In December 2018, Samsung Electronics confirmed it had secured a collaboration with Supreme, sparking excitement among many streetwear enthusiasts. The problem? It wasn't actually Supreme—at least not the New York-based brand it presented itself to be.
It turned out that the South Korean tech giant had made a deal with Supreme Italia, a fashion company that has been accused of selling "legal fakes." James Jebbia, the founder of the original Supreme, condemned the alleged copycat brand in an interview with the Business of Fashion.
"This is a whole new level with this criminal enterprise—these complete imposters and impersonators," Jebbia said. "This is a company that was able to convince one of the biggest companies in the world [Samsung] that they are the real thing."
Though Samsung canceled the collaboration following a wave of backlash, the man behind Supreme Italia continues to sell his box-logo apparel in Europe and Asia. How does he get away with this? It all comes down to international trademark laws.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, the brand waited more than a decade before it trademarked its logo in the U.S.; however, the outlet points out that the U.S. registration didn't protect the brand in other countries, and Supreme's failure to file abroad gave Michele di Pierro a big opportunity.
Through his company, International Brand Firm Ltd., the Italian businessman was able to nab at least seven trademark registrations with the word "Supreme," including names like "Supreme Spain and "Supreme Kids."
In 2017, di Pierro was forced to shut down his "Supreme Italia" stores after an Italian court ruled he was engaging in "parasitic competition." Though he is currently forbidden to sell in Italy, di Pierro still operates multiple stores in Europe and Asia, where he sells merchandise with the iconic red-and-white "Supreme" branding.
But Supreme New York isn't going down without a fight.
If a brand wasn’t the first to register but is well known in a given market, it can argue that another party did a “filing in bad faith” and is causing confusion among customers, said Etienne Sanz de Acedo, chief executive of the International Trademark Association, whose members include Supreme.
Di Pierro insists, however, there is nothing shady about his business.
"Our success is not based on the box logo. It’s the quality," he told the publication. "When I filed for registration in Italy, I did it in good faith. I didn’t know [Supreme] even existed. It wasn’t popular in Italy. There wasn’t even a store."
His claims have been met with skepticism due to the logos' similarities.
"What a coincidence that it's exactly the same name, exactly the same combination of colors, exactly the same font," Sanz de Acedo said sarcastically. "This is not pure coincidence."
Di Pierro is now battling Supreme in courts around the world. The businessman said he intends to expand his business, despite Supreme New York's efforts.