London Metropolitan University, UK
Supreme: Super-mutant or keystone species of a sartorial ecology?
This paper argues that the behaviours of aficionados of an American urban street-wear brand – seemingly driven by a ‘fear-of-missing-out’ – may be indicative of a new paradigm in fashion practice. Primary research data is sourced from Supreme’s customers, many of whom spend extended periods queuing to obtain the outcomes of collaborations undertaken with selected fashion labels and high-profile players operating in other creative contexts. This captive audience – marooned outside the brand’s only outlet in the United Kingdom while waiting to be allowed into the venue under a tightly policed entry system – provided respondents to a questionnaire addressing their purchasing habits and reasons for patronising the label. The strategy of ‘scarcity marketing’ employed by Supreme is contrasted with an account of more traditional brand-building in the mass-market by casual-wear label Superdry. Using terminologies borrowed from the biological disciplines, the discussion addresses the various interactions
between players in a ‘sartorial ecology’ and locates the outputs of Supreme’s collaborative ventures within a taxonomic classification of the domain of material culture. Analysis of the research data suggests that, rather than being victims of a virulent form of marketing ‘mind-control’, consumers consider Supreme a dependable conduit for accessing otherwise unattainable high-fashion goods. Further, the conclusion argues that it is the collaborating partners who are more vulnerable to the negative impacts of the commercial and creative practices mobilised by this ‘keystone species’ in the ‘sartorial ecology’.