Supreme has named Tremaine Emory, the founder of Denim Tears, its new creative director, BoF has learned. Emory, who started this week, will work closely with the design team and Supreme founder James Jebbia, who will continue to oversee all aspects of the business. Emory will continue to design Denim Tears alongside Supreme. A representative for Supreme confirmed the news.
Emory’s appointment is the brand’s biggest personnel move since it was acquired by North Face-owner VF Corp. in a 2020 deal that valued the label at $2.1 billion. The deal cemented Supreme’s position in the fashion mainstream, but also raised questions about whether it could maintain the ‘cred’ factor that made it so valuable while continuing to expand.
The label started life in 1994 as a single store on New York’s Lafayette Street, serving the local skater community, but soon became a global fashion cult, earning it the label “the Chanel of streetwear” and, later, private equity backing. Founder James Jebbia proved adept at maintaining the delicate balance between street cred and corporate success, leveraging an innovative business model rooted in tightly controlled “drops” to retain a sense of exclusivity even as sales of Supreme’s cool but accessibly-priced product grew.
VF has made clear its ambitions to continue to scale the label. Supreme has opened stores in Milan and Berlin over the last year, adding to 12 existing locations in the US, Europe and Japan. VF chief executive Steven Rendle told analysts in October that the label “remains on track to become VF’s fifth billion-dollar brand in the coming years.” It is expected to contribute roughly $600 million in revenue to VF’s 2022 fiscal year, the company said in its third-quarter results published in January.
The LA-based Emory was born in Georgia, in the American South, but raised in the Jamaica, Queens neighbourhood of New York City. While his appointment to Supreme’s creative helm catapults him to the top of the fashion industry, he is a well-established figure among the generation of creatives who have collectively rewritten the rules of what is considered high fashion. He co-founded the creative platform No Vacancy Inn, a hybrid music-fashion-nightlife collective that helped establish his reputation as a creative polymath, cultural provocateur and arbiter of taste.
He has worked with the late Virgil Abloh and Ye, and embraced the opportunity to use what he has called the “cultural vein” of fashion to educate consumers on the Black experience or “drench them in the Black gaze,” as he put it to BoF last year.
A Denim Tears collaboration with blue jeans giant Levi’s explored the relationship between cotton and America’s legacy of slavery. In the wake of 2020′s Black Lives Matter protests, the designer temporarily withheld the release of a Converse collaboration, putting forward a set of conditions for parent-company Nike to demonstrate it was acting in support of the Black community.
The designer has drawn parallels between Supreme and his brand in the past as well. “Supreme has put out some really powerful garments about what Black people and other people go through in the world — but basically Denim Tears is like African-American sportswear. You know what I mean? So like, Supreme does every couple seasons, they’ll do like a Malcolm X whatever. My whole line is that. And that’s how I’ve come out the gate. It’s just, I guess, a civic or cultural zeitgeist,” Emory told Esquire in 2020.
He has also challenged the very notion of “streetwear,” a term that Supreme founder Jebbia has long resisted. Last week, Emory told The New York Times that “calling someone a ‘streetwear designer’ is a way to dismiss them.” As the creative director of one of America’s top fashion labels, it will be hard for anyone to dismiss him now.