Stories, PeopleOctober 20, 2021

From the backroom to the big time- how a few kids from the L.E.S. changed our world - Now that’s a revolution…

We serendipitously interviewed Alex Corporan on National Skateshop Day. Corporan is a legend, an OG Manager of Supreme in NYC, former pro skater, and the creator of Full Bleed, a photographic journey through the early days of the NYC skate scene. 

Alex went deep on how skate led to Supreme.

A lot of people think they can copy the box logo and recreate Supreme. But there will never be something like that again. You can’t recreate the clubhouse, that period of time, and all the things that were happening. No amount of money can duplicate that.” 

CL: It’s probably hard to view yourself as a linchpin in the early NYC skate culture - which laid the foundation for Supreme and so many other projects and brands. At the time did it seem like you were part of something that was going to be huge?

AC: “I had no idea where it was going to take me. In the mid 80’s it was going against the grain. I grew up in Washington Heights, and as a Dominican there was an expectation - I was supposed to be writing graffiti and have three kids by age 16.

My best friend Freddy got a skateboard from Skates on Haight in San Francisco. We were the only two skateboarders in school. I took to skateboarding and fell in love with it right away. The next thing you know we’re going downtown, and then we’re meeting Rodney Smith and Bruno Musso from SHUT Skateboards. And then I met Gizmo, Justin Pierce, and Loki. The way it grew was so natural. 

We were the colors of Benetton - a bunch of colorful kids skating together. Cops and security guards didn’t know how to deal with us: “Wait, so this Chinese guy, this black guy, this Spanish guy and this white guy are all together, what are they doing?” We weren’t a gang. We were just a bunch of kids on skateboards. “Who’s this mixed bag of kids fucking up this building?”

But the place that brought the world of New York together was the Brooklyn Banks. It was like finding the Pyramids. We figured it all out, skating this brick wave. Soon everyone from every part of the city was there. 

But the shops were the glue, and the history of the skateshop is a home, a clubhouse. 

There was Soho Skates, Ann was the owner, and we called her Soho Ann. And then Steve Schwartz opened up Skate N.Y.C. in ‘88 or ‘89. Before Supreme, we had all these places to hang.

As a crew we had no plans beyond “maybe we’ll go to California.” And the next thing you know I got a ticket, I got sponsored, and I’m off to San Diego. And it’s “oh shit, I’m skating with the people in the skate video, with all the pros, and they know about me - how do they know about me?” It was odd, because everything was so brand new. 

It was a different time in the world when everyone was so psyched on each other. No cell phones, no Instagram. The way you identified with people was through what they were wearing - if someone had Vans or Airwalks or an Independent t-shirt, you knew they were a skateboarder, you knew they were core. “Oh, that guy has holes in his sneakers, he skates, I’m gonna talk to him.” The brands were our communication.”

CL: How did that turn into Supreme?

AC: “A bunch of things started to happen at the same time. I was a sponsored skateboarder, going back and forth to San Diego. I met Chappy at the beginning of ASR [Action Sports Retailer tradeshow], which was the other home and it was awesome. Around 1993 I was pretty much living in San Diego, and I ran into Chappy who was about to open a shop. James [Jebbia] had been part of Stussy, and then opened up Union NYC - Chappy and Pookie worked there. Chappy convinced James to open up a shop, because many of the other shops had closed down - it was a dead time in New York. So James opened a new shop - Supreme - with Giovanni Estevez, Chappy, and Pookie as the main guys. Once Supreme opened, it was the new clubhouse. 

At the same time Zoo York opened, in ‘93, so that was the other clubhouse. We’re all sponsored skateboarders, Rodney Smith, Ollie Oshen, Bruno Musso. Rodney started Zoo, and they had the place in the meatpacking district where we all hung out. But it was only for people who were sponsored by Zoo, and friends and family - that’s it. There was no walking into the meatpacking district - there were dead cows and pigs all over. 

Larry Clark and Harmony Korine were hanging out in Astor, and they liked us so we started doing the movie, Kids (directed by Clark and Korine). We weren’t actors, Justin wasn’t an actor, Rosario [Dawson] wasn’t an actor. I still have the script, and we always laughed about it - “we’re really gonna say this?” 

Supreme opened in 1994, and there was this giant boom in New York. Supreme was our new clubhouse because Giovanni was there, Pookie was there, and those guys were running the shop back in 1994 and ‘95. I started working there in ‘96 or ‘97. Once I became one of the main managers, I treated Supreme as a home for all of us - “This is where you need to be.”” 

CL: Why do you think that the culture around skate was so powerful and influential? 

“Once skate switched over to the street, we became a powerful force. Vert skating had died. So there’s San Francisco and New York and it’s all street skating now. It was about the people - the colors of Benetton running the streets. Messing up buildings and fucking with security guards. We had no racism. We ate the same pizza, drank the same juice. We just skated. And that was hard for people to figure out. The mesh of who we were and what we were doing didn’t fit any models, it was unheard of. The view was it’s gotta be black or white, and then we came along. 

Skateboarding was - and still is - one of the only truly democratic things. Skateboarding doesn’t care. Our crew came together around it, and because it was something that some people didn’t like and didn’t understand, that made it even deeper with us.”

CL: When did you realize Supreme was going to be something big?

AC: “The big turning point was when Japan caught on to the brand - it blew up. And this was pre-eBay, so the Japanese crew would fly over to buy stuff - 20 people on a plane with bags loaded with gear to take back and sell in Japan. 

If it weren’t for Japan, a lot of us wouldn’t be where we are. Big love to all the family in Japan. The Supreme culture, and a lot of the streetwear culture wouldn’t be what it is today without Japan. 

The next big hit was the Nike SB, it hit the street culture and Nike did it right. People knew there was a shoe in a colorway that they couldn’t get. Danny Supa. Reese Forbes. And that’s when Supreme started owning the whole idea of drops and limited editions. We were the only place you could get the shoe; a shop would have three pairs and we’d have 120. And we had to really police who gets what and which products go where, so we became the go-to. 

But if you visited the shop in 1996 or ‘97, it was dead. There was a crew burning Nag Champa, which became our signature scent, but that was to cover up what was going on in the back. We kept the shop pristine. There wasn’t an unfolded shirt in there, it was cleaner than a Louis Vuitton shop. You couldn’t touch anything, we’re playing music as loud as hell, and running people out if it got too busy. It was a club thing - you want to get in, but you can’t. 

The real marketing was us. We’d all go out to the clubs with our box logo. And people would be like “who the hell is that?” We were the marketing troupe. And James didn’t really know how it was happening - he didn’t go out with us much. But James is smart and he chose the right crew to run the shop, Pookie, A-ron, Giovanni, and he knew that we were effectively a big walking marketing campaign for Supreme.

But there were basically 20 years when Supreme wasn’t a thing. People didn’t care about it. And then there was a period of time where it was only about Japan. Now it’s massive. We built something huge, having tens of thousands of people out there who would talk about it, proudly wear it at the right time. And when the Internet came along, Supreme really scaled.”

CL: Would you say that skateboarding was the kernel of collaborations? 

“Skateboarding was definitely the nucleus, and skate and art have always been linked. Boards are a perfect canvas. But music was another way: if it weren’t for skateboarding, De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest wouldn’t have been as big, because they grabbed a different audience. Same thing with Wu Tang. If it wasn’t for skateboarding, they wouldn’t have expanded as they did. Look at Mike Carroll’s part, Sal Barbier, Hieroglyphics, and all those guys, how would those guys have ever been known if it weren’t for Mike Carroll playing that in his video? The skateboarding world brought all of this to new audiences.” 

CL: How did the Full Bleed project get started, and what’s behind the name?

AC: “I would get a lot of questions about where we skate, why we skate, why we’re not landing tricks all the time. I wanted to create a photographic book that would bring all of this together, a glimpse of all that goes on behind the scenes. The idea was to show people in an artistic way - not only New Yorkers - but shots of people doing their thing. I wanted people to see the beauty of New York, but of course the skating element and the people are the lead.

So that’s how I curated Full Bleed. I started the project on my own but had connections with the photographers and everyone was excited about it. But like any project it’s hard to do on your own and I wanted to work with people who were really into it. So Ivory Serra and I were talking and he suggested Andre Razo, who’s a graphic artist and knows how to design books. So Ivory, Andre and I became the team that made Full Bleed happen.

We started with 20 or so photographers but Full Bleed ended up featuring the work of 71 photographers. On the publishing side, Andre knew people at VICE Media; they took a look and the following week they called us to sign the contract. 

It went from me having an idea while sitting at a restaurant, to connecting with Andre and Ivory and then, boom! - we did it. We were friends with Mazdack Rossi at Milk Studios, and he did our first big show and it just took off. Later we had a room for a year at the Ace Hotel, Room 1022, with a collage of the photos, and we did book signings in Miami and LA - it was amazing. 

Full Bleed was going to be called Cement. But when you look at any skate magazine - Thrasher, Transworld, whatever, when it came to New York they never used full bleed photos. It was always a cropped shot on the side. We set out to do it right.” 

First published 10 years ago, Full Bleed will be reissued in 2021 with nearly 100 pages of new material and previously unreleased photos. By design there are no page numbers, no photo captions, and on the cover is Bruno Musso, trying to get into CBGB. He didn’t have ID. 

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