The Austin Chronicle

Lit-urday: Supremacist

By Mary Cantrell, July 2, 2016, 3:17pm, All Over Creation

Before reading Supremacist, I was a mere bystander of the Supreme phenomenon. My knowledge was limited to the fact that it is a skate brand, which oozes ultra-exclusivity and sophistication. But David Shapiro's novel sent me to all corners of the Internet, researching articles, abandoned blogs, and Twitter accounts about the cult clothing line.

by David Shapiro
Tyrant Books, 200 pp., $15

As a result, the Supreme online store has been open on my computer tabs for weeks. I periodically check it to see what new designs they've released. I even started proselytizing to my friends. Soon we were tied up in critiquing new items together, comparing prices on eBay, and lusting after our favorite superfluous merchandise.

Shapiro is a corporate lawyer living in New York, and Supremacist isn’t his first time writing about Supreme. In an article published by The New Yorker in 2013, Shapiro investigated a storefront that was re-selling Supreme products in Chinatown. His controversial work has even caught the attention of James Jebbia, the streetwear-influenced clothing line's founder.

While Supremacist was only out for pre-sale, it had already come under fire. There’s a whole subreddit dedicated to discussing the book, where diehard Supreme fans accuse Shapiro of being “corny” or using Supreme’s high-scale platform to further his own fame.

The book’s synopsis, and basically every hypercritical Supreme junkie on Reddit, make it seem like the novel is a semi-autobiographical account of Shapiro’s visit to every Supreme store in the world. And on the surface, that is what it appears to be. But once you delve into the book, it proves to be a compelling cultural critique of commercialization, brand identity, popular phenomena, and addiction – doused in vodka. It goes down easy via fucked-up characters you love to hate and some well-deployed, quippy humor.

The two main characters – upper middle class twentysomethings – set off from New York to Japan, where the bulk of the novel takes place. The main character (a fictionalized version of Shapiro) and his tag-along travel to Harajuku, Fukuoka, and Shibuya, where virtually every Supreme store is the same, and eat a lot of sushi from 7-Eleven convenience stores. Shapiro’s companion on the trip, Camilla, a woman who also appears in his previous novel, You’re Not Much Use to Anyone, starts the journey knowing as little about Supreme as I did as a reader. I felt like I learned along with her and, in turn, was fascinated by the controversy, hype, and subculture surrounding the brand.

The adventures the duo encounters in each city – from a persistent pimp to a ride on the fastest train in the world – are eclipsed by internal dialogue from Shapiro to discover the meaning of Supreme. Struggling with self-actualization, anxiety, culture shock, and loneliness, he turns to Camilla and they do a sort of will-they-or-won’t-they dance for a while. I won’t spoil too much.

Polaroids of rare Supreme items are sprinkled across the book’s pages and help illustrate Shapiro’s obsession with the brand. Among them are T-shirts featuring recontextualised popular images and utilitarian objects such as a hammer and box cutter, donned with its famed logo (itself a recontextualized version of Barbara Kruger's propaganda art).

Shapiro’s use of the intimate language of texting and seamless inclusion of social media make the book appealing to a younger audience that thirsts for easy-to-read, relatable contemporary novels. Shapiro’s second creative nonfiction novel is much more biting and visceral than its predecessor. His distinct brand of droll self-mockery illuminates richer characters and relays an infectious curiosity about Supreme.

You don’t have to be as obsessed with Supreme as David Shapiro to like this book. But you may be by the time you finish it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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