Kristopher Kites, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, feels like he was validated as a designer when he collaborated with J Balvin on a collection of glow-in-the-dark jewelry for ComplexCon Long Beach in 2018. Now, less than a year later, Kites will have his own booth space at ComplexCon Chicago.
"It felt surreal," says Kites when asked about finding out ComplexCon would come to his hometown. "Big events like these don't happen in Chicago, so it feels like it's open season for creatives to make things happen."
Although going to Long Beach and partnering with the Reggaeton star took his career to another level—he recently collaborated with streetwear brand AIPL on a pop-up at Nubian in Tokyo and was flown out to Paris for Fashion Week courtesy of Jordan Brand—his relationships in Chicago got him to this point. Before the 20-year-old started designing clothes and jewelry, he was modeling for well-known figures in Chicago's fashion and retail scene, including Joe Freshgoods from Fat Tiger Workshop and Don C from RSVP Gallery. Kites says Don C was the person who connected him with J Balvin.
Before that, an exhibition/pop-up at Congruent Space in Chicago, where Kites decided to debut his jewelry—a playful collection that places superhero figurines and toys in clear cubes attached to plastic Cuban-link chains—led to a Vogue write-up in July 2018, which was published on the same day he was rejected from the Fashion Institute of Technology’s menswear program.
Betting on Chicago, and himself, has served Kites well, and for ComplexCon, he wants put his best ideas forward for the community that raised him with his Ice booth concept, where he will sell edible popsicles shaped like his pendants and debut his new translucent Jesus pieces, along with his take on Gucci chain link necklaces—the style popularized by Pharrell Williams.
Kites is hoping his activation will wow a city that isn’t easy to excite.
"Being a designer isn't glorified here, so my creativity has to be out of this world," says Kites. "The first thing everyone wants to do is make a T-shirt, but where I'm from, that’s just not impressing anybody. They don't care if your work is good, OK, or great. It has to be fantastic for them to give you a little bit of credit." —Aria Hughes