In 2018, Supreme debuted a collaboration with American photographer, Nan Goldin, showcasing some of her most influential portraits of New York City’s LGBTQ community. I loved that collection. The imagery taken from Nan’s 1986 gallery exhibition — The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, was empowering not only for the time of the exhibition, but also the curation of the images selected for Supreme’s capsule collection in Spring/Summer 2018.
The placement of LGBTQ+ imagery into powerhouse Supreme silhouettes, akin to skateboards, coaches jackets, hoodies & t-shirts would make an often times reservist buyer, look into the photographer and her work before making a snap judgement of the collection.
But this was not the case.
That collection debuted in 2018, when the political climate in North America was still slow to come around on acceptance of trans and non-binary uses of personal pronouns outside of the LGBTQ+ community. The reaction online to Nan Goldin’s collaboration with Supreme was heavily debated, and often times criticized. “Sorry the only hot chicks I have on my decks and pillows are my Hook-Up girls” was a comment from a Redditor, in contrast to the hyper sexualized anime-style skateboards produced by Jeremy Klein. “Fucking gross lol” and “Is the photo tee of that naked chick a transvestite? vital info” were some of the other comments in the thread in regards to the collection. The collection depicted images of drag performers Misty and Jimmy Paulette, Nan herself as a dominatrix, and a transgender female named Kim.
Flash forward to June 23rd, 2020 — Supreme releases editorial photos for this weeks collection in collaboration with Australian performance artist, fashion designer and nightlife superstar Leigh Bowery. Similar in comparison to the Nan Goldin collection, the imagery used on the garments features Bowery dressed in his signature Club Kid looks from the early 90s. Often times, Bowery’s performances and aesthetics were meant to push the boundaries of what society deemed “acceptable” — in art, fashion and performance, going as far as reproducing births, using enemas and fake vomit, all onstage. In an interview, Leigh was famously quoted as saying “If I have to ask, ‘Is this idea too sick?’ I know I am on the right track.”
In today’s socio-politically conscious climate, opinions of fence-sitters change overnight and there has been a strong, positive response to Leigh Bowery’s collection as the online community is pushing human rights & equality to the forefront of conversation. Although controversial at times, Leigh art outweighs his slights, and has opened the door for brands like Supreme to introduce a new generation of kids to the iconic works through a recognizable, easily understandable medium.
I truly believe companies with both the cultural and societal influence (Supreme) should have these “uncomfortable” conversations with their buyers. The argument for Nan’s collection in 2018 becoming fodder for gay-bashing hypebeasts would be — why does a picture of a transgender performer on a shirt make someone so unsettled they resort to derogatory & trans-phobic slurs against those who support the clothing? Is this a case of lack of education, sexual insecurity within themselves, or cultural stigmas of the LGBTQ+ community experienced second-hand? Skateboarding was traditionally seen as a subculture for those who don’t fit in. By marginalizing a community such as LGBTQ+, these people are only exhibiting learned behaviours of exclusion they themselves have experienced for being “different”, which is immoral & contradictory to the entire ethos of what a subculture is by definition.
Social progress is a long, slow, arduous process that can take decades. Unfortunately, there are no answer for fast-tracking anything, but the internet has been instrumental in bringing awareness to injustices faced in marginalized communities, and starts a dialogue within our homes between families & friends. Whether these conversations go further than our home, that’s falls to the responsibility of those who are in conversation. Because people are having this open discussion online (ie: Reddit Supreme threads) shows the potential Supreme has on expanding viewpoints, or people becoming more comfortable with LGBTQ+ in the mainstream.
I hope my perspective is the way Supreme approaches these collaborations, and I believe the design directors are highly aware the sociocultural impact they have. In 2020, Generation Z is the largest consumer of Supreme. These members still have social-biases learned through impressionism of past generations, but I can only hope they’ll be more open-minded and inclusive as we move forward, but only time will tell.