel now. We’re going to make the product as good as we can, and we’re going to try to put it out as reasonably priced as we can. We don’t want a $600 shirt. We want a shirt which is around $100. For us, the reason that our quality has been high, and I feel that our pricing has been reasonable, is because we don’t wholesale. But our thing was to try and make things as good as the best brands out there—but not the fashion brands—and have that quality that people are going to wear these items for a long, long time.

Well, they have to, because skaters wear the shit out of everything.

Regular people do, too. I think that when we started, at the time, people didn’t spend as much money on clothes. And I don’t think they needed to have, like, ten different jackets. Now, I think people buy a lot more clothing than they used to.

What’s the in-house design mandate for a new collection? It’s apparent that much of the collection references vintage sportswear designs from the ’80s and ’90s. How much of that is intentional as part of the Supreme design ethos? Or is that more of an incidental result based on making the standard, classic pieces that are in a sense native to the style of Supreme?

I guess a lot of what we do comes from ’90s-era, because that’s when we opened and started. But I also feel that was a golden era for clothes, for music, for art, for a lot of things. So that’s always something that we are influenced by. I think, for us, a lot of the things that we do are based on what happened in the ’90s, but a lot of people were doing very similar things in the ’90s. If you go to Macy’s—Polo, Nautica, Perry Ellis, so many brands—there was a quite similar kind of thing. And here’s the thing, a lot of what we do can come from the ’90s, but can come from different places. We’re still influenced by many things—it can come from anywhere. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel with what we’re doing. If you look at what we do, a lot of the shapes are very simple. We’re always doing things our own way. I think most of the time, people can tell that’s a Supreme piece.

It always struck me that the meticulousness of the store—the tightly folded T-shirts, etc.—was more about presenting the product in an elevated way, not just a reason to be rude to customers. And since you don’t wholesale, you can really control the experience of shopping for Supreme. The products feel designed and manufactured with similar meticulousness. Has this always been part of your vision? How do you think you’ve developed this kind of sensibility? Or do you have major influences, inspirations, that have led you to think this way?

I think the reason that we do things the way we do is because we respect the customer. And I don’t look at what we do as anything less than any other brand. I still feel like we’re a skate brand—it doesn’t mean we can’t present our stuff well. It doesn’t mean that when you come in, everything has to be messy. I know that’s what people think, but for us, it was more like, “How can we present things well, and treat it with the same respect?” You go into Staples, and the Post-its are displayed nicely. You go into Barneys, and things are displayed nicely. Why shouldn’t we display things as nice as we can? Some of the things that we do in the shop—we have no choice, actually, with the way we display things. With the clothing, too, we don’t dumb it down for people. I’ve always looked at it as: Why shouldn’t we make good stuff? Why shouldn’t we try to present it in a good way? Why shouldn’t we use a great photographer? That’s just really the mindset. Most people, at that time, were used to skate brands being presented a certain way and then looking at us—well, that’s not what a skate brand’s meant to do. Your thing is meant to be kind of scruffy. You’re not meant to care. Our thing still has to have a natural edge to it, so it’s not like we’re trying to soften anything. Why shouldn’t that tee be really good? Why shouldn’t those jeans be really good? Why shouldn’t the shop itself look good? I think a lot of that came from the influence of Japan. Because when you go to Japan, they did things in a great way. Nigo was doing incredible things with A Bathing Ape. He was elevating things. He was doing a Gore-Tex jacket, he was using the very best zippers. We were of the same mindset in our own ways. It wasn’t overthinking, it’s just how we approached things.

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