How Supreme Created the Most Valuable Logo of All Time
Is the streetwear company that gamified artificial scarcity really worth billions?
The November sale of streetwear icon Supreme to apparel and footwear giant VF Corporation for north of $2 billion raised the question of what exactly was the retail conglomerate getting for its money? To the uninitiated, Supreme’s business model seemed to be based on little more than slapping its familiar red and white “box logo” on T-shirts and sweatshirts produced in limited numbers to create a perception of exclusivity. Could a logo really be worth that much?
The value of intangible assets like logos has been a topic of conjecture for more than a century. In 1912, the most valuable trademark in the world was said to be that of Royal Baking Powder: The company considered its name to be worth “$1,600,000 a letter,” for a total of $715 million in today’s dollars. Coca-Cola’s name, in contrast, was seen to be worth only $5 million at the time, an inflation-adjusted $132 million today.
Obviously, it’s quite difficult to attach a dollar figure to names and logos. In the days when a company’s worth was measured mainly in terms of the factories and file cabinets it owned, any excess value beyond that of those physical assets was lumped into a murky category called “goodwill.” The importance of goodwill has long been recognized and is still practiced in accounting today. As legal scholar Edward S. Rogers noted in 1910, “The good will of a business is often of greater value than all the tangible property, and a trade mark is nothing but good will symbolized.”
Supreme is an entity of pure goodwill, and it’s easy to place the box logo at its epicenter. As a recent Christie’s auction catalog put it, “Equally at home on both the sidewalk and the catwalk, the Box Logo is the pumping heart of the brand, and is now more highly coveted than ever before.” The wordmark, set in white Futura type against a red background in a style appropriated directly from artist Barbara Kruger, is the focal point of many of the company’s products (or “pieces,” if you will).