Top of the Drops: Supreme and VF Corp's Collaborative Legacy

The owner of The North Face, Vans and Timberland and the legendary skate brand share a rich history.

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Every fashion brand worth its salt knows that most clothing collaborations aren’t moneymakers. Sure, really desirable drops bring in decent returns by clearing out the available stock, but, then again, that stock is usually so limited that profitability is finite. The real worth of apparel partnerships is that ever-covetable cultural cache, a sense of authenticity and “cool” that can’t be bought. Or can it? VF Corp may soon enjoy the best of both worlds, as the quiet conglomerate made international headlines on November 9 by announcing its forthcoming acquisition of streetwear juggernaut Supreme.

Although the Denver-based corporation is far from a household name, even the fashion agnostic have heard of the companies that VF owns: its portfolio includes cultural touchstones like The North Face, Vans, Timberland and Dickies, most of which have enjoyed lengthy partnerships with Supreme. In fact, VF’s 2004 purchase of Vans coincided with a pair of collaborative Supreme sneakers that launched the same year.

Despite turbulent finances resulting from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, VF snapped up Supreme in its entirety in a deal valuated at $2.1 billion USD, nearly twice what the streetwear label was valued at in the wake of the Carlyle Group’s 2017 investment. Furthermore, VF is confident in its ability to properly oversee the future of Supreme.

“This will take time,” VF chairman Steve Rendle told WWD. “We talk about a light-touch integration with this business because it’s very successful, operating at a very high level today. We’ll take our time to get to know each other. This brand will continue to operate as it always has, we do not look to come in and make any changes. We’re here to help, support and enable,” explaining that VF has “a good understanding of this customer.”

VF Corp's Supreme Acquisition, History, Collaborations the north face vans timberland legacy james jebbia buy price new york

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“We’re not coming in with a new plan or approach, because frankly [Supreme's] pretty darn good at it,” continued Scott Roe, VF’s executive vice president and chief financial officer. “When stores closed, their online business was robust and through the COVID period they’ve actually grown their business at a high-single digit rate year-to-date and even accelerated recently.” Medinatheatre has reached out to VF Corp for further comment.

Supreme began working with some of the affiliated brands even before VF acquired them, dropping a trio of Vans collabs in the ’90s and a 2006 Timberland joint effort (VF acquired Timberland in 2011). Under VF’s guidance, the yearly partnerships multiplied, often launching every season; for instance, The North Face — which VF has owned since 2000 — originally linked with Supreme in 2007, then 2008. By 2010, however, VF had taken notice of Supreme’s unstoppable influence and began pushing for more expansive and frequent TNF collaborations to inject its outdoor brand with a shot of cool. This yielded the first of many outerwear and accessory-packed collections, which continue to this day.

No roundup of notable Supreme x The North Face drops would be complete with coverage of the duo’s innumerable graphic layers, from 2008’s cityscape Summit Jackets to 2012’s map-printed Venture Jackets to 2015’s iconic “BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY” Nuptse puffers. Other key collaborative drops include 2011’s leopard outerwear and luggage, 2013’s fur-printed Nuptse Jacket and Vest, the many blue and red paisley items issued in 2014, 2017’s photographic mountain goods and 2019’s arc logo laden goods.

Vans is Supreme’s most frequent co-conspirator, as the duo initially joined forces only two years after Supreme New York opened its doors way back in 1996. The collaborative sneakers that resulted from that pairing encompass a variety of styles, but are only a fraction as diverse as the models that began rolling out after 2004, Vans’ first year under VF’s purview. Special Ari Marcopoulos and Public Enemy sneakers kicked things off, followed by more triple collabs with the likes of NEIGHBORHOOD, Malcolm Mclaren, COMME des GARÇONS SHIRT, Bruce Lee, Playboy and more.

Supreme also dreamed up a massive assortment of its own special Vans makeups. The run the gamut from brogued Half Cabs in 2007 to tie-dye Old Skools in 2009 to 2011’s colorful Chukkas to 2013’s velvety, star-studded Sk8-His. Along the way, Supreme revived a host of overlooked Vans silhouettes from the past, including the sleek 106 Vulcanized, the Lampin, the “Native American” and 1994’s Mike Carrol signature.

Compared to its two VF peers, Timberland’s collaborations with Supreme have only just begun. After relaunching in 2011, the year VF acquired the brand, Timberland’s Supreme offerings remained unconventional, issuing premium leather Euro Hikers, waterproof Chukkas and in 2013 the classic 6-Inch boot. The two branched out into apparel in 2016, after a three-way joint effort with COMME des GARÇONS SHIRT a year earlier, giving way to this year’s concise multi-part drop.

VF’s executives have made it clear that they want to stay consistent with Supreme’s winning strategies of minimal social media output, selective physical presence and high-profile collaborations. If anything, more broad partnerships with VF’s brands will be in order, and don’t be surprised to see Supreme join forces with some of the others in VF’s portfolio either, be it Eastpak, Dickies or Napapijri. Otherwise, don’t expect sweeping change; VF didn’t buy Supreme to kill the goose, it merely wants to profit off those golden eggs.

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