The diverse fanbase of Supreme is made up of all kinds of different people, from OG skaters and genuine supporters to celebrities and hypebeasts to resellers. And than there’s that rare breed of folks who have been down with the brand since its early days as a one-door skate shop on Lafayette Street in New York City. On of the latter is DJ, freelance writer and brand consultant Ross Wilson from the UK. Back in 1994, he discovered Supreme on a trip to NYC while visiting its original Manhatten store. During the more than two decades ever since then, he not only became close friends with the label’s inner circle but also cultivated an impressive Supreme collection with over 1,000 pieces that were all purchased at original retail.
Now it’s time for Ross to open up his archive to the world. Together with U.K. retailer The Idle Man, he will be hosting both an ehibition and retail event. As Wilson’s Vaults launches on February 1, 2018, we had the chance to chat with Ross about Supreme’s early days, the current hype surrounding the brand and his partnership with The Idle Man.
What made you get into Supreme the way you did in the first place? Was is rather the brand itself and its standing in 90s skate culture or did the actual products have a bigger influence on that?
I initially got into Supreme via skateboarding. Apart from a small skate section in Paragon Sports, it was the only skate store I could find in Manhattan when I first visited New York back in 1994. The store was different to any skate shops I had been into in the UK and had a real club house vibe to it – the music was loud and eclectic, the street outside was wide and flat so ideal for skating and the people were all really chilled. I initially just bought one of their shop tees as a souvenir of my trip and to show support for the new store — it was definitely more about the vibe of the downtown skate scene, rather that the actual products, that was the biggest draw for me.
You’ve been into skate culture in general from very early on. From your point of view, how did Supreme manage to set itself apart and gain this kind of following over the years
I’d been skating since I was 8 years old and had always wanted to visit America as it was the mecca of the skate scene. Although Southern California was the epicentre of the industry I was far more intrigued by New York so that was the first place I visited. Back then Supreme was just a single door skate shop selling mostly other skate brands rather than their own products which increased a little later. I became a regular visitor to the shop over the years and once they started producing more of their own clothing I could really identify with their references and influences as it was all the stuff I was into as well – Punk, Reggae, Hip Hop, Rock’n’Roll, Movies, Art, NYC underground culture, etc. Most skate brands were based in California and would create their designs around skateboarding and board graphics, so it was refreshing to have a skate shop with a more diverse and interesting outlook. Coming from gloomy England I couldn’t really relate to the bright colours of the California skate companies who’s clothing looked more like surfing brands than anything, so when this East Coast store starting coming up with stuff that looked more like Ralph Lauren crossed with The Gap it felt like an ideal fit.
With Supreme’s evolution over the past two and a half decades, not only the brand itself but also its fan base changed. Did that ever have any kind of influence on you being a Supreme supporter?
Not so much, I tend to just like what I like. Supreme have produced many products I love and many I would have no desire to ever wear – it’s all down to personal taste rather than getting caught up in hype or what other people are wearing.
The brand has definitely evolved over the years — the quality of their production has always been on point and becoming so popular has allowed them the freedom to work with some incredible collaborators that have elevated them into their own space in the food chain as such.
You actually never bought a piece from the secondary market. What’s your take on the whole hype and resale aspect that’s often associated with Supreme nowadays?
The resale thing has been present for the last 15 years or so but it’s definitely gone crazy in the past 3 years I’d say. It was actually the sneaker community that started all that reseller stuff – when Nike SB collaborated with Supreme for the first time in 2002 the Dunk SB was the most collectable (and resell-able) shoe on the market, and Supreme was starting to get more well known in the new era of streetwear blogs and forums. The first wave of sneaker reselling was big business in those early SB days so when the kids lined up to buy the Supreme Dunk SBs they noticed the clothing was also produced in limited quantities. These young entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to cash-in and Supreme resale culture was born. Nowadays it’s just insane, different level madness. Kids line up to buy stuff purely to flip it for profit straight away, sometimes even outside the shop itself! I can’t blame them — I guess if I was a 15 year old kid who had the opportunity to make hundreds, even thousands, per week just for standing outside a shop I would have probably done the same.
Is there any Supreme item that you really like but never owned yourself?
Yeah probably… If I think back to all the products that used to sit on the shelves in the Lafayette Street store in those early days I guess you could look at is as missed opportunities but back then it wasn’t really about the clothes so much, I don’t think any of us could’ve predicted what was going to happen in the future!
How did the whole project you’re doing now together with The Idle Man come about? And what’s the idea behind doing both an exhibition and a retail event?
Originally I thought of doing a pop-up store but that felt kinda boring and also restricting for anyone outside of London. I wanted to do something a bit more interesting that also had a global reach so Supreme fans from all over the world could have an opportunity to purchase some of these iconic products. I looked into lots of different options but it was The Idle Man who really came through. They are a fairly new company who have a great retail platform and infrastructure to handle such a big project such as this. Their young team have been so enthusiastic and have really worked hard with everything from photography to logistics and content, so it’s been a pleasure to work alongside them.
The good thing about The Idle Man is that not only do they offer worldwide shipping, but they are also allowing me to take over their retail space in London to host an exhibition showcasing some of my favourite items from my collection. This will give the younger generation of Supreme fans a chance to see some iconic pieces in person that may have released before they were born!
“Supreme is one of those brands that you just instantly recognise. From the celebrity endorsers to the die hard skate fans, Supreme just seems to resonate with everyone. Having Ross let some of his personal collection go is an incredible opportunity for all of it’s fans around the world. You won’t see anything like this again. ”
– Oliver Tezcan, CEO, The Idle Man.
Out of the whole Supreme collection that will be available for purchase at The Idle Man, what’s the hardest piece to let go off for you?
In a funny sort of way this brand has been a big part of my life for over two decades… it may only be clothes, shoes and accessories but it’s more the connection to travel, friends and experiences that makes it special. I’ve kept back about 25% of my collection – some really old box logo tees, sweats, outerwear, sneakers and accessories.
As Sneakers Mag, of course we gotta hear your thoughts on this one: what’s your favorite piece of Supreme footwear?
I really dig a lot of the Nike collaborations. The Dunk Low SB from 2002 will always be my favourite — it was the first time anyone had used Jordan’s elephant print on a shoe that wasn’t the AJIII. The Jordan III was a popular shoe with New York skaters (due to it being tough leather and decent ankle support) so it was a nice homage to the shoe’s legacy within the East Coast skateboard culture. The execution on these shoes is perfect and were a true groundbreaking project that elevated both Nike SB and Supreme to a whole new level in popularity. Another favourite of mine are the Blazer SB mids from 2006 – this was more like a luxury dress shoe than a skate sneaker and gave a nod to Harlem customiser Dapper Dan with the Gucci-esque heel tab and gold accents. Supreme have also done some great collaborations with Vans and Timberland and their own AF1 style sneakers the Midtown and Downlow were nicely done too.
You’ve been a close friend of some of Supreme’s inner circle for years. What were the reactions from the brand’s inner circle when you decided to do this project?
So far people have all been really supportive. They all know I’ve never acquired any of this stuff purely to sell it – I’m not a reseller, just a fan of the brand and it’s ethos. I had a nice email from James the other day so if the big man himself is happy then it’s all good!
“Wilson’s Vaults : A Supreme Archive” is now open for registration HERE and will go live on theidleman.com from Thursday 1st February 2018 for a limited time only.
An exhibition of highlights from Ross’s Supreme collection will be on display for public viewing at The Idle Man, 97 Leather Lane, London, EC1N 7TS on Friday 2nd February and Saturday 3rd February. Opening hours: 11.00-19.00 GMT