Fashion doesn’t always translate well into fiction. For every Devil Wears Prada, there’s a Saint Laurent. For every Zoolander, a Zoolander 2. Perhaps it’s because, for those who aren’t bothered about clothes, the buzz is so incomprehensible. It’s just an expensive shirt – why do you care so much?
But even for those who’ve already drunk fashion’s Kool Aid, there are some subcultures they just can’t understand. And the logoed-up boys that queue outside Supreme’s store every Thursday – who fight over hoodies and lust after each other’s shoes – are perhaps the most unrelatable of all. What is it about the brand’s obnoxious staff, its deliberately ugly graphics, its refusal to make enough of anything, which inspires so much loyalty?
Ask David Shapiro. The author, corporate lawyer and self-professed Supreme obsessive travelled to all of the brand’s global stores, then wrote a semi-fictionalised novel about the journey. But the result, Supremacist, isn’t some paean to the box logo. It’s an exploration of what a brand means. Of what it’s like to be young and male in a hyper-consumerist world that treats you like the product. And how you apply value to stuff you’ll never need, but can’t live without.
David Shapiro Interview
FashionBeans: What made you want to write the book? Why Supreme?
David Shapiro: I pitched the book in order to get an advance so I could pay for a trip around the world to every Supreme store while I was in school. Really, all I wanted to do was go on a trip to every Supreme store in the world, and I couldn’t think of how else to pay for it.
I understand Supreme as a disciplined, clever, aggressive long-term art project. The most fascinating cultural enterprise I’m familiar with. With every Supreme product, there’s the product, and then there is something else going on. The brand is an enormous puzzle.
How did your opinion of Supreme, and its fans, change as you researched it?
With the exception of a handful of products over the last decade (this season’s Helinox table and chair come to mind), nothing I’ve learned about Supreme, or seen from the company, has made me think anything less of it. I only admire the brand.
As far as its fans – or what you or I might be thinking of when we think of ‘Supreme fans’ – above everything else, we are all just human beings trying to fit in, trying to look cool, hoping that no one notices our ugliness. Beyond that, I have found fans of Supreme, almost all of whom I have been exposed to through message boards, to be generally observant and funny. God bless them.
How fictional is the book?
The book is almost entirely fictional. I went on a research trip to every Supreme store in the world between semesters of school.
In my life outside of this book, I am a corporate lawyer who lives in New York. I work a lot. I drink Bud Light beer and wear Dockers pants. David Shapiro is only the name I write under.
How much of yourself is reflected in the narrator? He shares your name – or at least, your pen name.
All aspects of the narrator that are flattering or sympathetic are true reflections of myself in real life; anything upsetting or objectionable about the narrator is entirely fictional.
What’s your Supreme grail piece?
The Supreme/North Face Summit Series Day jacket. If I owned one of those, I would frame it.
You’ve written about Supreme before in the New Yorker, detailing one of its resellers. Are the brand fans?
They have made their distaste for my work known previously. They do their work and I do mine.
I remember seeing the queue at Supreme’s store in Fukuoka, in Japan and not realising what it was for about two hours because it was just so quiet and orderly. Whereas the one in London has now been banned from starting before 8am because it used to get so rowdy. Did you personally notice a cultural difference around Supreme’s approach, or its fans, in different cities and countries?
I found the employees in Supreme stores outside of the US to be more salesmanlike, if not exactly solicitous. At some of the stores in Japan, they carry a handful of items from previous seasons. That’s a treat. Otherwise, Supreme’s approach to self-presentation around the world is universal.
There are some mentions of that in the book – the character Camilla, who is accompanying the narrator David on the trip, is surprised, when she sees that their stores are the same, that they’re going on a trip around the world to nine of the same stores.
Streetwear is enjoying a moment in the spotlight at the moment, with high fashion designers either borrowing from it liberally, or creating versions that they then refuse to call ‘streetwear’ because it sounds dismissive. How does a brand like Supreme fit into that changing narrative around what streetwear is?
I don’t know much from fashion or streetwear otherwise. To me, Supreme or nothing.
Supreme is perhaps the distillation of a streetwear movement that’s always valued exclusivity, but it’s model that’s been copied – or, maybe, emulated – by brands like Palace, even Vetements. How far do you think can the Supreme ethos be transposed successfully?
Not very far. Supreme sells ideas, aggressive and subtle. To me, the sweatshirt is incidental. I don’t know enough about Palace or Vetements to say they aren’t doing the same thing, but I haven’t seen any evidence that they are.
What was your own Supreme awakening? Has your faith ever wavered?
Noticing that one Supreme product referenced or took off a product, and then noticing the same thing over and over – realising that every season is a big puzzle, and part of the fun of the brand is piecing together its vision of what’s interesting, important, worth thinking about.
Supreme could have been a record label, a magazine, a publishing house. I haven’t found a reason to think differently about the brand yet.
Supremacist is published by Tyrant Books and available now.