How An Anonymous Instagrammer Discovers Supreme’s Obscure Design References

The anonymous skater behind the Instagram account 'Supreme Copies' talks about his new book, the ethics of "copying" & streetwear history.

supreme copies volume 2

Image via Publicist

supreme copies volume 2

The 20-year-old skater behind Instagram account @supremecopies doesn’t purchase or wear Supreme. He owns a couple of pieces, but he doesn’t love the newer stuff and has other financial priorities. But in terms of time, he dedicates a lot of it to the New York-based streetwear brand. He’s spent the last three years running the account from Bend, Oregon, an isolated town far removed from all things Supreme, showcasing the original graphics and vintage references behind some of the company’s most memorable releases. 

He spends an hour or two a day scrolling through platforms like Strictly Supreme, Instagram, and Etsy to unearth brand references that range from out-of-print graffiti zines, defunct ‘90s streetwear brands, and contemporary artists—people also DM him Supreme design inspiration they come across at thrift stores or from their own clothing archives. His account led to the publication of Supreme Copies Volume. 1, which he self published in 2017, and he recently dropped the second volume. 

We hopped on the phone with @supremecopies, who has amassed 97,000 followers but chooses to remain anonymous because he wants the focus to be on the work, not clout, to discuss his new book, receiving cease and desist letters meant for Supreme, the ethics of “copying,” and his favorite discoveries this season. 

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.) 

I read you got into Supreme through Odd Future and Tyler the Creator. You're 20 and I'm 23, but I certainly felt the same way. How do you think Tyler and OF influenced our generation's interest in the brand? 
I think I was in 6th grade going into 7th when I started seeing those videos. It's interesting because rappers and skaters have obviously been wearing it forever. Although there are photos of Drake wearing Supreme in '09, I would say Tyler was the first rapper within our generation to wear the coolest pieces the most. And he had the whole artistry himself. Who really gave a shit about what Justin Bieber or Drake was wearing? Tyler was cool, which is why people wanted to dress like him. I feel like that had a lot to do with it. I also think Odd Future's direct involvement with the brand added to that, too. Just the fact that they were all Fairfax kids at the store every day. He has literally rapped about getting free box logos back then so I would imagine they were hooking them up in L.A. He wasn't the first to wear it, but he was the one to put it to that scale where kids like me and you took note of what it was.

So I saw your book went No. 1 on Amazon's Best Sellers list for books on fashion design. Why did you decide to self-publish? 
For the first time I did it because no one’s going to give you a publishing deal with no backing besides an IG account. So I didn’t even bother asking. And then paying a printer wasn’t gonna work either because I was 18 at the time and didn’t have that type of money. So I self published through an Amazon subsidiary and every book is made to order. 

I know what I'm doing is perfectly legal. But I can see why a company is kind of hesitant of publishing an unauthorized book about a multimillion dollar clothing brand. —@supremecopies

I did try to find actual publishers this time around to produce the book as a hardcover with glossy pages. I don't know if I couldn't just find the right company or if no one really wanted to take the legal risk. That's one bonus of self-publishing a project like this. I've sat down with lawyers before for two hours on end about the first project. So I know what I'm doing is perfectly legal. But I can see why a company is kind of hesitant of publishing an unauthorized book about a multimillion dollar clothing brand. So I decided to stick with Amazon since they improved by combining both publishing companies and a lot of my issues the first time around were resolved. I want to make a third volume like the other two and then re-print all three volumes into a single hardcover book underneath an actual publisher. 

Speaking of legal issues, I recalled seeing a post where you mentioned someone sent you a cease-and-desist letter because they thought you were affiliated with Supreme.
A lot of the times when I post about Supreme copying someone, it gets back to the person who got copied. A couple weeks ago Daymond John, the founder of FUBU, reposted one of my posts on his Instagram. He wasn't offended and he thought it was cool that Supreme was inspired by them. But I did receive a letter from this French rap group called Assassin. I think something got lost in the language barrier, and they sent me a cease and desist letter in French, addressed to Supreme, regarding the graphics.  It's funny because I don't think it's actually valid because Supreme definitely changed over 40 percent of the original design. But they sent it to me and I had to Google Translate it to see if that's what I really got. It was also a couple weeks after the tee released and it was all sold out. There was nothing they could do about it. 

That's the funny thing about Supreme getting cease and desist letters. The clothes sell out the same day it's released. After that you can't do anything about it. 
Exactly. It definitely used to be valid in, like, 2000, when Louis Vuitton forced them to burn it all. Nowadays, it wouldn't even work. What? Are they are going to burn the last 10 tees that they have left over for employees? 

Were the legal hurdles this time around as bad? Or was it easier? 
It was way cooler this time around. If you noticed, I never use a Supreme stock photo. That's the only thing that they can get me for. It's funny because I have a couple buddies at StockX and they tell me that they have the same issues. If you go on their site, the reason why they don't have photos for some pieces is because they literally have to do their own product shot with it. I just have to really be careful about that. Other than that, vintage sellers are happy to have their pieces featured and I give credits too.

supreme copies volume 2

So what were your favorite discoveries since publishing your first book last year? 
Off top, it has to be that story behind the "Cry Baby" tee from 2015. I got a message from someone who led me to this 50-year-old Swedish man. He said that the photo used for the shirt was of his baby sister. He literally sent me a picture of a mantle at his parent's house with the "Cry Baby" photo inside a frame along with two other photos of his siblings. He said that they were all taken in 1971 at the same photoshoot. I asked if the photos were taken by a famous photographer. It was his neighbor and he unfortunately couldn't remember his name. He sent me all the original scans and I potentially have a higher quality photo than the one Supreme used if they didn't pull it straight from the photographer. He also sent me other photos of the "Cry Baby" that were taken around the same time. A couple months later, he emailed me again and said that they gave the shirt to the actual "Cry Baby" for Christmas. 

One of my favorite releases this season were the 'Grand Prix,' graphics which you found the reference for yourself. How did you figure that out? 
It's not a huge secret with that one because I believe I reverse image searched it. But it could have also been tipped off by one of my followers. I have a lot of followers into niche subjects like Grand Prix fans, for instance. If not, I probably just reverse image searched it or looked up keywords on Google. I forgot to include a key part about that one. They made the Shell say "Hell" because of that gas station polaroid by Dash Snow. 

A lot of your fans send submissions. Whether it's a kid who found a reference piece at a thrift or a huge vintage Stone Island collector like Arco Maher. When it comes to finding these references on your own, what's your research process like and how long does it take to find a reference that’s completely unknown to you? 
It really depends on the piece. A lot of it gets discovered by accident. For instance, I found the reference for that King Phade "Chucky Tee" because someone posted a page from the Shirt Kings book on their Instagram story. Or I will be scrolling through Etsy and find a cardigan that looks exactly like the one they released a few years back. The explore feed is way more organized now because you can just select posts only related to style. So I've definitely found a lot by just scrolling through a lot of thrift and vintage clothing accounts. It just really depends because there's a wide variety of methods. But that's what's cool about it. 

Is there a piece you've tried really hard to find the reference for?
I really like Supreme's cut and sew pieces. I like finding the exact 1:1 reference where they didn't change a single thing like that cardigan I just brought up. I would love to find the references for any of their wool sweaters. That short sleeve terry cardigan that has this Goodfellas/Sopranos look that came out in 2015. If I can find those exact rips, that would make me happy. I don't know why, I think that's just what fascinates me personally. I'm sure other people will hunt for super specific graphics. 

What I also like about your account is that you put a spotlight on the artists who contribute graphics to the brand. Like Culture Sport TV who made the “Creeper Tee” this season. That's great because sometimes Supreme doesn't directly credit those artists. What do you think about that? 

I can't speak for the artists, but I don't think any of them look at it too negatively. They are getting paid to get their work out there. I think that in itself is cool and they are still able to share the fact they did commissioned work for Supreme to their fans. I don't know any of them that look at it like Supreme not crediting them. Ever since the '90s, there have been a culmination of people doing work for the brand like Mike Mills. I don't know if he was ever an official Supreme designer but he designed a lot of the old graphics from the ‘90s. 

Some of the old heads don't like me. In terms of the new age, I can't imagine a lot of them hating. And the skaters don't give a shit. —@supremecopies

Was he credited on the shirts back then? Well there wasn't even a website back then. But no, it was an "in the know" type of thing. I think it's fine. It's kind of weird when we are talking about somebody like Culture Sport because their work is really unique. I think things like that are different from a graphic designer just making graphics like a plain logo for the brand. I know some people who have done that for the brand and they don't get credited or care either. 

But I can definitely see where someone like Culture Sport would be up for discrepancy because their work is different for sure. He is more of an artist. I know Joe Roberts (LSD World Peace) ended up getting credited for his Spring 2017 shirts. I don't know how the brand judges it. But the artists are cool and some hit me up directly for posts and they explain the context for me. I'm bad at explaining what they do but they're just awesome though. 

You seem to be clearly passionate about fashion in general. But is it difficult to unravel high-fashion collaborations like the Jean Paul Gaultier one this season? The Jean Paul Gaultier one was relatively easy to trace back. But items like that bootleg-inspired Nike jacket they released a few weeks ago, someone sent that reference in. It's a bootleg to begin with so I would definitely have trouble tracing something like that back from just google searches. That photo of the original was solely posted on an Instagram thrift account too. Since Gaultier or Comme des Garçons is high fashion, it's well catalogued. You can find the year those reference pieces came out with the runway look. Whereas a brand like Nike released so many products a year and then there was bootleg Nike which was huge in the '80s and '90s. You're not going to be able to find all that everywhere. 

How many DMs do you get a week, and how do you curate recommendations? 
On the mornings that Supreme previews come out, it's like mad. There'll be a piece with a classic painting in the graphic and I’ll get a million DMs about a painting even though Supreme probably pulled it from a T-shirt sold at the museum. I would say I get 5 to 10 DMs a week. When it comes to curating, the year always matters and how close the reference is. I would say the "who" and the "why" are huge. There’s a handful of graphics and designs you could point to and be like, "That's the Marlboro Man logo." But really, Supreme is just ripping off the Marlboro Man in the same manner that Plan B did some years prior. Supreme was likely referencing Plan B's older graphic instead of the Marlboro Man logo because, contextually, it's on a shirt. The "why," I suppose, just intertwines with this.

Also who cares about the reference. People like posts about good graphics or collaborations. They also like it when I find the background behind new releases quickly. But it's mainly the "who" and the “why.” 

There are other Instagram accounts like Diet Prada that have gained a following from finding references as well. Do you follow and what do you think of them? 
I follow Diet Prada but I don't like them. They seem kind of snobby and I feel they really want attention. I feel like they also bring up references that are only a year or two old. But references, especially with high fashion, can go further back. 

supreme copies volume 2

I'm personally a fan of Supreme items that reference a subculture I'm interested in, such as graffiti. Was there anything that Supreme introduced you to?
I think it's hard to not find an artist you like. I just copped a Cindy Sherman book the other day. People could say I'm dumb, but I'm like 20-years-old bro. I didn't hear about that artist until the Supreme collaboration. I can't say I found something like a band through them that I actually listen to everyday. But I do like finding out about the interesting subcultures they are referencing like finding out about '90s graffiti zine like Fatcap. I watched a documentary the other day about the story behind cult leader Tony Alamo's denim jackets, which Supreme referenced this season. That was crazy interesting and I had no clue about that. I have definitely dived into things like that but I wouldn't say Supreme ever put me on to any music or films.

You seem to be an avid follower of the visionaries behind Supreme. What do you think of their affiliated brands like Awake and Noah? 
I think Noah is awesome. I love all their collaborations and I think they are really clean cut. There's definitely a lot of people who have been involved with the brand over the years who have done some pretty cool things. Shadi NYC is this dope photographer/videographer that has done a ton of work for them. It's not limited to just Noah and Awake. There are also brands started by kids who also ride for Supreme's skateboard team. Alex Olson's brands, 917 and Bianca Chandon, are fine. I would also consider Hardies by Tyshawn Jones to be another dope brand associated with Supreme.

Has running this account given you any great opportunities? 
It has, but I can't talk about it. But it has taken a while because I've been doing this for three years now so it's about time.

And Supreme still hasn't contacted you yet? 
Nope, and Angelo Baque still has me blocked. A couple of Supreme retail employees and photographers do follow me. I don't think they really care though. Some of the younger workers probably think it's cool though. The new age of workers who don't know all the products that have been released can look at that shit. 

Have you ever thought of launching sister accounts? 
I have definitely thought about launching Palace copies but I want to eventually do my own stuff and don't want to talk about other people's clothes all day. So I wouldn't. 

I read that you had some haters. I saw some critiques that Brian Procell threw at you about not fully understanding these references. What is your response to that? 
Some of the old heads don't like me. In terms of the new age, I can't imagine a lot of them hating. And the skaters don't give a shit

What are your next moves beyond this Instagram account?
I'm definitely trying to work for other people in the industry. I want to actually be behind the scenes and doing things. That's my next goal. 

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