They Like Material

This is one of my all time favourite Globe Style Advisor columns, from October 2016. I wrote it during the heat of August, while I was staying in SoHo in Manhattan for a month. The sun was bright, the asphalt hot, and all around me that summer were young men and their fears and desires. Watching skateboarders is fascinating, the way that they throw themselves at the concrete over and over again. Outside of that singular obsession they affect total carelessness. Outside of Supreme, that attitude intersects with money and power, creating pathos.

The lineup goes around the block in the trendy SoHo neighbourhood in Manhattan. The store will serve 370 customers in one day, most of them spending thousands of dollars. It’s the drop day of Supreme’s Fall 2016 season.

Does anything weird ever happen in the line? “Yeah,” one kid says, “once someone got slashed” meaning, got cut with a knife. Why would someone do that? “They like material,” he shrugs.

21 year old Donovan comes from the Bronx. “Up there we call it poppin’, when you dressing up,” he says. Donovan doesn’t dress up often though. His family doesn’t have much money. He’s flipping Supreme to buy supplies for school. He flashes a thick wad of cash in his pocket that he hopes to multiply.

“Supreme goes hard,” young Johnny says. “They’re way more exclusive than other brands.” The limited merchandise fuels a legal black market that plays into entry-level gangster fantasies, but Johnny is more into the aesthetics than the gambling aspect. “Donovan and I shouldn’t be getting along but we do,” he says. These two friends represent the two distinct camps in the queue. Many are investing in Supreme as a get-rich scheme. Smaller in number and more stylishly turned out are the guys who wear the clothes.

Todd, a massive, smiling mountain of a man, guards the door. “Most of them are good kids,” he says. “Some of them cause trouble, because for them, it’s a serious business.” The crackling energy of raw testosterone occasionally flares into an aggressive outburst. One guy made a scene, pacing outside the shop and shouting.

A friend of the yeller walks up to the door and tries to smooth over his case. “You gotta watch who you associate with,” Todd cautions. Even with the most hot-headed door-crashers, Todd is empathetic. “I respect where you’re coming from,” he says gently, “but you gotta let it go.”

The sales guys aren’t phased. “This is normal,” one tells me. The senior manager is reluctant to talk to a writer. The brand has a reputation as a cipher to uphold.

In that spirit, a tall, finely featured and simply dressed young man walks out the door of the store carrying a big bag of merchandise in one hand and his skateboard in the other. In one supremely elegant gesture, he drops the skateboard on the sidewalk, steps on it and glides away.