Pin It
Supreme brick

Trying to understand the Supreme brick

Seriously. Why does this exist?

On Saturday morning I received a text from my mum. It was a picture of the queue outside London’s Supreme store last Thursday, and an article about the branded brick (yes, brick) that the New York streetwear label was selling. She does this occasionally, texting me links to interviews with Gosha Rubchinskiy or Demna Gvasalia, but her comment this time was simple: “Emperor’s new clothes?” “Maybe…” I replied, “but Supreme operates somewhere between conventional fashion brand and conceptual art project.” I’m not entirely certain I believe that to be true, but I am sure of one thing: Supreme transcends all conventions about what a fashion label should be and do.

The Supreme brick has gone semi-viral and elicited a mixture of reactions – memes, sniggers, eye-rolls, lust and derision are merely a few of them. A slab of red moulded clay might seem an odd item for a fashion brand to sell, but with each season the skate company releases a spate of increasingly bizarre accompanying accessories, ranging from branded sleeping bags to a hollowed-out bible, a crowbar, a boxing bag, a fire extinguisher and nunchucks. Often, it can feel like an in-joke that you’re not entirely “in” on, something Supreme not only seems to be quite good at, but relishes in, thanks to its position as a cultural anomaly. It’s mysterious – and ostensibly enjoys the fact that people can’t quite work it out. Perhaps it even throws in the odd curveball just to ensure it stays this way – and conceivably, that’s what the brick could have been.

“We pick apart its reference points, collaborations, brief media appearances, mining for nuggets of information that will help us crack the Supreme code”

It is this that makes Supreme special, not just its ability to apparently be able to sell anything (current cost of a brick at Wickes: 55p, this one sold out priced at £28), but to be able to agitate, inspire debate, court derision and, ultimately, embrace elusiveness with such effortlessness. The relative anonymity of James Jebbia, the label’s founder, and the lack of information on the brand not only adds to Supreme’s mystique, but leaves a lot of room for theorising, which is fun. And a large part of the label’s allure lies in trying to decipher what it all means – something that recently gave rise to the Supreme Copies Instagram account, which breaks down the various reference points imbued in each collection. A quick browse highlights that the brand’s products are anything but thoughtless, with single graphics often acting as a counter-cultural bricolage. Take their “Quickie” t-shirt, for example, which takes inspiration from the cover of a 1950s pulp novel, the Nesquik rabbit and, by extension, 90s rave tees, which often subverted cereal box characters to include drug references.

On the subject “The Brick,” the account floated several theories as to what it all meant. “First, a drug reference: ‘Red Supremes’. The pill is debatably Molly or MDMA depending on who you ask, but the subtle drug reference into a more literal form wouldn't be unlike Supreme’s humour,” the account owner writes. He also suggests that it could be taking inspiration from New York artist and friend of Supreme, Heron Preston, who released a brick in February that paid homage to NYC parking barriers. An alternative theory was that it riffed on the work of ‘Big Brother Skateboards’ who “released an ad in 1995 satirically selling a brick with a sticker of theirs placed on it.” And finally, the story of two SupTalk Forum users who wrote to Supreme earlier this year urging it to release a brick. There is also a theory that it was a reference to the Four-Pins coined term that denotes a fashion “gaffe, blunder, a badly missed shot” which has since entered the lexicon of the online streetwear community. The irony being that Supreme has, in theory, literally and somewhat mockingly sold a brick to their consumers, knowing full well that they’ll buy anything.

But it didn’t end there, with co-founder of Goodhood Kyle Stewart weighing in on Supreme Copies’ comments: “British Remains (defunct London-based streetwear label) released a London brick about three years ago. Inspired by the French Situationists, I believe the reference point was about protest and revolt – i.e. taking a product that the city is made of (bricks) and used by the hands of the working class to turn it against the oppressive force of capitalism. The Supreme Brick (promo) film shows ‘the city of London’. This is more likely the reference than those listed above.” Indeed, streetwear has had an enduring fascination with Situationism, from Fuct to British sportswear brand 6876. The student-led French movement of the 60s was not dissimilar in some of its practices, often subverting known corporate logos, known as “détournement”, much like the ubiquitous “logo-flips” of the fashion sub-genre.

The chances of us finding out the true meaning of “The Brick” are slim, but it was notable to see an “industry insider” getting caught up in the game – which is what it is. Whether it’s the consumer getting played, or something altogether more innocent, trying to solve the puzzle is partly where Supreme’s charm lies. We pick apart its reference points, collaborations, brief media appearances, mining for nuggets of information that will help us crack the Supreme code. The brand is approaching its 23rd birthday and yet we still find it intriguing – there are so many ideas and references woven into each product and collection that the least likely answer is that “The Brick” meant nothing. 

While so many of Supreme’s peers can be easily pigeonholed, it has embraced paradox, practised subterfuge, fuelled rumours through its Mafia-like silence and, ultimately, built a brand that continues to provoke. The real genius of Supreme isn’t its ability to sell bricks to impressionable kids, it’s its ability to remain interesting. “Craven commercialism” as my mum deemed it – “artistic mischievousness” I protested. Either of us could be correct, but it almost doesn’t matter. In an industry where we know everything about every collection, where no design decision is left secret, no motivation left unuttered, Supreme feels like the antidote to that – unlike many buzzed-about brands, you cannot simply buy your way in. You can have a wardrobe full of Supreme and still feel like an outsider. The challenge is, in many ways, to “get” Supreme – or at very least to be able to justify it to our mothers.