"When you put something on the internet it's mine." - Jeanette Hayes, NYC artist
The legal battle between James Jebbia owner of premiere streetwear and skateboarding brand Supreme and owner of the first streetwear brand for women, Married to the Mob's Leah McSweeney is monumental. Jebbia and his brand are suing McSweeney for a casual ten million dollars in the name of trademark infringement. Streetwear is no stranger to the murky waters of borrowing imagery and parodying branding, nor the much more stringent world of trademark law. All cash value aside--this case bears particular weight because it gives new light to the age old trope of what it means to be a woman in a man's world--sort of.
Here's the back story: In 1994 McSweeney launched Married To The MOB--her brand's entry into the lacking space of streetwear designed by and for women. MOB stands for "Most Official Bitches," and one of her first designs was a t-shirt that mapped "SUPREME BITCH" onto Jebbia's now-iconic logo. The initial design was not only created with Jebbia's blessing, he sold the tees out of his retail shop, Union. Nine years ago it was all in good fun. As Supreme grew to become the apex of the global elite in streetwear, the MOB parody products followed suit. Retail heavyweights like Urban Outfitters and Karmaloop picked up the line, RiRi copped a fitted, and then McSweeney decided to legitimize her design by filing a trademark application. We speculate that was the impetus for Supreme to put it's sneaker down and say, "No more." Jebbia told Interview Magazine
in 2007 that trademarking his brand had been an issue, and it's likely he wasn't about to let someone else put their name on it either.
Trademarked or not, there's no debating the fact that Supreme is worth bucketloads more than MOB. For Jebbia, this suit was more about sending a message than getting paid dues. In a statement
on her blog, McSweeney sent back her own message claiming the suit stands for, "More than just a t-shirt." She writes: "I don't think Supreme should be able to squash free speech or my right to utilize parody in my design aesthetic. It's one of the most powerful ways for me to comment on the boy's club mentality that's pervasive in the streetwear/skater world. The fact that Supreme is coming after MOB and me personally is just another example of the hostility that MOB -- the first women's street wear brand -- has faced from Day 1. And it's why the Supreme Bitch message is so important." Fiery feminist supporters flooded Leah's timeline expressing their solidarity with her position.
But the one woman who matters most entered the debate this afternoon. Supreme's logo itself is explicitly informed by the work of American conceptual artist, Barbara Kruger. Complex
reached out to her this afternoon to inquire about her position on the lawsuit. She responded with a blank email, and attached was the above. Nothing could possibly speak more poignantly to the distopic reality of this legal battle. Kruger's feminism never capitalized on product sales. Kruger's cool never attacked its imitators as threats. It's unclear what Supreme was hoping to get out of this suit--perhaps dissociation from a brand they feel is beneath their cache. Now unabashedly shunned by his icon, Jebbia faces a battle with one of New York's most unapologetic female money makers. He's leveled with McSweeney as an equal challenger, and has exposed himself to be an unwelcome copycat profiting off the purity of another's work. It seems fitting to call this Supreme's biggest guerrilla marketing failure of all time.
Could this be the fall of the empire of Supreme? Most likely not. This probably won't even make mere ripple in the ocean swell of consumers who wait anxiously outside the doors of Supreme, hoping to be lucky enough to purchase an authentic piece. But did Kruger's Fools.doc just crack the foundation of Jebbia's castle?
If you'd like to piece through the gritty details of the lawsuit, McSweeney has graciously provided the full court document