Tremaine Emory on why he quit Supreme and felt like a 'mascot'

When Supreme appointed its new creative director, Tremaine Emory, the 42-year-old known for his work with Stussy and designer Virgil Abloh, the menswear fashion community rejoiced. The announcement in February 2022 was a step forward for the brand, which faced ambitious growth demands after being sold to VF Corporation for $2.1 billion in 2020. Supreme has managed (not always successfully) to balance credibility with global dominance in the youth fashion market. The addition of Emory, who is perhaps most famous for his own brand Denim Tears, which tells the stories of Black Americans through the lens of denim, t-shirts, and sweatshirts, indicated that Supreme remained committed to its political or counter-cultural stances.

It also signaled that the notoriously secretive brand—where its founder James Jebbia rarely grants interviews—was willing to be more open, even when it comes to questions of privilege, accessibility, and appropriation that have surrounded the world of youth fashion since its inception.

However, just a year and a half after Emory's appointment, it seems that the relationship has unraveled. In an interview, Emory confirmed his resignation, stating that his decision to leave last month came after Jebbia removed images of a suspended person and a former slave from an upcoming collaboration with visual artist Arthur Jafa without informing Emory. In his resignation letter and in the interview, he repeatedly cited "systemic racism" within the company as the reason for his departure. He claimed to have faced criticism for raising this issue in meetings, saying, "Can we talk about systemic racism or Black artists we work with or don't work with?"

Emory said, "Everyone is allowed to feel—especially Black people who are represented or depicted in the work—however they feel about it." He added that he wished there could be a dialogue around the images instead of making a unilateral decision and that his position at Supreme made him feel like a "symbolic figure."

In response to a request for comment, Supreme provided The Washington Post with the same statement it gave to Business of Fashion earlier this week: "While we take these concerns seriously, we completely disagree with Trim's portrayal of our company and his handling of the Arthur Jafa project, which has not been canceled."

The statement continued, "This was the first time in 30 years that the company brought in a creative director. We are disappointed that things didn't work out as planned with Trim and wish him well in the future." Supreme did not provide any information on the release date of the collaboration.

At the heart of the rift between Emory and Supreme lies a question that many creative directors grapple with when using the runway and campaign images as a space for political protest or engagement: Do images of pain and violence against Black people belong in the world of fashion? What does it mean for a fashion brand to place an image of a lynched Black person, even if derived from artwork, on a shirt? What does the person wearing that shirt convey through their clothing?

Emory told The Post on Thursday, "I did this work because I know documentation matters to people who are dark-skinned, and to all people," adding, "And I needed a kid from Jamaica, Queens, to see what you can do from Jamaica, Queens, without finishing college, without going to fashion school—that you can do it too."

Emory said Jebbia removed the images from Jafa's collection, which depicted a suspended person in the work "I don't care about your past, I just want our love to last," and a former slave covered in wounds in "Former Slave Gordon," after an email in April from a Black employee was sent to Emory, Jebbia, and several senior staff members regarding the appearance of violent imagery in a commercial fashion collection. (According to Emory, the employee believed the entire collection should be canceled).
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