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Tremaine Emory Refuses to Hide the Scars

Not long after Tremaine Emory resigned his position as Supreme’s creative director last summer, he came across an image of an old hoodie from the brand emblazoned with one of its familiar biting slogans: “Illegal business controls America.”

The hoodie is part of the Supreme canon, an embodiment of its middle-finger approach to appropriation, with its use of the signature Futura font lifted from Barbara Kruger; and its flirtation with hip-hop radicalism — the phrase comes from a Boogie Down Productions song.

With his fraught tenure at Supreme in the rear view, Mr. Emory began to see the hoodie in a different light. He’d been hired as its first Black creative director, but his tenure lasted less than a year and a half. He left the company citing structural racism in its ranks, in part spurred by how the company bungled a collaboration he’d secured with the firebrand artist Arthur Jafa.

Supreme, the foundational skate brand founded by James Jebbia, turns 30 this year, which means that it has been around long enough tosow the seeds of its own resistance.

“I respect the legacy,” Mr. Emory said. “That doesn’t mean I can’t question it.”

And so this week, as part of his own brand Denim Tears, Mr. Emory is releasing collaborative pieces with Mr. Jafa very similar to the ones that Supreme ultimately declined to release, owing to their raw and provocative commentary on Black trauma. And he remade the signature hoodie, in the original colors, using the same visual language and cheeky audacity but broadcasting a different message: “Systemic racism controls America.”

It’s a nod and a nudge. A wink and a slammed door. The Denim Tears-Jafa collaboration is, Mr. Emory said, “a dance between ideologies. This whole situation between me and James Jebbia and the Supreme C-suite helped result in this piece of fashion, art and design.”

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