In April 1994 the New York based company Supreme launched as a small skate shop in SoHo, and decades later, it has become a cultural phenomenon. James Jebbia the man who founded the brand, sought out Supreme as a space, a cool space that blended his interests all into one. Jebbia dubbed it as the shop that carries the cool stuff, and he was right, it's the brand that creates pieces that everyone must have, or at least own just one thing in their lifetime, even if it's just a sticker.
The worth of every Supreme piece has gradually increased over the years as the brand was no longer just a cult-skate shop, but a powerhouse that redefined the rules of fashion, and becoming the face of streetwear. Mirroring the rise of youth culture, Supreme adapted to the ever so rapidly expanding culture of New York by not just targeting skaters, but naturally finding its impact into hip-hop. This was when the brand reached its turning point, and since the early 2000s, Supreme hasn't been the same ever since.
With just two collections launching every year, the rarity of Supreme pieces is in due to the fact that once an item releases on the official Supreme website and sells out, it's gone forever, unless you pay the cost of a reseller for a ridiculous price. One of the most coveted pieces every year is the infamous photo tee. The graphic t-shirt which features a portrait of a pop culture icon that gets released at the beginning of each season, has sustained hype due to its unpredictability of who's next. Over the years the photo tee has featured the likes of Mike Tyson, Kate Moss, and even Kermit The Frog himself, but the most interesting of them all, are the ones that feature musicians. To celebrate the 26th anniversary of Supreme, here's the history of every musician to star in the iconic photo tee.
Kicking off the series, the now iconic Supreme photo tee began with Wu-Tang Clan MC Raekwon. The inaugural tee celebrated the rapper alongside an Elmo soft toy, a ‘tickle-me’ Elmo toy to be exact. Shot by Kenneth Cappello, it’s the photo tee that started it all.
When you think of Supreme and its legacy over the years many notable names come to mind. Of course, famous skaters helped shape what the brand is today, but they have passed the torch to notable names in hip-hop to truly solidify its mainstream impact. The follow up to Raekwon’s photo tee featured none other than the Diplomats, Jim Jones and Julez Santana. Once again shot by Kenneth Cappello, the photograph captured New York’s finest duo of the 2000s.
2009: Lou Reed
By the time the 2009 photo tee came about, the shirt had slowly but surely built anticipation of who was going to be on the tee next. Years prior Mike Tyson and Elmo became the faces of the t-shirt, but Supreme continued to stir in another direction, this time calling up the legendary rockstar, Lou Reed. Rocking a black box logo tee, and his arms folded, Reed was the man every guy wanted to be. Shot by Terry Richardson, the shirt is one of the rarest in the photo tee collection.
2010: Lee Scratch Perry
Jamaican producer, Lee Scratch Perry was a pioneer of the early development of dub music. The portrait and overall design of the tee had a striking difference than the years prior, ultimately standing out from the long list of the photo tees. Shot by Shaniqwa Jarvis in Switzerland.
Straight out of the queens, Mobb Deep helped shaped the New York rap culture. Coming out of New York, Supreme prides itself to honor NY legends, so it was only necessary for the brand and 1/2 of Mobb Deep to join forces. Just three months after his release from prison, Prodigy was welcomed with open arms by fronting the collection of Supreme Spring/Summer 2011 collection. To complete the tee, some of the rapper’s most memorable quotes surrounded the portrait.
2012: Three 6 Mafia
For the first time since 2006, Supreme not only honored one face, but two for its photo tee. Unlike the infamous Dipset portrait, this t-shirt utilizes two separate portraits of two Three 6 Mafia members. Captured by Terry Richardson, DJ Paul and Juicy J, this photo tee is rooted in history for various reasons. The most notable fact is that it stars the first hip-hop act to not be from New York.
2013: Shane MacGowan
The Pogues frontman, Shane MacGowan raised eyebrows and turned heads for being the ultimate rockstar. For its 2013 Fall/Winter collection, Supreme teamed up with the star for a variety of pieces, which included the photo tee. The brand sent our photographer Shaniqwa Jarvis all the way to Dublin to shoot MacGowan who rocks the iconic black-on-black box logo tee.
2015: Neil Young
Honoring yet another rock legend, Supreme continued to expand its diverse range of musical representation by honoring Neil Young. The Canadian singer-songwriter has been celebrated as “The Godfather of grunge” with a career that seemed like he has done it all, the Supreme photo tee was truly the most unpredictable venture for the star. In the portrait, Young sports the class Supreme box logo tee while he is shot by Terry Richardson for the all-around classic photo tee.
In 2016, the legendary Smith’s frontman, Morrissey, posed in a box logo tee for the Fall/Winter collection photo tee. To coincide with the photo tee, Supreme launched an agreement with Morrissey that was made available for the public. Shot by Terry Richardson, it had all the qualities of your ordinary Supreme photo tee. Just a week later following the drop, things took a turn for the worse as Morrissey renounced the campaign after believing that Supreme was sponsored by White Castle, as the former frontman is anti-meat.
Supreme tried to come to an agreement with Morrissey so that both parties would walk away from the collaboration, but he had refused.
2016: Gucci Mane
Arguably the most iconic musician starred photo tee, the Supreme Gucci Mane t-shirt has become one of the most sought out items in the history of the brand. To help celebrate the rapper being released from prison, the photo tee was sort of a homecoming concept. Supreme joined forces with an Atlanta rapper for a collaboration that nobody expected but now everyone wants. The photo tee was a full circle moment as the portrait was shot by Harmony Korine who directed the 2013 cult classic, Spring Breakers, in which Gucci Mane starred in for his first full feature film debut.
Nasty Nas! Mr. Illmatic became the face of Supreme during its Fall/Winter 2017 collection with the coveted photograph tee. It’s only fitting that Supreme celebrates its anniversary alongside the anniversary of the rap classic, Illmatic as both the brand, and the rapper, celebrate their debut together. The photo tee was long time coming as the rapper joined the list of hip-hop acts that range from Dipset to Prodigy to Gucci Mane.
The queen of pop claimed the throne of the Supreme photograph tee for the Fall/Winter 2018 collection. Madonna’s riveting impact on pop culture has solidified her as one of New York’s most famous faces. In 2018, the brand referenced the pop star’s 1990 hit single, Justify My Love. The tee features a photograph of Madonna shot by Gary Heery for her 1983 debut album. Fun fact: the tee was released around the time of her 60th birthday.
2019: Mary J. Blige
Paying homage to a New York City legend, Supreme honored the great, Mary J. Blige for their most recent photograph tee. For the Fall/Winter 2019 collection, the iconic photo tee utilizes the cover art of Mary J’s debut album, What’s the 411? In usual fashion, majority of the photo tees are significant to the culture representation of New York City. Written on the t-shirt is not only on autograph, but also features Real Love, the title of one of the soul singer’s signature songs.
2020: Mariah Carey
You can’t celebrate Christmas without Mariah Carey! For the final drop of the year, Supreme enlisted Mariah Carey for a photo tee of her iconic Christmas album.
Unreleased: Chief Keef (bonus)
Ahead of the opening of Virgil Abloh's Figure of Speech exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Speech in Chicago, a one of a kind box logo debuted. The never before seen box logo made an appearance with a portrait of Chief Keef who models the box logo tee with diamond chains. The classic red box logo has been reimagined with the colors of the Pan-African flag. Nearly a year later, and there still hasn't been any official news or update on when or if this photo tee or box logo tee will be released.