Rob Cristofaro and Puma’s joint coffee-table book captures the city's creative landscape through its innovators, across music, sport, food, fashion, art, and performance
Since just before the turn of the century, Rob Cristofaro has been at the forefront of contemporary urban culture. He founded Alife in 1999: a downtown streetwear and arts brand, dedicated not just to advancing New York’s voice, but also to platforming the young pioneers who shape it on the daily. The company became an incubator of sorts—giving reign to creatives who set trends, rather than simply following suit.
In the spirit of that legacy, Cristofaro and his design studio Newco joined forces with Puma, collaborating on WHO’S WHO: New York Local Edition. The 276-page book—encased in cardboard, colored taxi-cab yellow, and stamped with black block text like a newspaper—profiles 75 individuals actively contributing to the city’s one-of-a-kind creative landscape. From designer Colm Dillane of KidSuper, to jeweler Tommy Jewels, to Knicks star Walter Frazier, the book traverses industries, providing a holistic look at the players behind the New York scene—across music, food, sport, fashion, art, performance, and beyond.
“You can look at what we do as much as you want, but unless you’re partaking in the everyday of New York, you will not get it.”
“The people that I looked for are a hundred percent into what they do,” Cristofaro tells Document. “I don’t care about the medium.” His own doorway into local culture emerged through graffiti, which he picked up in his early-teens, and carried on producing through his 30s; the friendships he formed through the street art community branched outwards, leading to the conception of Alife, which functioned as far more than just a retailer. “It was half of a studio, half of a gallery, half of a store,” Cristofaro says. “Really, it was a workshop.” He’s a trailblazer in that sense, championing the scrappy, interdisciplinary exchange of ideas that would come to characterize the 21st-century multihyphenate artist.
Between the New York of his youth and today, Cristofaro doesn’t miss much. His willingness to bend to the times—to uplift the newcomers, along with the established characters featured in WHO’S WHO—is the reason his ventures keep on working. The locales are largely the same (“I love Washington Square Park, Arturo’s Pizzeria, Pianos, Odeon, Balthazar, Dia in the heart of Soho”), but the way they’re employed are quite different, with novel technologies, changing mediums, and an ongoing wave of of fresh faces.
“The experience of growing up in certain regions makes us who we are,” says Cristofaro, reflecting on the core tenets of this project. “The things that I experienced during my life as a New Yorker have made me who I am creatively, and work-ethic-wise. [It fueled my] compassion. You will not get this from online. You can look at what we do as much as you want, but unless you’re partaking in the everyday of New York, you will not get it. New York, center of the universe!”