Supreme Creative Director Resigns as Arthur Jafa Collaboration Hangs in the Balance

Tremaine Emory, the creative director of the clothing company Supreme, has left the post, claiming that he faced “systemic racism” at the company. In Instagram posts detailing his departure, Emory stated that he left over how Supreme handled a collaboration with the artist and filmmaker Arthur Jafa.

It wasn’t entirely clear what Jafa, who is best known for his 2016 film Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death, was to produce for Supreme. It also wasn’t clear whether the Jafa project was moving forward or not.

Emory said on Instagram that “one of the few black employees” at Supreme had prevented the project from moving forward “because of the depiction of black men being hung and the freed slave gordon pictured with his whip lashes on his back.” This seems to be a reference to a photograph of an enslaved person that Jafa has periodically appropriated for his art. That image is owned by the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the museum has retitled the work Peter (formerly identified as “Gordon”) to account for the subject’s historical misidentification. Emory’s Instagram stated the Jafa project had been “secretly shutdown without anyone talking to me.”

In a statement to Business of Fashion, Supreme said that the Jafa project “has not been canceled.” The company explained that it “strongly” disagreed with what it called “Tremaine’s characterization” of the events preceding his departure. Emory said in his Instagram that this statement was a “lie to hide the systemic racism that lies deep within supreme and almost all white Owned corporations.”

Through a representative, Jafa declined to comment to ARTnews. Supreme did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Emory’s hiring by Supreme in 2022 was acclaimed as a sign of change at a brand that had long been resistant to tweaking its image. “Much like his contemporary, Virgil Abloh, Emory represents a new class of designers who have redefined what a graphic T-shirt, hoodie, or sneaker can be,” Complex wrote, noting that Emory had placed due emphasis on Black models and Black art in a fashion world that skewed white. Among Emory’s prior projects were David Hammons–inspired Converses.

His bona fides include serving as a creative consultant and brand director for Kanye West, now known as Ye, from 2016 to 2018, before the rapper’s antisemitic remarks caused some to distance themselves from him. Emory also founded his Denim Tears, whose clothes explicitly took up the slave trade and has collaborated with Levi’s.