• by April 5, 2006
At a time when magazines and the entire print world are supposedly dying a slow, painful death, Complex magazine, a jam-packed, visually-laden affair, appears to be thriving and having fun doing so.

The magazine, four years old as of the April/May 2006 issue, is basically a style/lifestyle guide for urban and definitely hip 18-to-34-year-old males who appreciate the hip-hop/rap ethos and everything that goes along with it. The magazine, founded by designer/mogul Marc Ecko, is built on the flip book model--on one side, there is a celebrity-driven cover; on the other side, there's, typically, airbrushed sex kittens in various poses inviting readers into the mag's shopping guide.

Overall, the design-driven pub features tons of quick-hit Q&A-style interviews, edgy and imaginative fashion shoots filled with the high-fashion t-shirts, jackets, and other apparel, recommendations on how to pull it all together, and all the latest and greatest consumer technologies, cars, accessories, and, oh yeah, sneakers.

Sneakers is the operative word here; sneaks are elevated to a rare art form in Complex. Yes, sneakers are curated to near flawless perfection categorized by brand, history, personality, and style,as if they were human, which leads us to wonder, are they? Go, sneakers!

Complex was the first U.S. magazine to create a shopping guide for men, says Richard A. Martin, the magazine's editor-in-chief. Martin joined the title at launch in 2002. The idea of positioning the book as a shopping guide for men was Ecko's, says Martin: "Guys like to shop, they need to shop, but they don't like to admit it, so we designed the magazine to have a shopping element to it to lure the guys in."

The shopping guide portion of the mag's April/May issue features, surprise, more sneakers: sneaker ads, sneaker spreads, and a great section titled "Addicted," with all kinds of style reconnaissance ranging from Japanese tailored jackets, handknotted rugs, style Q&As, and compilations of key looks.

The April/May issue also features a section dubbed "Complex Individuals" with profiles, or rather Q&As, with such iconoclasts as Hiroshi Fujiwara, designer of Japanese footwear (he's 40, by the way); Houston rap legend Pimp C; DJ A-Trak; SoCal boutique owner Andrew Lee; "Alpha Dog" star Emile Hirsch; the comic book duo Joshua and Jonathan Luna; and Baltimore-based rapper Travis "Bossman" Holifield.

The April/May feature well boasts an interview with a post-rehab, rather beefy Eminem, as one of my colleagues noted. But the crowning glory of the issue is, you guessed it, "101 Things You Didn't Know About Sneakers," an all-important, all-knowing guide to sneaker culture. The guide is filled with all kinds of arcane trivia. Take bits like No. 1: The earliest reference to "sneaks" appeared in 1873 in the book In Strange Company; No 25: Sneakers took a starring role in the 1961 film "The Absent-Minded Professor;" No. 45: Graphic design student Carolyn Davidson designed the Nike Swoosh in 1971; and No. 85: Etnies made the first pro-model skate shoe. The only possible conclusion I can draw: I seriously need to bone up on sneaker trivia.

The pub's Web site is also "new and improved," according to a house ad for in the April/May issue. The site is touted as a destination for the latest news and information about new brands and product launches, offering behind-the-scenes footage from magazine photo shoots and cover stories (an excellent idea that we've seen elsewhere, for example on Vogue's, special promotions and giveaways, blogs from designers, artists, and "style icons," and a music jukebox with the magazine's top picks.

The current issue also features an interview with actress Olivia Wilde, who played Mischa Barton's lesbian love interest on "The O.C." for about two seconds. She apparently has a hot sex scene in the forthcoming "Alpha Dog" with, who else, Emile Hirsch, who also appears in the mag.

Referring to GQ and Details, Martin says: "They're still great for their audience but there isn't something for this new class of guys who are in a style evolution." Martin says this new breed goes to college dreaming up clothing companies. "Style is part of their American dream," he adds.

Of Complex readers, Martin says: "We really reflect American culture in terms of its generational lines, rather than class or race lines. This generation of guys grew up with friends that were Latin, black, Asian, and white. They accept race better than any generation before us."

While the mag's readers also check out Mass Appeal, The Fader, The Source, and DoubleXL, Martin sees these as primarily downtown, young trendsetter pubs that might not exist without a New York and Los Angeles reader base. Complex, on the other hand, has a more national--even international--appeal.

"Guys care about what they wear. Whether they're on a farm in Iowa, in a hip-hop group in San Francisco, or are dentists in Dallas, they want to know what's cool," Martin observes.

The magazine boasts a rate base of 330,000, its fifth increase since launching at 275,000. A redesign, which Martin spearheaded, has been ongoing for the last few months. When the April/May issue hits streets on April 11, readers hopefully will find a cleaner, easier-to-access look and feel, with graphic/type treatments now more prevalent than icons.

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