I think, therefore I shop
I guess it’s perfect timing with the recent launch of the Supreme/UNDERCOVER collection to talk about the brand’s urge to appropriate forms and symbols from the past. Perhaps this is because these elements have the advantage of standing the test of time and we, a society always on the go, need a similar sort of stability.
So with the new Supreme collection came Bruegel’s The Fall of the Rebel Angels (1562), the imagery printed on the coaches jacket. There are two levels of layering here: the Book of Revelation – the good angels, the bad angels, the demons, and the Archangel – and the Renaissance period. This might be my completely incorrect interpretation of the collection but there seems to be a very obvious link between Bruegel’s period of new thinking in the arts and sciences, and our period of ‘Anti-Everything’. Really opposing concepts in such a cohesive form seems like an unlikely coincidence.
I guess what I am trying to say is that this collection has looked for inspiration in both familiar cultures (present) and unfamiliar cultures (past) to create something of a much larger significance. ‘Generation F*ck You’ yeah alright that sums us up perfectly, but it’s also spelt backwards. Is that because that in itself is backwards, that mentality? OR does it mean that we need to return to a time of stimulating ideas and enlightenment? OR it might just be because it looked cool and none of the above makes any sense, that’s alright too.
Two paragraphs in and I feel like I want to write it the way I am thinking it, all colloquialisms included. So I really like Supreme and here’s why – it’s creative in a very low-key kind of way. David Shapiro called Supreme ‘the most fascinating art project’. In its 22 years of existence it has collaborated with some of our generations biggest photographers and artists, designers and various creatives. Their approach to work in dialogue with other ideas and concepts is what defines the brand’s unique identity and angle on fashion. That too broadens their audience.
For me it seems that Supreme views their art as a collective mindset; it takes symbols from previous generations and extends them into a new kind of language that we associate ourselves with, bridging the gap between the two. So, as well as appreciating the collections in a kind of face-value sort of way, we should celebrate the creativity and resourcefulness at the heart of Supreme’s artistic ideology. Sourcing and decoding the references that come with the design of the clothing is pretty tough at times. And I guess it is pretty easy to get it wrong too, so don’t take any of this as gospel truth.
Supreme’s Fall/Winter 2016 collection – PHILIP LARKIN’S ‘THEY FUCK YOU UP‘
The first F/W 16 Supreme release featured Philip Larkin’s well known ‘they fuck you up, your mum and dad’ from his 1971 poem ‘This Be The Verse.’ The poem, and the phrase itself, talks about the process of inheritance and continuity (our generation is shaped by the generation that raised us, and that generation by the generation that raised them, etcetera etcetera.) Larkin is being very negative here – the cycle is constant and unrelenting.
It’s a case of whether or not you want to take a one dimensional view of the poem by just focusing on what is printed on the tee you’re buying. I won’t because I think that’s us missing the mark. Larkin’s poem goes on to state that ‘man hands on misery to man.’ Also, in his ‘Letters to Monica’, he has said that ‘I feel the only thing you can do about life is to preserve it, by art if you’re an artist.’ I think that by adopting Larkin’s most well-known phrase Supreme is adopting his whole ideology: the importance of the extension of our past through man-made art. The brand is providing us with the platform to connect with concepts we are not familiar with, but at the same time seem to subconsciously concern us. Supreme here shows both the importance of fashion for exploring creativity, but also convention and tradition.
It’s like by wearing the product you are also a product, and the product exists because of you, and you are the reason that a similar product will exist in 20 years’ time. Ngl I myself got confused trying to process what I just said, but I guess it’s better to attempt to figure out what it’s trying to say rather than just spending cash on fabric and ink.
Supreme Spring/Summer 2013 collection – PETER SAVILLE’S ‘POWER, CORRUPTION, AND LIES‘
And then there’s Peter Saville’s ‘Power, Corruption, and Lies’ feature in the S/S 13 Supreme collection. The rose patterns were imprinted on various garments multiple times in an ‘all-over’ manner, very different to the 4×4 album cover that it was referenced from. ‘PCL’ came from New Order’s 1983 album cover. Once again there’s a layering of two kinds: the Power, Corruption, and Lies cover belonging to the band, and then the cover’s own usage of Fantin-Latour’s painting ‘A Basket of Roses’. By using the floral-motif for their capsule collection Supreme is producing a three-dimensional meaning in their clothing.
Saville was to choose the album cover for the band, and after visiting London’s National Gallery he picked out Latour’s painting. He said that the flowers appealed to him, and the intended audience, because they ‘suggested the means by which power, corruption and lies infiltrate our lives.’ Did Supreme knew about Saville’s statement prior to using it for the collection? If so, then we once again see a kind of negativity, as with Larkin’s poetry, coming through here.
It’s amazing how something can be interpreted in so many different ways – a piece of art from the 19th century has transcended its creative pathway and later merged with music, to then find itself printed on a skate wear brand’s clothing. Also, the concepts that are power, corruption and lies are completely universal; they have existed since the age of dawn and will exist for the many years to come. The same goes to flowers; if we continue to plant them they will continue to grow.
Supreme has paid homage to ordinary objects and themes but managed to ingrain within them a kind of weightiness – the permanence of the past. We can see this through the way that the brand always retains a very special relationship with its sources of inspiration. Supreme has incorporated ‘PCL’ in its own creations and, by keeping in place the basis of its elements, has transformed the way that it is perceived, showcasing them for a wider audience in a rather niche market. Low-key craftsmanship at its best.
Supreme Logos – BARBARA KRUGER’S PROPAGANDA ART and others
The Supreme box logo has a special place in all of our hearts. We recognise it instantaneously, we spend ridiculous money on its’ tiny placement at the side of a t-shirt, we ruin our simple and clean Macbook design by sticking the ‘bogo’ sticker across the face of it, and we paste it on our bedroom doors (guilty). Copy the logo onto a hand-held speaker and it’ll cost £300+. Or, even better, take the Supreme logo’s Futura font and engrave it into a brick, that’ll sell for sure. There is no denying that the logo is monumental for the brand, and has been since 1994.
Some kid at uni told me that the reason that Supreme made the logo red and white is because of ‘colour psychology’. Apparently we are attracted to it because it represents power or some shit like that. Although possible, I hope I have managed to show that Supreme doesn’t just do things with empty reasoning, even with the simple and straightforward. The brand got its’ inspiration from Barbara Kruger’s contemporary art. Her work is easily distinguishable through black and white photographs overlaid with bold font (Futura Bold Oblique.) Her art often concerns wider issues such as gender politics, identity, power, and consumerism. Supreme has taken Kruger’s ‘I shop therefore I am’, and isolated words such as ‘you’, ‘I’, and ‘we’ and replaced it with iconic ‘Supreme’ (the OED defines it as ‘highest in rank or authority’). Perhaps slightly less deep, the word ‘supreme’ now has a connection with the far-reaching issues that Kruger explored. BUT, at the same time, ‘supreme’ can also be interpreted in Kruger’s context – those issues are ‘paramount, sovereign, utmost’ to her contemporary society, and ours too.
Kruger has said that “I work with pictures and words because they have the ability to determine who we are and who we aren’t.” In a similar way Supreme uses words and symbols from previous generations to determine who we are – the brand recognises that our present condition, and our current cultural surroundings, stem from our former times. And maybe it manages to recognise who we aren’t when we don’t know where their references come from; did anyone know that the ‘Anatomy’ tee from the Supreme/UNDERCOVER drop that I referenced earlier on is playing on Bourgery’s ‘Atlas of Anatomy’ from the 20th century?
The logo is more than just a colour-scheme and recognisable font. It represents the foundation of what would later become one of the more recognised and sought after logos of all time, for reasons of greater consequence than first understood. If interested, check out Andre Courreges’ influence on the Supreme logo with the accented ‘e’, and Saul Bass’s impact on the Supreme motion logo.
It is easy to see that Supreme values creativity above commerciality. Supreme has long been known for curating forms of inspiration and remixing it with their own brand identity. And although these cultural markers, these references that we find within the collections, sometimes belong to a very different generation to ours, we have to remember and understand that we are products of that environment and culture. That, I believe, is thinking Supreme.
Words by Marianna Mukhametzyanova