Supreme creative director Tremaine Emory exits the streetwear label, alleging ‘systematic racism’

Emory, founder and creative director of Denim Tears and a former Ye and Virgil Abloh collaborator, was Supreme's first-ever creative director.

Just ahead of New York Fashion Week, reports have emerged that Tremaine Emory’s Fall/Winter 2023 line for Supreme will be his last. Emory, who became the streetwear juggernaut’s first-ever creative director in February 2022, has exited the label after only two seasons. Alleging “systematic racism” in his resignation letter, the designer cited the brand’s lack of communication regarding a planned collaboration with acclaimed artist Arthur Jafa, according to Business of Fashion (BoF), which reported to have accessed a copy of the letter, per Complex.

“Emory’s decision to leave Supreme [centered] around senior management’s ‘inability to communicate’ with him about the ‘cancellation’ of a long-planned fashion collaboration with major Black American artist Arthur Jafa and offer ‘full visibility for the reasons behind it,’ according to Emory’s resignation letter. ‘This caused me a great amount of distress as well as the belief that systematic racism was at play within the structure of Supreme.’” 

Source: Business of Fashion (Instagram)
Tremaine Emory, Supreme, Denim Tears, Tremaine Emory and Supreme, Black designers, Black in Fashion, Virgil Abloh, Yeezy, Fashion Week,
Tremaine Emory speaks onstage during The Fashion Scholarship Fund 85th Annual Awards Gala at the Glass Houses on April 11, 2022, in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Fashion Scholarship Fund)

In a statement to BoF, Supreme confirmed Emory’s departure while disputing the cancellation of the Jafa collaboration, which has yet received a release date.

“While we take these concerns seriously, we strongly disagree with Tremaine’s [characterization] of our company and the handling of the Arthur Jafa project, which has not been [canceled,]” the company stated, adding: “This was the first time in 30 years where the company brought in a creative director. We are disappointed it did not work out with Tremaine and wish him the best of luck going forward.”

While the source of the rift remains in dispute, Emory’s brief tenure at the cult-favorite brand was undeniably successful, with both fans and Complex calling a recent preview of its Fall/Winter 2023 line, Emory’s second full collection, Supreme’s “best season in years.” This acclaim follows the early 2023 success of “Dior Tears,” a collaboration between Dior and Emory’s four-year-old label, Denim Tears.

A former collaborator of Kanye “Ye” West’s Yeezy fashion empire and the late Virgil Abloh, Emory credited the latter’s history-making run as creative director of Louis Vuitton Menswear for making his ascension in the industry possible. 

“The sunroof is off. We used Louis. We use these things as leverage to push through. For example, the sunroof off the Trojan Horse is me getting a job at Supreme,” Emory told Complex writer Mike DeStefano in 2022. “Me and my job at Supreme doesn’t happen if the watershed moment with Virgil doesn’t happen in 2018. I don’t care how talented or good I am.”

Emory also had words for former friend “Ye” last year. As previously reported by theGrio, following West’s controversial “White Lives Matter” presentation at Paris Fashion Week and subsequent online attacks on Vogue fashion editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson, Emory not only defended Karefa-Johnson but accused West of exploiting Abloh’s death to leverage his own “victim campaign.”

However, Emory has also challenged the relevance of the fashion industry, specifically noting that corporate powers like LVMH and Kering anoint creative genius for profit. In a recent interview with JustSmile magazine, he said:

“These institutions will finance a designer, an artist, a band, a director, a writer or whatever to make something to get more money than what they put in. That’s what it’s about for them. If you seek their validation because so and so made you creative director, you’re losing. In fact, you’ve already lost. But if you seek validation, firstly, in yourself and secondly, in the community that you care about and who cares about you, you’ve got a chance to live a life without regrets.”

Source: JustSmile

To that end, Emory will reportedly turn his attention back to developing Denim Tears, a label rooted in the African diaspora and African American experience and legacy. In a 2020 interview with Najee Redd of RSVP Gallery, Emory ironically described his label “as Supreme for Black people and anyone else who wants to celebrate or commemorate what we’ve been through.”

Maiysha Kai is theGrio’s lifestyle editor, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades of experience in fashion and entertainment, great books, and the brilliance of Black culture. She is also the editor-author of Body: Words of Change series.

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