ComplexCon 2019: Clothes, Culture, and More Clothes

Pharrell signs a young fan’s hat while Nigo looks on. Photo Credit to Shannon Aguiar

Celebrities are usually known for standing out due to their expensive clothes, but at ComplexCon, cultural icons Pharrell and Nigo were dressed in the same brands as most of the attendees. On the surface, the only difference was the entourage of paparazzi, photographers and excited fans surrounding the fashion duo as they made their way towards the entrance.

Hosted by hype media mogul Complex at the Long Beach Convention Center, the fourth annual ComplexCon took the streetwear pop-up-shop culture and amplified it by a thousand, giving attendees the chance to walk away with exclusive clothing that you can’t get anywhere else. But ComplexCon also celebrates all icons of the streetwear/hype movement, from rap to sculptural art.

Outside the convention, wannabe rappers handed out their records for free next to a guy splitting his time between handing out bright red MedMen bags and looking over his shoulder. Inside, rappers Kid Cudi and Anderson Paak helped reel crowds while surprise performances from Pusha T and 21 Savage kept attendees salivating for more. Grammy-winning rapper Lil Yachty and eccentric sneakerhead Sean Wotherspoon held a conversation where they debated the next shoe of the year: the Nike LDV x Sacai Waffle took the cake, a hyped sneaker donned by many of the attendees.

The line for the gift shop (where every item is a brainchild of contemporary artist Takashi Murakami) was as long as the lines for the Nike x Atmos collaboration; after all, who wouldn’t go crazy for a pair of Crocs designed by the artist behind the iconic flower motif?

Riding the line between ’60s style and contemporary trends, a number of booths specialized in tie-dye garments, ranging from ink-splattered T-shirts and pants to book bags by Herschel. In a similar vein, Puma relaunched a number of modern ComplexCon-exclusive interpretations of their ’60s silhouette Rider sneakers, with an even more limited-edition colorway in collaboration with Chinatown Market. Designer label Vlone, created by rap group A$AP Mob, teamed up with Call of Duty to create a booth where attendees could play quick Gunfight matches against each other while they waited in line for the exclusive drop–a white graphic T-shirt emblazoned with icons of both the fashion line and the video game.

Fans wait in line outside the Modern Warfare booth. Photo credit to Shannon Aguiar.

In what felt like an homage to Off White’s lab-themed booth at ComplexCon 2017, where Virgil Abloh and friends were responsible for cutting and sewing clothes right in front of attendees, the bright white Flexfit booth was filled with workers in lab coats standing next to hats suspended in transparent vats filled with clear liquid and bubbles, a la Luke Skywalker on Hoth. White pipes married the hat vats with clear containers of materials like fresh white underpants, behind posters advertising the supposed perfect fit of the wholesale hat brand. While the walls were glass, the entryway was blocked off–no attendees allowed.

FlexFit’s booth felt more like a science fiction setting than a hat wholesaler. Photo credit to Shannon Aguiar.

Just as streetwear changes every day, ComplexCon felt as on par with current trends as it ever has. Vintage icons teamed up with modern brands, breathing fresh air into classic designs. The arcade booths across from the giant Pac-Man blowup filled me with nostalgia, and I swear I smelled polyester and old carpets when I walked past the Blockbuster booth.

VHS tapes line the racks at the Blockbuster booth. Photo credit to Shannon Aguiar.

From lamps disguised as golden Kalashnikovs to ceramic planters in the shape of gas masks and Yeezys, the art at the convention was as iconic as ever. Graffiti applied with freshly-cut flowers adorned the white wall behind Mr. Flower Fantastic’s booth, which drew a stark contrast from multi-platinum artist Trinidad James’s matte-black UGLY (U Gotta Love Yourself) Nail$ booth enclosed within jail bars only a few yards away. Canon replaced Polaroid as the flagship photography booth, offering attendees a more digital vibe than the on-the-spot Polaroids as seen in years past.

High end wheel brand Forgiato and legendary European high-speed highway rally Gumball 3000 represented the car culture with speed-themed displays. A few booths felt out of place, like those that handed out free shirts to anyone that walked past; people usually love free stuff, but at a place where exclusivity is the key, giving away free shirts doesn’t exactly open the lock. Otherwise, the mesh of up-and-coming brands next to well-established ateliers gave this year’s ComplexCon some spice.

After a live episode of Hot Ones, where host Sean Evans asked rapper DaBaby questions over a plate of hot wings, the convention ended with an explosive performance from Southern California native rapper Anderson Paak.

I walked away from the two-day convention with hardly any free memorabilia, which was unusual for this event; instead of stickers, pins, or other cheap goodies, I saw booths with email sign up lists. I wasn’t sure if all the cool stuff got picked up before I got there, or perhaps brands are shifting to more sustainable practices. Either way, the differences between ComplexCons of years past and this years’ iteration, represents a shift of the people that are interested and involved with streetwear, and more importantly, what’s trending now. ComplexCon definitely isn’t the same as the first one in 2016 – but the lines outside nearly every vendor were just as long as they’ve ever been.

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