After an 8 hour sprint two weeks before midterms I completed the creative portion of the Complex summer internship application and threw it in the form of a paper airplane to the diligent gatekeepers in NYC. One thing led to the next and a few months later I was taking the 1 train every morning from Battery Park to Time’s Square as a part of the BPs and Editing teams. I arrived as they were setting the stage for Complexcon Chicago - the first Complexcon outside of its standard Long Beach residency. I snagged a ticket and bought my flights as soon as my ducks were in a row. Complexcon takes pop culture and throws it onto a floor - this generation’s most coveted brands and personalities transform a vacant convention center into a village of hype where guests can meet designers, artists, and win special edition grails. Hype is the urgency of a moment - the combination of scarcity and ephemerality that builds excitement around a moment in time. This urgency drew out 10’s of thousands of guests, everyone milling about the grounds decked out in their favorite fits eager to flex their prized possessions, make new connections, and resell the Supreme box logo hoodies they managed through security. Prior to immersing myself into this atmosphere I expected an air of insecurity and ego to accompany each person as they presented their best self. Much to my surprise everyone was camraderous and was quick to compliment one another before any judgement. Every lap around the room I would pick up a remark that would usually lead into a conversation about one another’s creative endeavors. It’s cool how events of this magnitude set a baseline understanding and relatability between attendees before any words are spoken. Some imaginary space is instantly squashed and you can dive right into a convo about where that person got their cool hoodie.
Over the past few years the exclusivity and classist undertones accompanying streetwear turned me off. The cultural, storytelling angle seemed to get obliterated in the feeding frenzy of resell culture. When price becomes the barrier of entry you attract a lot of people interested in the rebellious image, and art world avenues traditionally associated with subculture. Why actually care about design when I can wear this Off White t shirt and have people assume that I do? This general mindset usually leads to brawls between people occupying resell lines as the Off Whit safety blanket quickly disintegrates under minimal pressure or confrontation, swiftly revealing the sensitive ego, quick to take up arms, below. Complexcon is guilty of harboring such as an environment as well and prior to Chicago this is exactly what I was expecting.
Complex showed their growth by intentionally taking steps to distance themselves from the hype economy known to drive such problems. They expanded the marketplace, highlighting small brands and designers eager to get their art into the world. They hosted Complex Conversations where local activists and advocates illustrated their personal journeys. They had interactive exhibits where screenprinters and illustrators made custom pieces for those in attendance. Overall, the experience was incredibly positive and I am excited to see how Complex continues to steer and react to the fickle nature of pop culture, specifically, streetwear. •