Supremacy Over Supreme
- August 3rd, 2020
- in Capstone Commentary
by Tanner D’Ortenzio
The street-wear brand Supreme has become a colossus in the fashion industry ,with their signature box logo being recognizable in households across the globe. Supreme is especially popular amongst the youth of the United States, evolving over time to fit skate and hip-hop niche. Their popularity can be attributed to their rebellious and high-fashion inspiration, as well as the exclusivity of their products. Throughout their history Supreme has been accused of directly copying the work of famed artists Barabara Kruger. Kruger has defined herself through her art, creating collages of photos overlayed with assertive texts challenging traditional concepts of power, identity, and sexuality. A signature of Kruger’s style is her bold text centered in a bright red box, eerily similar to Supreme’s box logo. Kruger never commented on Supreme’s use of her style until the case of Supreme v. McSweeney.
Leah McSweeney is the creator of Married To The Mob, a street-wear brand designed for women, by women. In 2004, McSweeney dropped a t-shirt design of the same iconic Supreme box logo, except with the words “Supreme Bitch”. “A design that she argues was a shot at the misogynistic culture surrounding the brand and its proponents.” James Jebbia, creator of the Supreme brand signed off on the shirt design, believing it to be a one time creation and parody of his company. Jebbia even went so far as to sell some of the “Supreme Bitch” shirts in his New York stores. As Married To The Mob began to grow, the “Supreme Bitch” logo became a pivotal aspect of McSweeney’s style, appearing on a plethora of her products. McSweeney noticed this popularity and attempted to trademark her “Supreme Bitch” logo. In response, James Jebbia filed for a $10 million dollar lawsuit against McSweeney claiming trademark infringement. Jebbia told New York magazine that Married To The Mob was “trying to build her whole brand by piggybacking off Supreme.”
However, on June 13th of 2013, both parties decided to dismiss their court case against each other. Stating that an amicable agreement has been reached between the two parties. As mentioned before, Barbara Kruger released a statement regarding this legal debacle, in an email to Complex magazine, ‘What a ridiculous clusterf*** of totally uncool jokers. I make my work about this kind of sadly foolish farce. I’m waiting for all of them to sue me for copyright infringement.”
As insignificant as this case may seem, the irony of a fashion giant that built their empire off the work of another artists suing a company for the same act is not lost on the world. The irony continues with Kruger’s work proudly representing the power of femininity and promoting anti-capitalist sentiments, and yet it was appropriated to represent a billion dollar company. Fortunately this lack of legal precedent allows for smaller brands to strike out in their own way. Small brands that flip logos to create their own parodies (similar to what Supreme did) still have the lack of legal ruling on their side. This absence creates a much more free fashion industry, unbound by the limitations of previously rulings, more and more cases such as Supreme v. McSweeney are bound to rise up. Counterfeit cloth creators and parody artists can breathe a sigh of relief with this dismissal as their lucrative industry dodges a bullet.
 Barbara Kruger speaks out on the Supreme Vs Married To The Mob lawsuit, , Acclaim Magazine (2013), https://acclaimmag.com/style/barbara-kruger-speaks-out-on-the-supreme-vs-married-to-the-mob-lawsuit/
 How Skate Brand Supreme Learned to Love Trademark Law — New York Magazine – Nymag, , New York Magazine , https://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/supreme-2013-5/