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Karl Jouanni wearing the Skytop V in his studio
Karl Jouanni wearing the Supra Skytop V in his studioPhotography Olivia Jankowska

The NYC-born artist creating walking canvases

Artist, designer and, DJ Karl ‘Illustriousone’ Jouanni on how his art/fashion project Alive & More takes inspiration from an upbringing in Queens, DIY gang jackets from the Bronx and the street style of Paris

Alive & More is the brainchild of DJ and artist Karl ‘Illustriousone’ Jouanni and pays homage to his New York roots through artworks that are imposed onto garments like walking canvases. He turns explosions in his mind into artworks that are either stitched (for one-offs known as “High Art”) or digitally printed onto jackets, trousers and hats.

Made up of equal parts art, fashion, and music, Jouanni was raised in Jamaica, Queens before moving to Tampa, Florida and eventually returning to New York at 21-years-old to “(enroll) in the school of hard knocks”. He reveals that it was his artist stepfather who helped activate that side of him, whereas he credits The Neptunes for helping to fine tune his music obsession – he’s now known as Illustriousone in the DJ world. When it comes to fashion, he has his mum to thank for stacking issues of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar in the toilet as reading material.

As he grew older, Jouanni spent time amongst the holy trinity of creative cities – London, Paris and New York. But it’s the latter, his home city, where the DNA of Alive & More was really formed. A fascination with DIY gang jackets in the Bronx and memories growing up amongst the pressures to be fresh “or suffer ridicule” from his peers, he cites both as influences that he continues to draw inspiration from when creating. In turn, his works are bright, fresh and frenzied – a chaos of colours, cuts and patterns.

Inspiration also comes from Michael Jackson (“He set the bar so high”) and Blade Runner (“It holds many ideas and philosophies that inspire Alive & More”) and the attitude where more is definitely better.

Recently in Berlin as one the global ambassadors for the launch of Supra’s latest incarnation of Chad Muska’s legendary Skytop shoe, the Skytop V, we couldn’t help but draw parallels between Muska's own individualistic approach and his history of breaking down boundaries between art, fashion and design with Jouanni’s own – so we cornered the DJ, artist and designer for ten minutes to find out more.

Can you tell us a bit about Alive & More?

Karl Jouanni: Alive & More’s principles are “Art, Ideas, Music” – the aim. It’s a uniform for those who are out there with what may look like an impossible mission in front them, but they have decided to go ahead and jump into the fire knowing they will make it out. The hardest thing about being a creative or an innovator is that you are piercing this invisible wall and stepping into blackness with only your visions and desires to guide you. On the road sometimes it's a feast and sometimes it's famine but when an idea turns into a breakthrough and actually brings a successful execution with rewards, you can validate your gut feelings. That's one of the most beautiful rewards being alive can bring, in my opinion – whether that's in music, art or any format that this fits. This brand is about ideas, ideas, ideas, and the impulse to fuel them. These ideas are reflected in some of the explosive colours and images of wild tigers, or figures screaming, fire and nature, because sometimes no matter what state you are in life, an idea that isn't yet expressed is like a wild beast inside screaming ready to break free.

“Alive & More means wanting more for yourself even if it's on an extremely grand scale beyond what others might think you are fit for or capable of” – Karl Jouanni

How did it all begin?

Karl Jouanni: The brand started when I found a gold satin jacket in a charity shop with the word “Alive” on the back, and it became my go-to jacket for my DJ gigs. I decided to run with it as my own label because at the time I didn't have an agent. I added “& More” to it because it's how I felt. My vision has always been on such a large scale and I always create with that vision in mind. There are always more possibilities. It means wanting more for yourself even if it's on an extremely grand scale beyond what others might think you are fit for or capable of.

We’ve previously spoken about the history of gang jackets in New York in the late 70s/early 80s as being a point of inspiration for you – can you talk about how New York has influenced you?

Karl Jouanni: Growing up in New York you had to be fresh or suffer ridicule. Brands were important and newness and cleanliness were important. I know there is a lot of influence on street gang fashion of the late 70s/early 80s from the Bronx in today's looks. I wasn't around during that era but my older cousins and uncles from the Bronx told me a lot of war stories about this period and I recently did my own research into it and made links between what I see out there now and the handmade items that were a part of the NYC street gang culture and continued to influence during my days in New York.

After moving to Europe and living in Paris where there is more of a rock-n-roll, poetic style, it helped inspire ideas and develop my influences.

What have you taken from living and travelling in Europe?

Karl Jouanni: What I love about Paris fashion is that you can find that many characters here that can traditionally dress for months or years in one silhouette, like a signature look. A signature item like a cardigan or hat that is repeated daily or very often with subtle changes. Whereas London is more like NYC – many here like to constantly evolve and reinvent themselves with new crepes and jewellery – looking very flossy. I've spent significant time in the most attractive commercial fashion areas like Paris, New York and London and I think I draw inspiration from all three.

What’s the process behind each item?

Karl Jouanni: For the “High Art” jackets – which are denim style jackets that are cut from hand painted canvases – this usually involves one painting of 1M by 2M and one of 1M by 1M to complete the full jacket. The canvas is embroidered with the signature Alive & More logo as a seal that appears on the back as well the smaller canvas, where a mini logo appears on the left inside of the jacket. The hand painted originals are sold as art pieces

For pieces that sell for more of a retail price, we use scanners to digitally print a brilliant quality image of the original hand painted canvas onto the same material and sew it using the same high standard of craftsmanship used in the original ones. The digital replicas naturally have a more flexible feel and are less stiff than the originals that have more of a leather feel due to the hardened paint.

The rest of the collection of items from Alive & More consists of embroidered and printed streetwear items ranging from hoodies, caps bucket hats, pyjama bottoms, weather masks, and accessories. The mix of computer-generated digital art and hand-painted pieces goes hand-in-hand with the narrative of the brand and its meaning.

You’ve just released a bunch of new pieces/works – what’s the future looking like?

Karl Jouanni: More unparalleled products and more products that fit into all aspects of a daily active life. We will also be releasing more creative content in the realms of visuals and sound.

If there's wasn't the desire to be alive and more there would be helicopters airplanes or space crafts, we would be content with just adequate shelter and food. We have images embedded in our garments of a helicopter landing onto a yacht because these are my visions. Being from New York, the hustle, the hunger for more has always been a part of the fabric that makes me.

Follow Alive & More here. The Skytop V is available now