Hold Down the Crown!!
Many people would refer to Stüssy as the "godfather of streetwear," and ironically, that's a title many of street culture's originators came to resent. As people associated with the brand started to do their own thing, they had to work twice as hard to dissociate themselves from their former company. Eddie Cruz had Undefeated. James Jebbia had Supreme. Shawn Stüssy returned to his roots as a custom surfboard shaper and established S/Double Studio in 2009. But behind the scenes, it seems this world is a whole lot smaller than you might think. Stüssy's lasting influence and global legacy continues to impact street culture at large.
Frank: The difference between Stüssy and a lot of other companies is other companies feel like "it's all mine, I don't want anybody else to have a say or make money." That's not how we work.
Eddie: I believe Russell Simmons was inspired by Stüssy very much to do Phat Farm. He would come into the shop all the time and look around. He'd have designers come in and have a look… and then came Phat Farm.
Paul: I know Stüssy very much inspired Russell to do Phat Farm.
Eddie: I just wanted to be a sneaker shop. I wasn't thinking that way, but people really liked the name and logo, and it only made sense for James Bond and I to start making baseball caps and tees on our own, and Frank had the vision that we had potential to take it to another level. He would be the licensee, we would design it—and the rest is history.
Frank: Eddie and his partner James Bond wanted to make clothes, so we've been working together now for more than five or six years. And we've really gone painfully slow, it's James and Eddie's vision, we've just worked to find the right balance for Undefeated. And Undefeated is a different look than Stüssy, much more athletic.
Paul: You wouldn't have Supreme without Stüssy. You wouldn't have A Bathing Ape without Stüssy. You can quote me on both of those.
Eddie: James Jebbia I think always had a vision of like "You know what? Shawn Stüssy did it, and it's working." Hence, he came up with the name "Supreme" and the concept of what Supreme is today.
James: I don't want to cross the two though. I've always separated the two from the get-go. The two have nothing to do with each other.
Frank: To me, I thought Supreme was great. Supreme didn't start with this huge following. It was one store, it was very underground. It still is.
Paul: Part of the reason for James opening the Supreme store was that at that point, Stüssy wasn't doing as well. Stüssy was kind of flatlining at that point, if not even going down.
James: I started Supreme simply because I didn't know what was going on with Stüssy, or if I was going to keep doing that. I had to try to do something else.
Eddie: The thing with owning Union is you're basically at the mercy of the brands that you carry. It's a very high-maintenance business to run. Multi-brand shops have to go to all the trade shows, you have to politic, and you have to do all that.
Frank: James Jebbia is his own man. He did that 100% on his own, to his credit.
Paul: It wasn't ever meant to be a clothing brand. The only place to buy skateboards was like, Blades—and that was kind of goofy. James saw that there was nothing on Lafayette at that point. It wasn't interesting. You didn't cross Broadway at that point. James was kind of a pioneer.
It's one thing to be the coolest of the cool, but what's important is that you're staying in business and you're relevant, and I think [Stüssy has] done a good job with that. - James Jebbia
Eddie: It was really just supposed to be a skate shop, but done in a nice way. Normally, when you'd go to skate shops back in the day, they were very schlocky, but kinda cool. Interior wasn't really that important to skate shop owners, but James wanted to create a beautiful environment to house skate brands.
Frank: I'll be honest with you, I made some of his clothes at the beginning. I made his pants and things.
Paul: Frank definitely helped out James and did some production for him.
James: He did production on a pair of shorts for me, which was nice of him at the time.
Eddie: In fact, when we were doing Union, we were trying to do a little cut-and-sew, and Frank was nice enough to let us use his factories to make some pieces to sell in the stores so we could get a better mark-up on them.
Frank: I wanted to do James favors—he was my partner, but I didn't design it. I didn't do his marketing, I didn't do his ads. I didn't line up his team. It's his company. But the fact that I was willing to make things for him was just simple production. You don't have to give me credit. He did it all himself.
Eddie: At first there no brand it was just a store called "Supreme," but his marketing campaign was absolutely brilliant. They made these red box logo stickers and get street teams to just go blast them all over New York City, like all over Calvin Klein ads. Kate Moss would be doing a panty ad and all the Supreme stickers were covering part of her body. The statement was "She's Supreme, and so is this." Calvin Klein himself took notice and even came to the shop.
Paul: Supreme, honestly, became the world tribe perfected. All of what James had watched and learned from doing Stüssy, when he did his own brand, was everything he learned from that, but done perfectly. Supreme's in this strange way, never done wrong, because James was taught by the best. And Supreme from the day it opened just kind of popped off.
Frank: Shawn was never a greedy person. I'm not a greedy person. We don't need to win by virtue of other people not winning. I get much more satisfaction today out of seeing one of these guys—Eddie, HUF, whoever they may be—succeed, and accumulate the resources to become independent and do what they want to do. I get more satisfaction out of that than making another dollar and putting it in the bank.
Eddie: On the real if it wasn't for Frank Sinatra, a lot of people wouldn't be where they are today. He's open-minded. He wasn't always in the know, but he was a likable, smart businessman.
Frank: I wasn't happy when we were copied and diluted by other brands, but it was never like "for us to succeed, everyone else has to fail." And along the way, we made a lot of good friends who really wanted to be a part of what was going on.
Eddie: Basically Frank would let all of these new up-and-coming brands do collaborations. When you get to do a collaboration with an established brand like Stüssy, that basically tells the world that you're legit.
Frank: How much better is it to have partners around the world that are, on their own, creative, empowered entrepreneurs with a vision? That's symbiotic, that synergistic. Stüssy wants there to be more Supremes. We want there to be a critical mass of these brands, so that we can do a branded store with all those guys.
Nick: Streetwear is really responsible for all these collaborations going on right now. Way, way, way before these big brands were collaborating with each other—Target, H&M, all that. The streetwear brands were all like a community. Could you imagine Billabong collaborating with Quiksilver? Forget about it. They're in competition with each other, and there's no community.
Frank: Wouldn't you want your friends to do well? They're not a threat to me. When they succeed it's like my son succeeded. Eddie Cruz is my friend. Keith Hufnagel is a great guy and my friend. I always give them advice. I'd give them advice again, but it doesn't mean that I did what they did.
Eddie: It's not really about competition. Whenever I'd go to Tokyo I was noticing things like BAPE was working with Mad Hectic, and Mad Hectic was working with NEIGHBORHOOD, and WTaps was working with those guys. I think the Japanese invented the collaboration. I know Nike collaborated with Stüssy for those Dunks and Huaraches, but that was a major corporation working with a small brand, and it was cool to see small brands working with other small brands and supporting each other—and that started happening here. You'll see a Diamond x Black Scale thing, you'll see a Hall of Fame x HUF thing, and I think that's wonderful. The youth are saying "let's help each other come up."
Frank: We never sought out to call ourselves "streetwear." We didn't invent the name. In fact if you recall there was a company called Vision Street Wear that went broke in the '80s. Shawn was just making clothes that a kid or your dad would find appealing.
Eddie: Someone made that name up. I wish that they didn't.
Frank: Now, anything that isn't a "surf" or "skate" brand is a "streetwear" brand. Not necessarily true, but who needs to parse words? It's not really what you are, it's who you are. "It ain't where you're from / it's where you're at" is one of Shawn's favorite lines. Call us what you want. What I care about is that clothes get made and sold in places that you find attractive, appealing, and aspirational.
Jules: I kind of hate that term.
Nick: I think it's a good term. If you think about other youth cultures: you've got surf, skate, snow, and if you talk about streetwear… it's kind of like what you wear in the street, when you're not doing your sport.
Jules: "Streetwear" to me has got a bad connotation to it now. It's the really corny brands that are at MAGIC for a couple times then they’re gone.
Eddie: All that stuff was real. Eventually people started calling it something because it turned into something.
Frank: High-quality, timeless, authentic, you can explain why you bought it, what it references—that's streetwear!
Nick: Nowadays it's used a lot, so it can become confusing, but it did define a certain kid. And I think it still does. A kid who's into streetwear is usually into sneakers, hats, he may also be into accessories, bags, maybe he's into music, a DJ… all of those things really define a streetwear kid.
Frank: I think streetwear has definitely passed the point of being unique and underground. Like anything else, you have passionate customers who understand the genesis of streetwear and who the brands are that are really authentic, and they're willing to pay a premium for it. At its highest end, you might say that's kind of the Visvim customer now.
James: It's one thing to be the coolest of the cool, but what's important is that you're staying in business and you're relevant, and I think they've done a good job with that.
Nick: For me, I've always been more interested in clothing and design, and my points of reference are probably at a higher-end level.
Frank: Nick Bower's killing me because he's so strict and passionate in his interpretations. That's part of what Stüssy spends its money on. We spend our money making things that are so pure, that people don't quite want it, but they understand it.
James: There's ups and downs in every brand's history, but I think Stüssy has done a good job of staying the course.
Frank: The important thing for us is to continue reinvent who we are via new ideas and better products that are Stüssy: collaborations, categories, whatever that is. We don't wanna blow it and just sell out. We don't wanna just make products that sell in large numbers.
Nick: I think if we continue to do things right, not be pretentious, and always come out with fresh stuff, I think Stüssy will have no problem celebrating their 50th anniversary. I think Stüssy is an American icon now. As a brand, it's known worldwide by kids involved in the culture.
Frank: We're finally getting traction again. Customers understand us again. We have people that we can speak to with our products that understand the story and wanna buy it. The challenge is that this is not the same retail world that existed 20 years ago. Customers are more complicated, and they have many more ways to spend their money: electronics, software, and other products. You've got a more sophisticated customer with more options that understands more about what he wants and why.