David Shapiro isn't exactly the spitting image of a streetwear head. He works at a corporate law firm, doesn't know how to skate, and is essentially banned from the original Supreme store in New York City. Despite all that, he knows the price of every Supreme item on sale by heart—and claims to have spent close to $15,000 on the skate and streetwear clothes in his ten-plus years as a super fan. (He also claims to know how much of each material is used to make each item, an almost impossible-to-verify assertion.) In other words, Shapiro worships the brand even if he can't really hang.
Shapiro's new book Supremacist is a fictional account of the trip he took to visit every Supreme store in the world (minus the location in Paris, which opened after his return). The narrator—a tweaked version of Shapiro—travels to the nine mostly-identical storefronts, accompanied by a friend who doesn't really get the brand's appeal. During this streetwear pilgrimage, Shapiro copes—poorly—with substance abuse issues. (At one point, he comments, "It was hard to tell which of the things I was addicted to was the source of my discomfort.") He also mortifies himself in front of a variety of skaters, and attempts to articulate why Supreme hasn't lost a bit of its magical aura or authenticity since being founded in 1994.
The novel is not the first book the 27-year-old has written, nor is it his first piece of writing on Supreme. But the faux-memoir of Shapiro's voyage to Supreme LA, Harajuku, Daikanyama, Shibuya, Nagoya, Osaka, Fukuoka, London, and New York is probably the best thing he's published, and is arguably the most intimate dissection of the brand and its hierarchy of fandom to date. In a way, it's like a millennial Annie Hall, but instead of depicting a couple falling in and out of love, the book is the author's love letter to the one thing his feelings have never wavered about, even though the thing he finds meaning in doesn't love him back.
Fittingly, during a recent interview, I asked Shapiro if he ever wished Supreme founder James Jebbia would accept or just hang withhim. He replied, citing Woody Allen, "You know the quote, 'I wouldn't want to be a part of any club that would have me as a member.' Like, how lame would they be if they liked me?" Over the course of several hours and six-packs, Shapiro and I talked about his globe-trotting mission and why he puts the brand on a pedestal, regardless of the fact he'll never learn to skate or even feel comfortable walking into the shop on Lafayette Street in Manhattan. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VICE: What was the first Supreme product you ever bought? Why did you buy it?
David Shapiro: I don't remember. I remember being in college and walking past the store on Lafayette and thinking that I wasn't eligible to purchase products there, which I guess is the same feeling that motivated me to buy a lot of it and to continue to buy it.
I still feel like I'm ineligible, compared to, you know, a 17-year-old skater, Mark Gonzalez, an old skater, or any skater, frankly. Skateboarding is the core or DNA of the brand, and it's not something I do, or something I've ever been able to do. Obviously, I feel envious of people who are able to do it.
In the book, you talk a lot about why you think Supreme is an interesting brand, but not really why are you obsessed. It's touched on lightly, but I want to know more about your personal interest in the company.
Supreme is a thing that I thought was really cool when I was 18. And there were a lot of other things that I thought were really cool when I was 18. Now I'm 27, and I've started to notice that some of the things I thought were cool in high school are not, and never were. But Supreme still has the aura it's always had.
When I agreed to do the book, I was worried that by the time it finally came out, the bubble might have popped. But it hasn't. And I think that if Supreme continues to put out products that are interesting in the way that their products are now, then it will be relevant eternally. There's someone new in charge, broadly, of designing the products, and I think they're somewhat untested, but we'll see. Many things have come and gone that Supreme has outlived.
To me, yeah, Supreme or nothing.
Do want to be known as an expert on Supreme or an authority?
No, I don't want to be known as an authority. There are 16-year-olds whose expertise on Supreme outstrips mine. In writing about Supreme—in my articles about them, and now this book—I feel like a lilliputian man being like, "Notice me! Recognize me!"
Part of the appeal of the brand is that it will always be at a distance, and I think that once I understood how sophisticated it is, how layered it is, how profound it is, and how profound its products are, it only became cooler, bigger, and more distant from me as I think about it and learn about it. I think many other brands have come and gone, but Supreme is exactly what it always has been.
You have an interesting day job for someone so obsessed with a skate/streetwear brand. Can you tell me about your career?
I practice law. I think it's fair to say that I didn't write this book to advance my career. My career is not as a novelist or a writer. And I try to keep writing separate from my profession. If had aspirations as a professional writer, I wouldn't have written a book like this, a book that I don't think has wide audience. I don't think [Supremacist] is easy to love. I think that having a career entirely separate from this book and from writing enabled me to write a book that was as honest as I wanted the book to be.
Why did you decide to call Supremacist a novel? How much of the narrative is actually fiction?
A 27-year-old publishing a memoir is questionable. I don't know what would give me the right to write a memoir. It would be obnoxious. I wrote it in the way that I thought was most interesting to tell this story. I think if someone were to pick up a reported account of a trip around the world to every Supreme store and learn all the stuff about Supreme, it would be dry. You need a book with human beings, with people who have sex.
This is the only way that I could have thought to write it, only in novel form, where I had some [creative] license. My goal in writing is for someone to pick up the book and finish it—if they make it to the end, I've succeeded. And that's the only metric.
Who did you write this book for—besides yourself?
First, I wanted to go on the trip [to every Supreme store in the world], and I would have had a hard time paying for it myself. And so I sold the idea of writing a book about going on the trip in order to get an advance to finance the trip, and the way I paid for the trip was by writing the book.
I also had written several stories about Supreme. And I had talked to James Jebbia, the founder, and he had emailed me after one of my stories came out about how people were tearing down Supreme posters during their ad campaign and selling them for $450 on eBay. He said something like, "Do you only write bitchy, negative one-sided articles about Supreme, or do you write this way about everything?" And it was difficult for me. [Jebbia] wrote that he had thought that my story had been negative about the brand and about its fans. I wrote back something to the effect of you have me all wrong. I don't know if he knows how big of a fan I am. I think he thinks I'm an antagonist. That stuck with me.
I guess maybe my hope was that he would read [Supremacist] and be like, "OK, fuck this guy, but he doesn't hate the brand."
Maybe Supreme is not an intentionally-profound project in the way that I imagine... Maybe it is just some guys putting what they think is cool on T-shirts..."
What were your other motivations for writing the book?
There have been a lot of times when I've spoken about Supreme to people I respect, and their impression of Supreme is like, Supreme is like Diamond Supply or The Hundreds. Or even like DC shoes or Etnie's, or any other skate brand. I wanted to demonstrate—not that the brand doesn't demonstrate it itself—that there are many different things going on in Supreme. Before people read the book, they might have a profoundly different impression of Supreme than after they read it. And feel like maybe people would come out of it feeling like they had, in some way, underestimated the brand—in the way that I feel like I underestimated the brand when I first became familiar with it.
Also, I wanted to demonstrate that Supreme is a sophisticated statement, and that almost every item of clothing that they make is referential and the references are, in a way, Supreme's way of communicating: This is what matters, this is what we think matters, good or bad.
Why write it now, if you've been a fan for so long?
I guess I thought of this in a way as the last thing I would do as a young person, or even an attempt to memorialize my youth. There's some wildness about it, or some quality of youth about it that I won't be able to explore in the same way again, if only because around this point in my life, it's time to grow up.
Do you ever wish that you were accepted by James Jebbia and his main Supreme collaborators?
You know the old quote "I wouldn't want to be a part of any club that would have me as a member." Like, how lame would they be if they liked me? I think to deal with them personally, to know that they're humans, may make my project less appealing. Maybe it's not an intentionally profound project in the way that I imagine it. Maybe it is just some guys putting what they think is cool on T-shirts.
You've always told me that you like being asked if you think your book is good. What do you like best about it?
The pictures are fantastic.
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