Supreme and the rise of the ‘hypebeast’
When you think of the New York based Supreme you can’t help but think of their now infamous red and white insignia. A piece of unmistakable branding that has now, in 2019, been slapped across everything from skateboards to apparel. Which is to be expected. What isn’t expected is the addition to rather more peculiar items like shovels, bricks, hammers, even switchblade combs.
The hysteria surrounding every Supreme drop, no matter how strange, has become quite literally an internet meme, one the brand have fully embraced. Supreme, since their inception, have helped define hype culture as we know it today. Why would you want a Supreme shovel? Because no one else has one. So it wouldn’t be surprising to hear there is also history of Supreme Nike products doing equally as well, if not better.
Supreme’s work in the footwear space has included ongoing partnerships with Vans and Timberland. By far the most influential on the scene, however, has to be the near two decade collaboration with Nike. As previously discussed Supreme have been able to etch themselves into popular culture by becoming a driving force in the ‘hypebeast’ movement. Which essentially puts exclusivity as the top priority, and makes rarity currency. So when you combine that branch of popular culture with ‘sneakerheads’ who similarly obsess about the latest and most limited footwear releases. You can begin to see how you can quickly send a fan base into raptures.
History of Supreme Nike
Nike Dunk Low Pro SB Supreme (2002)
The relationship between Supreme and Nike began in 2002 in an era predating the dominance of the Yeezy brand and the emergence of designers like Virgil Abloh, who have become mainstays of the collaborative footwear space. At the time, by far the most sought after trainers on the planet were Nike SB’s reworks of the old 80’s basketball shoe, the Dunk. So it would be only fitting that this is where Supreme would begin their partnership with Nike. The Nike SB Dunk revival had already begun and was gathering traction in the Spring of that Year. Appearing in limited colourways with tight distribution, the already growing appeal of this silhouette was only to be intensified when Supreme became involved.
Fast forward to 2019 and the “Elephant” print has been done to death, to say the least. Reused and re-purposed on an ever growing list of Nike silhouettes, everything from Air Max to Foamposites. Rewind to 2002, however, and Tinker Hatfield’s signature pattern had only appeared on the classic Air Jordan III. So for their first official collaboration with the Swoosh, Supreme paid homage to New York’s love of skateboarding in Jordan’s by flipping the legendary Elephant print onto the Dunk Low SB. Restricted to one pair per customer on release, with a small production run of 750 pairs in black and only 500 of the white.
Despite the lack of online presence, word-of-mouth soon helped spread the news throughout the trainer community. Sighted to this day as one of the defining milestones in evolving the culture into what it is today, Supreme was introduced to an entirely new demographic of people. Proving Nike SB could work with the coolest independent brands, and showing what could be possible when creatives from different worlds work together.
Nike Dunk High Pro SB Supreme (2003)
For their sophomore release the following year Supreme wanted to stay true to what had made their first collaboration with Nike so successful. Once again digging into Nike’s archive they looked to the original “Be True To Your School” campaign of college Dunks from 1985, selecting a trio of OG colourways – “University Blue,” “College Orange” and “Varsity Red” – as inspiration for their new three colour pack.
For those of you who were around in the mid/early 2000s, you know that an stereotypical ‘hypebeast’ at the time came readily equipped with a pair of Nike Dunk High Pro SB Supreme. A pair of these really did move the needle on the resale market, and started to open people’s eyes to the potential in trading these hyper limited releases. As before on release, the shoes were dropped exclusively in Supreme stores over an entire week. With different colours released each day – one pair per customer, per day.
Nike Delta Force 3/4 SB Supreme (2004)
Having previously killed it with the debut and then the sequel. The third chapter in the history of Supreme Nike is a far more low-key vibe. Perhaps one of the more slept on models in the now expansive Supreme x Nike SB collaborative portfolio. The Nike Delta Force 3/4 SB Supreme used it’s muted tonal colourways, padded uppers and a gum sole to revamp what remains as a pretty viable and functional skate shoe. Without any visible Supreme branding you wouldn’t be laughed out of town for forgetting about this shoe, and due to it’s understated nature. It didn’t unfortunately garner the same appeal as what the trainer world was coming accustomed to with Supreme.
Nike Blazer SB Supreme (2006)
After the relative commercial dud of their previous drop, Supreme wanted to enlist the help of one of Nike’s most respected silhouettes. The Nike Blazer has long had a place in skateboarding history. With the likes of Tony Alva carving California’s backyard pools in the old school basketball shoes way back in the 1970s. The transformation Supreme decided to take the model on, however, is perhaps one you wouldn’t conventionally expect.
Opting to turn a basic skate trainer into a luxurious dress shoe with a nod towards Harlem’s customiser king Dapper Dan. The shoe featured premium quilted leather uppers, a faux snakeskin Swoosh, gold lace tips, a Supreme branded ankle ring and a cheeky Gucci-inspired heel strip. The detailing and quality of this release set a very high bar in 2006. Redefining what a premium collaboration should mean, and opening the door to a vast creative range of reworkings that were set to brace the industry.
Nike Air Trainer 2 TW SB Supreme (2007)
For their 2007 collaboration Supreme once again took inspiration from the iconic Air Jordan product line. Taking a more subtle approach in comparison to the elephant print used on their Dunk Low. The Nike Air Trainer 2 TW SB Supreme featured a netted side panel as a nod to the classic Air Jordan IV from 1989. The notable thing about this drop was in the fact it was a trio of firsts in the history of Supreme Nike. It was the first shoe to feature Supreme’s actual logo. The first capsule to feature four colourways and the first of their Nike collaborations with an official release date announced on the newly launched Supreme website.
This announcement caused fans to fill the streets around the Lafayette Street store. Subsequently the NYPD ordered that Supreme sell through their entire stock in just one day to avoid disruption to local businesses.
Nike Bruin Low SB Supreme (2009)
Much like it’s counterpart the Blazer, Nike debuted the Bruin in 1972 as a low-top basketball alternative. That was quickly adopted by the new breed of Southern Californian skaters. Trying to build on what exists to this day as quite a simple design Supreme decided to add a touch of New York finesse to the suede Cali classic. The design was rounded out by a bold metallic Swoosh and innersoles. The “World Famous” slogan across the heel tabs, an embossed box logo adorning the midsole and a dual-branded swing tag.
Nike SB Supreme 94 (2010)
Supreme X fragment design Air Zoom All Court (2011)
Nike Dunk Low Pro SB Supreme (2012)
Celebrating 10 years, yes that’s right, 10 years of collaboration. Nike and Supreme wanted to take it back to where it all began (feel free to scroll up). Reinterpreting some of the most desired Dunks from their collaborative portfolio. Principle of which being the Nike Dunk Low Pro SB Supreme. Updated from the 2002 variation, this new model for 2012 came equipped with signature red side panels in place of the previous white and black of its predecessor. A Supreme logo on the inner soles and a dual-branded hang tag completed the package. Although the scene has almost entirely moved on from the Dunk as a viable silhouette at this point in time, it was definitely a fitting swansong to the shoe that started it all.
Nike Air Force 1 Low Supreme (2012)
By 2012 I don’t think it could be understated the cultural significance of Supreme. Their evolution from skate store to heralded trendsetter, transcending multiple spheres of influence was incredibly impressive. Now a fully fledged lifestyle brand with credits on projects with the likes of COMME des GARÇONS, Levi’s, The North Face and visvim gave them the negotiating power to step away from the niche market of Nike SB and begin work on some of Nike’s more prominent models.
For their first official non-skate Nike collaboration, the Air Force 1 was the obvious choice. Having long been considered a staple across the five boroughs of New York City. The Supreme AF1 Lows were built for the Big Apple’s harsh winters. With water-resistant military fabric NYCO uppers, white midsoles and gum bottoms.
Nike SB Tennis Classic Supreme (2013)
Nike Foamposite 1 Supreme (2014)
Debuted in 1997 as Penny Hardaway’s signature court shoe, the unorthodox looking Foamposite has become a cult favourite among trainer fanatics. We know from history, anything that is loved by fans, or has any sort of cult following, is quite literally perfect for adaptation by Supreme. The duo of Foamposites saw Supreme dip the EVA foam shell in an ostentatious baroque pattern. Which wouldn’t look out of place in a 1980s Versace campaign.
Nike Air Force 1 High Supreme (2014)
Air Jordan 5 Supreme (2015)
In 2015 when it was announced Supreme would be teaming up with Nike subsidiary Jordan, it was another massive milestone for their ongoing evolution. Once upon a time the only link the brand could dream of with the Jumpman was from taking inspiration from them to use on their Nike SB drops. Yet now in 2015, for the first time they were able to work their magic on a silhouette, the silhouette in question being the Air Jordan 5 first seen in 1990.
Simple black nubuck and white leather options were accompanied by a desert camo canvas version to complete the trio. The Supreme box logo could be found on the shoe soles, lace lock, back of the tongue and hangtag. While a large “Sup” logo blazed under the shoe’s side netting. Due to overcrowding safety concerns, the Supreme x Air Jordan 5 didn’t receive a physical release in North America. Instead was restricted to an online only drop via both the Supreme and Nike websites in the US.
Nike Air Max 98 Supreme (2016)
As previously mentioned, Supreme has by hook or by crook become one of the major trendsetters in the pop culture scene as a whole. So have made quite the habit of working on products you wouldn’t necessarily expect. As essentially Supreme as a brand are able to elevate a silhouette’s status just by their association with it. The same sort of logic can be applied to any of their non apparel or footwear items that still sell out. Why would any teenager want to buy a shovel? “Oh what’s that it’s a Supreme shovel?” Well who wouldn’t want a Supreme shovel.
So naturally, when it was announced Supreme would be working on something from the Air Max range, perhaps we should have all been less shocked that they chose to resurrect the long-forgotten Air Max 98. UK Grime has experienced a huge resurgence over the past couple of years. With the scene adopting brands such as Stone Island, Lacoste, Polo Sport and Air Max as staples. Supreme tapped into the “roadman” aesthetic perfectly with their rendition of the Air Max 98.
Having experienced some issues with overzealous shoppers at their Western store locations for the Air Jordan release. Supreme took the decision to release the Air Max 98 exclusively online outside of Asia with Nike once again sharing the limited release.
Nike Air More Uptempo Supreme (2017)
Existing in a similar place to the Air Foamposite, the Uptempo divides opinion among fans and critics of the Nike brand. When it debuted back in 1996 Wilson Smith’s huge “AIR” lettering was put on blast and heralded in equal measures. Considered both too garish and an instant classic in equal numbers. Made famous by Scottie Pippen during the Chicago Bulls historic NBA championship winning season of ’96. The Air More Uptempo’s legacy was sealed during Pip’s turn at that year’s Atlanta Olympics, quickly becoming a cultural favourite.
What Supreme decided to do was, rather than turn down the very divisive Uptempo aesthetic, they as to be expected turned it up to eleven. Replacing the traditional “Air” branding with their own “Supreme” lettering wrapping the shoe. It’s not too often that Nike allows other brands to alter the actual foundation of their shoes. So for Supreme to switch up the design shows the respect the global footwear company gives the New Yorkers.
Nike Air Force 1 Low Supreme x COMME des GARÇONS (2017)
Nike Air Force 1 Mid Supreme/NBA (2018)
Having previously put its stamp on the Nike Air Force 1 in 2012 and the Air Force 1 High in 2014. It was only right that Supreme complete the trifecta by working on an Air Force 1 Mid. With of course this completing the collection, Supreme weren’t about to do things by half measures. Teaming up with not just Nike but the NBA as well for this drop.
Inspired by the work of leather jacket supremo Jeff Hamilton, who made custom pieces for basketball superstars before acquiring licenses from the NBA, NFL, NHL and NASCAR to produce branded jackets throughout the 90s, a look that became a huge cultural phenomenon in the States. With the ostentatious garments a staple look through the late 90s to early 00s.
Nike Air Force 1 Low Supreme/COMME des GARÇONS (2018)
Teaming up with Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons, Supreme were able to release in 2018 a twin branded Air Force 1 Low. This iteration takes the form of a monochrome leather Uptown featuring a cut-up Swoosh on the shoe’s side panels.
Supreme x Nike Air Max Tailwind 4 (2019)
Moving into 2019 to the present day for the history of Supreme Nike, we have seen how the brand has transcended from skateboarding store to cultural icon in the online trainers world. Kicking off the SS19 season by assuming their signature approach, of reviving some of the older, less heralded Nike models. When it hit in 1999, the bold Air Max Tailwind 4 was a massive leap from what had come before in terms of design. With its standout ribbing along the sides and breathable mesh/synthetic combination on the upper.