On Zoom, Rob Cristofaro presents a shrink-wrapped white T-shirt bearing a logo that the late Virgil Abloh designed exclusively for him. In bold block letters, the word “ROB” is screenprinted in black and filled in with Louis Vuitton’s iconic monogram. “This is something that Virgil did for my 50th birthday,” says Cristofaro, who doesn’t dwell long on his intimate relationship with Abloh. But those who know, know. Just look carefully at Abloh’s Fall/Winter 2019 menswear presentation, where Cristofaro’s graffiti markings under the names “JEST” and “ROB 1970” appeared as tags on the Lower East Side-inspired catwalk. While Cristofaro is well-recognized as the creative visionary behind Alife, like any legendary graffiti writer, he prefers to stay low-key.
“I always sat behind the brand name Alife without promoting myself personally. I very rarely would put my name out there at all,” says Cristofaro, shortly after showing Complex a rare work of art he’s planning to release that’s graced with the same JEST graffiti that once covered the highways of the Bronx in the ‘90s. “That’s why I am kind of like, let it [Alife] fizzle for a minute so I can put the focus on myself.”
Cristofaro has been staying busy ever since Alife closed its Rivington Street storefront in 2021. This winter, he collaborated with Louis Vuitton by curating art for a holiday window installation inside the windows of the old Barneys flagship on Madison Avenue in Midtown-Manhattan. His other company, RAB Arts, has consistently been releasing art made by Cristofaro with collaborators such as Blake Kunin and Virgil Abloh. Whether it was designing the pages of Mass Appeal magazine or hosting Alife Session concerts, Cristofaro has always used brands as a vehicle to platform rising creatives. Today, he continues to expand on this approach with the first volume of Who’s Who, a 270-page book published with Puma that serves as a guide to New York City’s creative scene today and will be followed by volumes covering cities like London, Paris, and Tokyo.
“I didn’t want this to be like a cool guy book, where it’s like all of the usual suspects of people with 100,000 followers,” says Cristofaro. “While there’s elements of that, I wanted this to try to tap into something more unknown. The up-and-comers.”
Housed inside a collectable cardboard box and presented via detachable pages inside a yellow three-ring binder, Who’s Who spotlights 75 New Yorkers selected by Cristofaro’s newest venture Newco Studio Practice—a multidisciplinary design studio. The rapper Wiki, the Chinatown-based jeweler Tommy Jewels, and rising New York streetwear boutiques like Laams are just some of the New Yorkers highlighted within the book.
Complex got a chance to catch up with Cristofaro to learn more about his latest creative ventures. Here he speaks on designing print books with Puma, bringing artists like Clayton Patterson to Louis Vuitton’s stage, and the status of Alife today.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.