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Supreme Italia – Story of a 'legal fake'

4 store managers tell us how it all happened and who is to blame

Supreme Italia – Story of a 'legal fake' 4 store managers tell us how it all happened and who is to blame
Supreme Italia (fake)

Supreme Italia (fake)

Supreme Italia (fake)

Supreme Italia (fake)

Supreme Italia (fake)

Supreme Italia (fake)

It's 1994, we are in a New York that's already a perfect glittering back drop to the American dream but still holds that 'wild side' charm, a city too wide for gentrification and capitalism to have reached every and each area and therefore still authentic, raw besides the glossy skyline still topped by the Twin Towers. Brooklyn and Williamsburg (now hipsters' heaven par excellence) are still dominated by subcultures, spilling young blood, populated by creative, disrupted and turbulent teenagers.

It's the same New York portrayed by Kids, Larry Clark's celebrated and disturbing movie that has shaped a whole generation and launched Chloe Sevigny's acting career, along with that of a bunch of young skaters destined to become the face for some of the most popular streetwear brands' first campaigns.

It's the same New York overcome by the skateboarding fever, crossed far and wide by boys in oversized sweatshirts and jeans whizzing on their longboards on the wide, still semi-viable streets.

It's the same New York in which Supreme it's rooted. Today the most hyped brand ever, back in '94 just a small store downtown Manhattan, in Lafayette Street, that founder James Jebbia opened at a cost of $ 12,000 and soon became a true mecca for the metropolis' skaters.

From there, Supreme has come a long way, attracting skaters, artists, musicians and photographers – Ari MarcopoulosTerry RichardsonHarmony KorineKenneth CappelloGio EstevezPeter Bici and Kids' Justin Pierce – who played a key role in defining the brands' imagery up to raising it to the cult label that is today. Supreme's story, however, remains shrouded in mystery, and many are the legends revolving around the brand that probably contribute to its charm.

Let's take the ubiquitous red box logo, for example. Is it James Jebbia's invention? Well, not exactly. It is a tribute, a quote, an imitation – call it as you like – of artist Barbara Kruger's propaganda posters (and she didn't exactly take it very well). For many issues, allegedly also linked to this reason, it seems that Jebbia still doesn't own the brand's name cause he can't trademark it.

And here we are with today's consequences. We need to move our focus to Italy, more precisely to the town of Barletta, where a company – already known for creating Pyrex Original, an Italian version (read: copy)  of the brand Pyrex Vision – has brilliantly thought they could make some easy money out of the lack of legal terms around Supreme's trademark and has, therefore, launched the so-called "Supreme Italia".

Red box logo (but much larger than the real one), white lettering, Futura Heavy Oblique as a font. The prerequisites are (almost) the same, but don't let yourself be fooled: Supreme Italia has nothing to share with Supreme, the real New-York-born one. "It all started when, during last year's Pitti [Pitti 89], we received several reports on our Facebook group (Supreme Italia) of people going around wearing these, obviously fake, huge box logos on sweatshirts and hats, handing catalogues to retailers. From then on the number of stores that sell Supreme Barletta (because Supreme Italia it's our group, I will never call it like that) has increased dramatically", explains Alberto Campo, manager of Blackwater Store and admin of the Facebook group "Supreme Italia", a reference point for Italians fans Supreme (NY).

A fraud that's as manifest as (unfortunately) apparently legal. We decided to delve into the scandal of Supreme Italia once and for all, and we asked four managers of stores that care for the originality of the product, the brands' creativity and their customers' style, their point of view on the case.

Supreme Italia (fake)

Supreme Italia (fake)

#1 How do you think it's even possible a scandal like this happened in the first place? Do you think it's to blame? Is it right to call it a fake, a fraud?

VALERIO GHISI (Stone Soup): Supreme Italia phenomenon is rooted within an increasingly large portion of ignorant and passive consumers. I'm talking about those who are influenced by any proposal without estimating its potential range, who are aware of a particular brand just because of its exposure, without digging deeper. There are too many guys who aren't curious nor interested enough in understanding what makes Supreme NYC and Supreme Italia different. In their mind, there's only the logo, and that's it. It could be NYC, Barletta or Singapore and it wouldn't make any difference, what's important is to wear it. In order to talk about fake or fraud, I think we should get into the legal quibbles that regulate the intellectual property of a brand. We are certainly talking about followers who have nothing to do with creativity. Making as much money as possible playing on misinformation and using another's creativity is the only goal.

ALESSANDRO ALTOMARE (Maison Group): The first step to understanding such a phenomenon is to acknowledge Supreme's position in Italy. Most likely, the "superbrand" didn't really care that much for the Italian market, and, in legal terms, this has left some gaps  that allowed a group of simple manufacturers to register their activity under the name Supreme. It's a boomerang effect the web created. The data are too accessible to all. On this millennium's early days, it would have been impossible for a simple manufacturer to understand the subcultures' business. The phenomenon, according to those who still have a work ethic, must be condemned at all costs, both from retailers and consumers, or Supreme will just be the first in a long series of brands that will be plagiarised in Italy. Those living in the area where Supreme Italia is made have nicknamed this phenomenon "legal fake".

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ALBERTO CAMPO (Blackwater Store): Obviously, the reason behind the spread of Supreme Barletta is the general ignorance that in Italy surrounds the streetwear world, and Supreme in particular. Supreme, the real one, was born in 1994, but it is only since 2010/2011 that it's in mainstream limelight. Thus, if we consider that in Italy "trends" usually arrive with a couple of years delay (except for Milan, Rome and the brand's aficionados) it is easy to understand why now even the customer who yesterday was wearing Pull & Bear and Hollister is now interested in Supreme. This interest obviously creates demand. A demand that Supreme has no intention of satiating, sticking to its strict policy on pieces and where its collections are available. Here comes Supreme Barletta, whose founders are experts in seeking popular brands that aren't registered in Italy. It's definitely a ripoff, with no original ideas, so it is to blame for plagiarism.

DAVIDE MARRE (INNER Milano): It must be condemned. The reason why this has happened in Italy is mainly due to misinformation, the kids know the brands' names, but not their story, not where they were born and why they got where they are.

#2 Why do you think some stores continue to buy fake Supreme products?

VALERIO: Our times are a jungle in which creativity is destined to die. There are no controls over distributions, anyone can have anything, and if the trick fails then you pass on to the copy of the copy. Social networks can be a weapon in favour of this bad system. The constant bombardment of images can be confusing, everything looks the same and no one is interested in reading between the lines.

ALESSANDRO: Now that's a hard one. I just can't understand it. Funny thing is that the list includes some of the most famous shops! Easy money appears appealing to many, at a time of general confusion within Italian luxury and streetwear markets.

ALBERTO: The reason is very simple: the money you can make. The focus on Supreme Italia is exploding and often many stores, aware of the fact that what they're selling has nothing to do with the original (and knowing Supreme Italia is 'legal') keep on selling it. If that product sells, unfortunately, they will keep making it available in their stores.

DAVIDE: They buy because they hope in a profit, but do not realise that in the long run is a counter-productive investment. Once you've ruined your image and your name becomes difficult to go back.

Supreme Italia (fake)

Supreme Italia (fake)

#3 Do you think the fact that here in Italy Supreme has its own 'official fake' (known and at the same time free from legal implications) is in some way fueling the American brand's aura of mystery and its allure? In other words, could this be another piece to its perfect strategy?

VALERIO: I have great respect for the "Supreme culture" and for the work done by James Jebbia and his crew. Personally, I would be horrified by having an 'official fake'. All this can not increase the appeal of a brand. Paradoxically, it increases the number of zeros on the company's bank account, but I think brand equity still makes sense and it should be defended. Thus, we understand the philosophy behind brands as VLONE and others who just want to sell exclusively through their pop-up stores, to remain faithful to their image with no compromises.

ALESSANDRO: I think the perfect strategy does not exist. There are conditions that can be exploited for the benefit (or for the disadvantage) of the brand, and Supreme surely in this is a veteran on this field.

ALBERTO: This fake has brought Supreme even to the average Italian people, those dreaming of the throne of "Uomini e Donne" (popular Italian tv show) who, in the night, 'go to command' (quoting an Italian hit of the moment). We must give it credit for this. But no, it can't be any good. It does nothing but creates confusion. On our Facebook group, we get dozens of posts/messages every week, where people ask us a legit check of logo branded Supreme items found at some store. And these are  just a few of all the consumers, so I dare not imagine what's going on out there. The cause is the previously mentioned ignorance. At the beginning, Supreme Italia was even advertised as a brand apart with the Supreme New York's permission to use the design.

DAVIDE: I think Supreme doesn't have any income in marketing nor in its image to bind to such a project. We just have to hope it's gonna be a flash in the pan and it's gonna be over in a few seasons.

#4 When a few years ago the brand Married to the Mob started to use the box-logo branded slogan 'Supreme Bitch', Supreme didn't let it get away with it and dragged Married to the Mob into court. Do you think it was somehow a contradiction by a brand that made of referencing other brand's logos its trademark, especially in the early days of its history? How do you think this story differs from what's going on with Supreme Italia and why you think Supreme still hasn't pursued the fake made-in-Barletta?

VALERIO: MOB's Leah McSweeney is a hurricane, she's a creative, one of the most influential women within American streetwear community. I supported and brought her brand in Italy, it has nothing to do with the fraud made-in-Barletta. I personally know her former partner Rob, founder of Anderson. We're talking about people with a relevant creative background. The slogan "Supreme Bitch" was nothing more but a mockery, a successful slogan on a series of sweatshirts and t-shirts that were part of a much larger collection which over the time has seen collaborations with artists such as KAWS. I think the famous conflict with Supreme was nothing more than a clever advertising move. I believe that Supreme went for legal action exclusively because of the enemy's relevance. I think not worrying about Supreme Italia is just a strategy to let the case evaporate, without making it even more famous.

ALESSANDRO: As I said, having underestimated the Italian market, the brand won't act until the legal fake will spread outside Italy, or until, in order to sell more, it will higher its standards in terms of fonts, logo, releases, etc.

ALBERTO: When Supreme Barletta was just spreading, we had the chance to get in touch with Mr Jagger (store manager of the Supreme store in London) who assured us they are keeping an eye on the case and that sooner or later they will make their move. Unlike Married To The Mob, where it was just a t-shirt's graphic to be copied, here the entire brand is a shameless imitation. But I think at the moment Supreme isn't that worried about a phenomenon that's limited to Italy only, while MTTM was an established brand in the US. We have reported this fraud over and over, we just have to get the popcorns and wait for the fireworks.

DAVIDE: The main difference is that Supreme Italia is just a local phenomenon, and Italy isn't that relevant within the global streetwear scene. I appreciate Supreme's total disregard towards the case. We, too, as consumers, should ignore it and explain to those who buy it the mistake they're making.

Supreme Italia (fake)

Supreme Italia (fake)

#5 In cases like these, how should you act if you're a store that cares to showcase innovative brands and designers? Is there a way to educate the customer towards a more conscious shopping, oriented on uniqueness and research? Should you fight a scandal like that of Supreme Italian or embrace it, in view of easy money?

VALERIO: What I care the most is my clients' look. I like to wear pieces that tell a story and that's why my partner Alessandro and me are always doing research. We travel, we invest time and money to differentiate our store's offer and to always be one step ahead. We do not care to get hold of a brand when the others do, we want to get there before anyone else. Sometimes we discard what is too commercial and could bring easy money because our purpose is to be different. The consumer should start going to physical stores more and surf the internet less, even just to spend a few hours chatting, to understand what hides behind a passionate work.

ALESSANDRO: As a retail company, we are extremely careful and in the South of Italy we have become a landmark for research, limited editions and for educating our customers to purchase, but the "right" path is very hard to follow. It takes a lot of resources, organisation, teamwork, 15 hours of daily work and the right attitude towards an ever-changing market. I cannot condemn those companies aiming to make easy money, it's an individual choice, but I do condemn the Italian fashion system for being very distracted and for not being able to "penalise the crooks and reward the professionals". If, for their decision to sell a 'legal fake', these shops would lose other important brands, this phenomenon wouldn't even exist.

ALBERTO: As a store owner, I can say a fake like that would never enter my shop. Unfortunately, who needs a proper 'purchase education' aren't just the customers, but also the retailers, who aren't often aware of the brands they bring in their store. The only way to counter this fraud would be to stop buying fake products, but as long as people are not informed or Supreme doesn't decide to shut them down, the situation won't change. Our community Supreme Italy is doing it, hoping to bring good results. So the only advice I can give is: research, research, research.

DAVIDE: The stores are the ones guilty for this. The retailer should be able to educate the client and direct him towards quality products with a history. Giving visibility to this kind of products is only ruining the market and giving rise to others in proposing some sad projects like this.

Artwork by Alessandro Bigi