Street Talk

The cat­e­gory’s broader ac­cep­tance was mag­ni­fied last year. This year brands and de­sign­ers are fig­ur­ing out how to move for­ward.


Com­plexCon – and streetwear – con­tin­ued to evolve as brands big and small tap into the cat­e­gory.

LONG BEACH, CALIF. — How does one de­fine streetwear in 2018?

As WWD re­ported at last year’s Com­plexCon, the cat­e­gory has broad­ened and diver­si­fied, mak­ing the def­i­ni­tion harder to pin down. But Jeff Sta­ple, founder of Sta­ple Pi­geon, which he’s op­er­ated for more than two decades, of­fered his own an­swer: “Streetwear is in­de­pen­dent cre­ators do­ing some­thing that they want with­out the no­tion of in­vest­ment and fi­nan­cial gain. It’s pas­sion first and money will fol­low. Most other ap­parel busi­nesses are about how do we make money and now let’s come up with a brand name and con­cept that sup­ports that. With streetwear it’s, ‘I want to do my craft and make money later.’”

If Com­plexCon is any indi­ca­tion, cor­po­rate brands are do­ing what­ever they can to har­ness the pas­sion em­a­nat­ing from streetwear and con­nect with youth cul­ture. The two-day event, which took place at the Long Beach Con­ven­tion Cen­ter this past week­end, merged shop­ping with celebrity ap­pear­ances, mu­si­cal per­for­mances and panel dis­cus­sions. McDon­ald’s had a siz­able booth, as did Cadil­lac, Hen­nessy, and net­works in­clud­ing HBO and Show­time set up ac­ti­va­tions. MGM Stu­dios built a box­ing ring to pro­mote the Novem­ber re­lease of “Creed II” star­ring Michael B. Jor­dan, who made an ap­pear­ance.

“There’s def­i­nitely a lot of big­ger brands rep­re­sent­ing, which turns it into some­thing dif­fer­ent than the first year. I feel like the first year it felt more au­then­ti­cally streetwear be­cause au­then­tic streetwear is about up-and-com­ing brands,” said Beth Gibbs, who owns the women’s streetwear line Be­phie and runs Union with her hus­band, Chris Gibbs. “I feel like Cadil­lac and McDon­ald’s have made it more of an amuse­ment park. They have more money to make the in­ter­ac­tive part more of an ex­pe­ri­ence. I haven’t been to those booths so I don’t know what they’re of­fer­ing, but they ob­vi­ously have money to of­fer some­thing that smaller brands can’t, which isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing. It’s just dif­fer­ent.”

Chris Gibbs be­lieves cor­po­rate in­volve­ment is fine as long as the com­pa­nies are con­nect­ing with the cus­tomer in an au­then­tic way.

“I’m not sure what they’re do­ing from an ac­ti­va­tion level, but you have to en­gage with the cus­tomer prop­erly,” said Gibbs. “Some brands get it, whether it’s the small­est streetwear brand or a re­ally big cor­po­rate brand, and some brands don’t. But if they are en­gag­ing prop­erly then why not be in­volved?”

Cor­po­rate in­volve­ment shows how big and fi­nan­cially vi­able the cat­e­gory has be­come. But this type of growth typ­i­cally leads to ques­tions about when the bub­ble will burst, which most ex­hibitors and de­sign­ers thought was a silly no­tion.

“When I hear the bub­ble is go­ing to burst, I hear it from older peo­ple. But streetwear is not the same thing as it was in the Nineties,” said Steven Har­ring­ton, an artist and skater who resonates with the streetwear com­mu­nity and col­lab­o­rated with Aape on a cap­sule col­lec­tion for Com­plexCon. “To­day it’s a big mashup of stuff. The younger folks are cre­at­ing a new path and streetwear is the pulse of cul­ture. Where is that go­ing?”

At­ten­dance across the two-day event was 60,000, up from 50,000 a year ago, ac­cord­ing to Com­plexCon event di­rec­tor Neil Wright. At­ten­dees paid $300 for a

VIP week­end pass or $100 for a two-day gen­eral ad­mis­sion wrist­band.

Last year, ven­dors closed in on sales of $20 mil­lion to $25 mil­lion. Wright, on Mon­day, de­clined to dis­cuss how much this year’s event gen­er­ated, say­ing it was too early to call be­fore adding, “Hav­ing the di­verse mix of ex­pe­ri­en­tial and trans­ac­tional, it may have brought that [fig­ure] down. But def­i­nitely any­one who was on the show floor was ex­tremely busy and to­ward mid­day a lot of brands were sold out of prod­ucts so I wouldn’t be sur­prised if it was com­pa­ra­ble to [last year].”

Some ven­dors made ef­forts to quell last year’s frenzy of con­sumers push­ing one an­other and run­ning to get to drops. Ebay, which pre­vi­ously worked with Sta­dium Goods at Com­plexCon and al­lowed at­ten­dees to sell sneak­ers on site from its plat­form, switched things up this year by part­ner­ing with artist Joshua Vides on an ex­pe­ri­en­tial booth that was less about sell­ing and more about cre­at­ing and giv­ing back.

Adi­das, Ex­tra But­ter and the Com­plexCon gift shop were among ven­dors that uti­lized app-based order­ing sys­tems that al­lowed for pur­chas­ing through the app for later ship­ping or pick-up else­where in the con­ven­tion cen­ter.

Still, these changes didn’t stop The Di­a­mond Sup­ply Co. x Nike SB Di­a­mond Dunk re­lease from be­ing shut down on Satur­day min­utes af­ter gen­eral ad­mis­sion hold­ers be­gan trick­ling in. Sun­day brought more se­cu­rity and metal line di­viders, but the crowd still couldn’t be con­tained and sales were once again shut down.

“There is a lot of frenzy here. But I think the kids love this en­ergy,” said Sta­ple. “I don’t think it’s the most con­ducive way to shop, but who­ever can find a medium be­tween the en­ergy of Com­plexCon and the more sub­dued na­ture of Hype­fest is go­ing to be the win­ner. There are pros and cons to both, but I think any­one who is born af­ter 1980 can only han­dle a cou­ple of hours here.”

Here are high­lights of the key themes at the event. ►

Col­lab­o­ra­tions, Strate­gies Evolve

In or­der for cor­po­rate brands to con­nect with this com­mu­nity, they need a ve­hi­cle to do so, and younger brands and de­sign­ers no longer seemed too wor­ried about lend­ing their in­flu­ence to mul­ti­ple big­ger com­pa­nies at the same time as a means to scale.

Pin line Pin­trill, for ex­am­ple, part­nered with 25 dif­fer­ent brands at Com­plexCon in­clud­ing Guess, Ree­bok, Daily Pa­per and Ur­ban De­cay and also ran their own booth. Artist Joshua Vides worked with eBay and Her­schel. Chi­na­town Mar­ket, a streetwear brand based in Los An­ge­les that was fresh from a part­ner­ship and ac­ti­va­tion with Orig­i­nal Pen­guin in Lon­don, had tie-ins with at least 10 brands in­clud­ing Timex, Howlin’ Rays, Foot Locker, The Hun­dreds and Puma.

“Peo­ple might think it’s a lot, but I just think it’s fun to do,” said Chi­na­town Mar­ket founder Mike Cher­man, who came to Com­plexCon last year with one em­ployee and now has a team of 16. “But each of these part­ner­ships has a dif­fer­ent voice. With Orig­i­nal Pen­guin it was tak­ing some­thing not cool in the mar­ket and mak­ing it cool for a reg­u­lar guy. I’m not al­ways de­sign­ing for the Chi­na­town Mar­ket cus­tomer or the fash­ion cus­tomer.”

When asked what his growth plans were for 2019, Sta­ple said he wants to re­main con­sis­tent.

“I take a re­ally long view. I just want to re­main con­sis­tent and evolve ever so slightly around that,” said Sta­ple. “With Chi­na­town Mar­ket, they are try­ing to be as many things to as many peo­ple in the short­est time pos­si­ble. And that’s not a knock. He’s just try­ing to get his, which is dope. But I’m in­vest­ing in the next decade and I don’t think a lot of streetwear en­trepreneurs are think­ing in that time frame. They are think­ing what am I go­ing to do this sum­mer.”

Joseph Robin­son of Joe Fresh­goods de­signed T-shirts for Ur­ban Out­fit­ters, McDon­ald’s and the Com­plexCon gift shop. He didn’t buy a booth at the event, but he did open a pop-up that was within walk­ing dis­tance of the Long Beach Con­ven­tion Cen­ter. Robin­son com­pared young streetwear de­sign­ers to high school and col­lege bas­ket­ball play­ers and the big­ger brands to re­cruiters or sports agents.

“This year I worked with a lot of peo­ple to show my range, but I’m start­ing to be more se­lec­tive about who I work with now,” said Robin­son. “Walk­ing through Com­plexCon is like walk­ing through the In­ter­net and peo­ple pitch­ing you in real life. I should have just set up a booth that didn’t sell any­thing but said, ‘Hey, Joe, Let’s col­lab.’”

Robin­son, who has avoided whole­sale, said he’s en­sur­ing brands un­der­stand his value by not agree­ing to one- off projects, only com­mit­ting to ex­clu­sive part­ner­ships for short pe­ri­ods of time, and try­ing to part­ner in ways that ben­e­fit him and his com­mu­nity in Chicago.

The power these de­sign­ers hold has meant cor­po­rate brands are re­lin­quish­ing more con­trol.

“They have no choice,” said Tracey

Mills, who used to work for Kanye West,

Von Dutch and Ed Hardy and now has his own line, Vis­i­tor on Earth. “Un­like my gen­er­a­tion, this gen­er­a­tion has so­cial me­dia and these kids know their worth. If they want to ap­peal to our de­mo­graphic now, the part­ner­ships have to be more 50-50.”

Mills de­buted his col­lec­tion with PacSun, Not of this Earth, at the event. PacSun also sold ex­clu­sive pieces from Jerry Lorenzo’s Es­sen­tials col­lec­tion that in­cluded a pair of Con­verse sneak­ers — Lorenzo re­cently jumped from Vans to Nike and has been able to main­tain the same footwear dis­tri­bu­tion at PacSun. Heron Pre­ston and Jabari “Jacuzzi” Furry also in­tro­duced their new PacSun line Bas­ket­ball Skate­boards. Each of these de­sign­ers has a foot in the lux­ury world. Mills’ Vis­i­tor on Earth, for ex­am­ple, is car­ried at Bar­neys New York.

Com­pa­nies look­ing to align them­selves with in­flu­encers also see the model evolv­ing.

“It’ll shift. In the last few years, it’s been about in­flu­encers do­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions and lim­ited drops,” said K-Swiss global mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor Pa­trick Buchanan. “That model will have to evolve and change. There’s only so much you can con­tinue to drip feed peo­ple.”

And just as brands are be­ing strate­gic when it comes to col­lab­o­ra­tions, the same men­tal­ity is be­ing ap­plied to dis­tri­bu­tion to avoid brand di­lu­tion.

“There’s a great medium where you can be huge and mas­sive,” said Rip­ndip’s Ryan O’Con­nor. “Our in-line stuff, those are sold ev­ery­where around the world, but then you drop in spe­cial cap­sules through­out the year that are su­per lim­ited to keep the core fans happy.”

Rip­ndip’s ice cream truck car­ries pieces ex­clu­sive to the ve­hi­cle. That’s an­other way, O’Con­nor said, to be smart and not di­min­ish the value of the brand.

“Adi­das and Nike, they do a great job at keep­ing them­selves rel­e­vant with small artists and brands to keep the hype go­ing. But you can also get Nikes any­where. You can walk out your door and get Nikes or Adi­das, but you see peo­ple look­ing at this screen,” O’Con­nor said from the Com­plexCon floor, point­ing to one of sev­eral Adi­das aug­mented re­al­ity sta­tions that fa­cil­i­tated prod­uct drops, “be­cause they know there’s only 1,000 pairs made.”

Lux­ury and the Street’s Main­stream­ing

Although lux­ury brands have em­braced streetwear, they’ve yet to par­tic­i­pate in Com­plexCon in full force. Of­fi­cials ear­lier this year con­firmed Dior to the show floor and later re­tracted the news af­ter learn­ing they were duped by an or­ga­ni­za­tion they were led to be­lieve was work­ing on be­half of the lux­ury house.

The prospects and ac­cep­tance, if that news had been true, would have con­tin­ued the con­ver­sa­tion around lux­ury and the broader fash­ion in­dus­try’s tourism into what was once a sub-cul­ture and now begs the ques­tion of who needs whom more in the cross­over of two seem­ingly dif­fer­ent worlds.

When part­ner­ing is done cor­rectly, no one’s re­ally us­ing the other, some would posit.

“It’s a win-win for both col­lab­o­ra­tors,” said Tommy Hil­figer. “Supreme-Louis Vuit­ton, in a sense, was great for both. I think the Kith-Tommy col­lab­o­ra­tion was epic for us, but it was also a win for Kith. They sold out within a few hours. We did a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Vete­ments that was in­cred­i­bly suc­cess­ful. Ev­ery time we do these col­lab­o­ra­tions, we evolve the brand more and make the brand more rel­e­vant with the youth cul­ture.”

Hil­figer, who gave a talk with his brother Andy on Satur­day about his brand’s align­ment with hip-hop, said Com­plexCon was a good study for him on the younger con­sumer.

“For me, it’s learn­ing more about the cul­ture and un­der­stand­ing the brands that most of the Gen­er­a­tion Z and Mil­len­ni­als are at­tracted to, how they shop, where they shop and why they shop,” Hil­figer said. “It’s a great learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on many dif­fer­ent lev­els for me.”

Cer­tainly, from en­demic brands’ per­spec­tives, lux­ury opens the doors to much larger plat­forms on which their art or other work can be seen.

The brand 4Hun­nid, with head­quar­ters in Los An­ge­les’ Kore­atown, will for the first time be sold at Bar­neys be­gin­ning Fri­day. The com­pany, started by rap­per YG (né Keenon Dae­quan Ray Jack­son), showed for the first time at Com­plexCon this year with a swap meet-in­spired ►

build­out in a nod to the team’s days in the South Cen­tral swap meet. No one’s look­ing to for­get the past, even when larger brands come knock­ing, pointed out 4Hun­nid cre­ative di­rec­tor Gavin Math­ieu.

“It’s about what the brand rep­re­sents and what it is all about be­fore we col­lab­o­rate with any­one. For us, we’ll be at Bar­neys on Fri­day, so we can go to Bar­neys and we can play their game, or we can bring our game to Bar­neys.”

They’re go­ing the lat­ter route and they also cling to col­lab­o­ra­tions with their con­tem­po­raries, such as Pro Club, which Math­ieu called an au­then­tic streetwear brand and a part­ner­ing that in some ways holds greater weight than go­ing out­side the well.

“I mean, part­ner­ing with Louis Vuit­ton, all right — it’s an­other per­son try­ing to get that cosign.”

Artist Trevor An­drew, also known as Gucci Ghost, has done deals with Gucci, Ree­bok and more re­cently Live Na­tion. But he’s quick to point out those are deals struck on his terms.

“I do what I do. So I don’t know what’s on their [lux­ury’s] agenda and I never have and I never cared,” An­drew said. “Peo­ple find me for what I do and I ap­pre­ci­ate that. We can share. Even with the Gucci stuff, Alessan­dro [Michele] saw me. I wasn’t like Banksy. I was just me and he un­der­stood that. I love work­ing with brands be­cause it gives me a big­ger in­fra­struc­ture to tell peo­ple I want to do this. And I can dream as big as I want, but my main con­di­tion is don’t tell me what the f--k to do.”

Streetwear and the idea of com­ing from the streets and its open-door pol­icy have meant the cat­e­gory has been gen­er­ally open to the fash­ion es­tab­lish­ment that once turned up its nose at it.

Tim Cop­pens de­cided to present his made-to-or­der out­er­wear cap­sule de­signed in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Wool­mark at Com­plexCon as op­posed to whole­sal­ing the line or show­ing it at dur­ing fash­ion week. The col­lec­tion re­tails from $1,500 to $3,300. At one point, rap artist Vince Sta­ples stopped by to get fit­ted for a coat. Cop­pens said he be­lieves this cus­tomer is in­un­dated with prod­uct and wants real ex­clu­siv­ity — Cop­pens is only mak­ing 10 pieces per style — and real crafts­man­ship. The com­pany de­clined to say how many coats were pre-or­dered but said they were happy with the event.

“I don’t think it’s rel­e­vant to put this col­lec­tion on a model and have it flash by in five min­utes and whole­sale doesn’t al­ways give you the ROI,” said Cop­pens. “I’m not new to what this is about, but it’s in­ter­est­ing to see how it evolves and it raises ques­tions about real ex­clu­siv­ity.”

Sta­ple be­lieves that when peo­ple re­fer to the streetwear bub­ble burst­ing, or sneak­ers sales plateau­ing, they are prob­a­bly re­fer­ring to the lux­ury sec­tor.

“The whole idea of peo­ple dress­ing head to toe in the most high­est end de­signer brands like head-to-toe Off

White, Ba­len­ci­aga and Gucci — for that, I think there is a bub­ble. But for street cul­ture as a whole, no,” said Sta­ple.

Oth­ers, such as Di­a­mond Sup­ply founder Nick Ter­shay, see it in much broader terms.

“I just feel like there needs to be more brands that are pop­u­lar,” Ter­shay said. “There should be more brands that peo­ple are ex­cited about be­cause peo­ple are go­ing to get sick of the brands that are re­ally do­ing it big right now. There are a lot of in­de­pen­dent brands that just haven’t had their time yet and there’s a place for more brands. So I don’t think a bub­ble’s go­ing to burst for streetwear; I just think it’s go­ing to burst for cer­tain brands.”

In­ter­est around the cat­e­gory will re­main hot, said Guess Inc. and Guess Jeans

U.S.A. di­rec­tor of brand part­ner­ships Ni­co­lai Mar­ciano as he looked out over a packed booth for the denim brand, which en­joyed steady lines for the com­pany’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with Lon­don brand Places+Faces through­out the week­end.

“I think that now, be­cause of In­sta­gram and so­cial me­dia, what was a niche world, and a spe­cial ex­clu­sive thing is avail­able to ev­ery­one in their phone,” Mar­ciano said. “Now ev­ery­one wants to be a part of it. So I don’t see in­ter­est plateau­ing or go­ing any­where.”

Streetwear Ad­ja­cen­cies

The ex­pan­sion of streetwear has also meant that food, well­ness and beauty brands are form­ing ad­ja­cen­cies to the cat­e­gory.

“As streetwear grows, it’s also a much big­ger econ­omy than it was three years ago. I also think it’s evolv­ing in other ►

ways. We’ve al­ways felt like streetwear wasn’t just about fash­ion. It’s a cul­ture. So there’s a whole food court that’s just as con­sid­ered as the ap­parel that’s in here. There’s art gal­leries and art here,” said Chris Gibbs. “So it’s evolv­ing and be­com­ing more 360, which I think is a good thing.”

In the food area, Sneak­er­snstuff worked with res­tau­rant Sweet Chick on mer­chan­dise along with a Flamin’ Hot Cheeto Fried Chicken sand­wich that was ex­clu­sive to Com­plexCon. Takashi Mu­rakami teamed with chef Kenji Oya on a Wagyu Flower burger that spurred long lines. Afters Ice Cream sold mer­chan­dise that spoofed Anti Anti So­cial Club and Off White. T-shirts that read “Anti Anti Diet Club” and “Off Diet.”

Sherbin­skis, which de­scribes it­self as the fastest-grow­ing pre­mium cannabis life­style brand, in­tro­duced its new streetwear line at Com­plexCon, which in­cludes a leather moto jacket, coach jack­ets, hats and T-shirts, and sold its be­spoke Nike Air Force 1 for $160. This spring the com­pany will open a store on Fair­fax in Los An­ge­les next to Supreme. It also plans to re­lease new strains of mar­i­juana in the same way streetwear brands re­lease col­lec­tions and col­lab­o­rate with friends of the brand on cap­sules.

“It makes sense for us to move into the streetwear space, but it prob­a­bly wouldn’t make sense for them to move in our space,” said Mario Sherbin­skis, who co­founded the brand, which is now sold in dis­pen­saries across North Amer­ica. “I think our line has the po­ten­tial to make mil­lions. We want to be in Bar­neys.”

Beauty brands had more of a pres­ence this year. Ur­ban De­cay sold its Naked Cherry pal­ette and of­fered at­ten­dees free tat­toos, Ital­ian streetwear la­bel GCDS de­buted its new cos­met­ics line within Kristen Noel Craw­ley’s KNC Beauty space, where she also sold her pop­u­lar lip masks.

Ba­si­cally, streetwear’s main­stream­ing only con­tin­ued this year, pro­lif­er­at­ing into an ex­pan­sion and a full-on so­cial stud­ies project on what com­prises the com­mu­nity with the pro­lif­er­a­tion of food, art and other re­lated av­enues at Com­plexCon, prov­ing the term is any­thing but sim­ple.

“It’s re­ally hard to say which di­rec­tion it’s go­ing,” Mu­rakami said through a trans­la­tor. “For ex­am­ple, Kanye keeps do­ing scan­dalous things and then peo­ple say ‘Oh, he’s over. He’s over.’ But then he shows up and has a hit mu­sic re­lease once or twice a year.”

He pointed to the pre-Nineties when Ja­panese fash­ion was de­fined by Yo­hji Ya­mamoto, Comme des Garçons and

Issey Miyake. De­sign­ers at the time had to go to Paris to be heard in the world and speak in fash­ion’s lan­guage. In the early Nineties, the youth seized on screen­prints and when Mu­rakami came to New York dur­ing that decade, he wit­nessed the rise of Supreme and the T-shirt.

“That was the land­scape of street fash­ion that I have in my mind,” he said. “Now, the street cul­ture, the street fash­ion, is a lit­tle too com­plex for me to grasp.” ■

At­ten­dees wait in line to get into Com­plexCon.

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