On Thursday, streetwear behemoth Supreme released a clothing collection on its site that featured album and EP artwork from Irish shoegaze band My Bloody Valentine. The album artworks for “Loveless,” “Glider” and “Feed Me With Your Kiss” were plastered on $168 hoodies, $48 t-shirts and $238 denim jackets.
The response to this collection online was as expected. Hypebeasts and Supreme aficionados panned the collection, reporting that it was a “pass” and that it will not have any “resale value.” A vocal group of My Bloody Valentine fans bemoaned the collection, arguing that a collaboration between the Irish shoegaze band and a brand that is ubiquitous with exclusivity tainted the perception of the band amongst members of the indie and rock community.
These fans were upset that a band they considered to be “niche” and their own was being marketed to the masses through Supreme’s international reach. A less vocal group of fans appreciated the collection, and many committed to purchasing a t-shirt or hoodie from the release. In spite of the polarization of fans online, the collection (for the most part) sold out, commanding above-retail prices on secondary markets like eBay, Grailed and StockX.
This is not a new phenomenon. Supreme has a history of collaborating with bands and musicians that are considered outside of the mainstream. Supreme has licensed the artwork of The Clash, The Velvet Underground, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Peter Saville (the artist behind Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures” album artwork). The fashion industry as a whole has appropriated band artwork for decades.
In addition to Supreme, Belgian designer Raf Simons and retailers like Hot Topic and Urban Outfitters have made countless tees that feature artwork like Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures” wavelength album cover. The reaction to these releases is always the same. There is a vocal group of fans who is upset by the mass distribution of something they view as culturally “niche.” The vocal group of fans is upset when people purchase the clothing on its design alone with no regards to the music and history behind it. Less vocal fans are content with the mass distribution of their favorite band’s artwork, believing the value the music brings to them transcends any loss of cachet that mass distribution causes.
Although many brands seek to appropriate the artwork of cutting edge musicians, many musicians also seek approval from large fashion houses and brands across the globe. Kanye West released multiple fashion lines and collaborated with French manufacturer Louis Vuitton, seeking acceptance from a fashion industry that was reluctant to approve him. He was rejected by fashion critics and industry insiders who, echoing the same sentiment of the My Bloody Valentine fans mentioned earlier, did not want to democratize an industry that had a perceived cachet.
Nowadays, the rise of streetwear and the way in which it has blended with global fashion houses has opened the door of fashion to musicians and creatives with non-traditional backgrounds. From Playboi Carti walking in Paris Fashion Week to Westside Gunn’s Virgil Abloh-designed “Pray for Paris” album artwork, the interplay between fashion and music is as strong as ever. Ultimately, insiders and fans of the culturally niche are reluctant to let outsiders appreciate what they hold dear. With the democratization of both fashion and music, the barriers to followings that were once considered niche have been lowered, allowing observers to partake in culture that was once exclusive to the world’s “tastemakers.”