4. Multi-billion-dollar hypebeast
Supreme — a skatewear brand with 12 stores — has sold for $2.1 billion to VF Corporation, which already owns Vans as well as brands like Timberland and The North Face.
Why it matters: VF Corp is putting a price on irony, and it might even have got itself a deal.
Between the lines: As NYT columnist Vanessa Friedman writes, Supreme represents "an ironic meta-commentary on the culture of consumption for a generation that wanted to reject those trappings, while also exploiting that culture."
- The very word "hypebeast" — the term for the fans who will line up for hours to get their hands on a limited-edition Supreme "drop" — is loaded with disdain yet also embraced.
- Supreme's customers are acutely aware that they are being exploited — they're in on the joke that they're also the butt of.
What they're saying: "Supreme has equity it can milk for at least 10 years," says Ana Andjelic, the author of "The Business of Aspiration." With VF's backing, she says, Supreme will find it easy to expand into markets where it currently has no footprint at all — Russia, Latin America, the Middle East, even much of Europe. (At the moment, Supreme is overwhelmingly found in the U.S. and Japan.)
- VF is good at leaving its brands alone and helping them grow — Vans is growing even faster than Supreme. It has the scale and expertise to provide back-end support, especially in treacherous international markets, while remaining hands-off when it comes to the front-end design decisions.
The bottom line: Gen Xers like myself tend to think in terms of "selling out" — the idea that expansion necessarily means brand dilution. But it's not clear that modern brands work that way.
- As Andy Warhol discovered in the 1960s, and artists from Yayoi Kusama to Takashi Murakami continue to discover to this day, sometimes expansion can enhance a brand, rather than dilute it.
- Supreme stole its logo from Barbara Kruger, who called the brand "a ridiculous fustercluck of totally uncool jokers." (She didn't actually say "fustercluck," but I didn’t want this email to be caught by your spam filter.)
- The reason Supreme can grow without becoming uncool is that overpriced T-shirts were never really cool to begin with. There's a self-lacerating humor to their existence, which makes them collectible — a bit like KAWS. That's all that matters.