From a block away, you could smell the Nag Champa in the air, like a sandalwood smoke signal. As you got closer you could hear the music echoing through the canyon of Manhattan, then see the crowd outside the building, sometimes 40 or 50 deep, spilling off the sidewalk onto Lafayette Street. The locus of it all was ostensibly a store—but back then, when it first opened, in 1994, retail concerns seemed incidental to the real purpose of Supreme, which sprung to life as a frenetic meet-up spot for the growing downtown New York skate community.
In those days Lafayette Street wasn’t the commercial thoroughfare it is now, so kids from the boroughs and from New Jersey, Long Island, and upstate could gather without having to worry about being hassled by the cops or encroaching on the upscale businesses that now dot the neighborhood. At that time, there were no metal barricades or security guards, though the notorious lines of customers that would eventually necessitate such things would start soon enough. Out of sight, in an office or a back room, the man who conjured it all into being—Supreme’s founder, James Jebbia—could be found working the phones, haranguing his suppliers, coaxing another drop of tees, hoodies, and caps. He was on a mission to fill his perpetually empty shelves, impervious to the notion that something grand was taking shape.
One of those who flocked to the store was the filmmaker Harmony Korine, who had moved into his first apartment, just a couple of blocks away, a few months before Supreme opened. “I never really even thought of it, in the very beginning, as a business,” he tells me. “It was more of a hangout spot. You know, a place for that specific crew.” Supreme’s start coincided with the making of Korine’s first film, Kids, directed by Larry Clark, which famously depicted that same crew’s style and antics downtown. “It was raw,” he says of the energy that the store tapped into. “It was a specific attitude, and probably the DNA is [still] there now, but it really was a pure New York City kind of street skating.”