jk5, the tattoo artist who seduced rei kawakubo

Meet JK5, the tattoo artist whose prints graced Rei Kawakubo’s latest fall/winter Homme Plus collection, as he prepares an installation at Dover Street Market.

by i-D Staff and Paige Silveria
25 August 2015, 3:20pm

New York tattooist and multidisciplinary artist Joseph Aloi, better known as JK5, has just landed one of the coolest gigs in fashion. After seeing his monograph with Rizzoli last September, designer Rei Kawakubo of Comme Des Garçons reached out, requesting his sketchbooks to be featured in an upcoming line. There was one condition: that she have full creative control over what was used and how. He wouldn't know how it was incorporated until he saw it on the runway with everyone else. He was blown away when almost every look in the fall Homme Plus collection included an item printed entirely with his work. Now, JK5 has been offered his own space at Dover Street Market New York to design and curate. Here, the artist describes seeing the show for the first time, and discusses the bizarre, space-age buildout he's unveiling this fashion week.

Your work is so varied, from tattooing, to painting, to writing poetry, to creating Flow-bot action figures. What's your daily process?
My daily process has always been about drawing and writing as much as I can; ideating, exploring, and staying in constant, fluid practice in my sketchbook. Everything I'm working on is living, interacting and evolving inside those pages.

How do you allot your time to each project?
When a new project presents itself, I start with lists immediately. I'm juggling a lot between my two young kids and tattooing during the week, so I think I've learned to just make time in between all of the other responsibilities.

What was it like when Rei approached you?
It was very exciting. I've been a big fan of her and Comme des Garçons for a long time. My initial reaction was one of happiness and gratitude. It was wildly emotional and deeply affirming. She had my book, and I knew there was endless potential and information for her to work with.

You were speaking at RISD when you first saw the collection?
I was having lunch right before I was to lecture when it started popping up on Instagram. I saw a couple of photos from the Paris runway with two suits covered in my work. My friends' comments were like, "Oh shit, JK5 all over CDG! I hope he knows about this!" I couldn't tell anyone anything for a long time, but I knew then that Rei was moved to use my work in a meaningful way. During my presentation in the classroom, we all watched the live-streaming show, and I was thrilled to see that my work was so heavily featured on 37 of the 40 looks. It got to a point where it was just one look after the other. It was crazy. I was seriously choked up and bursting with joy--a career highlight to be sure.

Then Adrian Joffe of DSM (and Rei's husband) offered you your own space?
The DSM space was an invitation to explore installation possibilities, branding, visual merchandising, new work, concepts, language, graphics, identity, products and architecture, all converging as facets of one distinct, strong, clear vision and engaging experience.

How did you go about accomplishing that?
I had some brilliant friends helping me. My wife, who's been an interior designer for a long time, was invaluable with ultimately translating my ideas 3-dimensionally. It's been a long, intense project and everything gets conveyed to Rei.

What was your inspiration behind the space?
The inspirational elements include: space, science fiction, Luke Skywalker's bedroom in the original Star Wars, The Seven Rays, spiritual and creative warriors of consciousness, Mary Oliver poetry, Philip K. Dick, fetish erotica, sacred geometry, ancient glyphs and the mathematics of the heavens.

Wow, what a list! What items did you decide to include?
I've designed a 10-piece jewelry collection with my good friend Asher Hoffman. There are seven new laser-engraved wood-panel pieces, my Rizzoli book and customized CDG wallets, sneakers and perfume boxes, all for sale. And the plan is for the installation to travel to DSM London after the NYC duration.

And Rei's also now featuring your work in CDG's Trading Museum in Tokyo, right?
Yeah! I was just told that Rei loves what I've created at DSM and will interpret it in her own way in September (on the same night as the NYC opening) in Tokyo. Both will remain up for three weeks. It's such an honor.

This sounds like such an incredible experience.
I'm so grateful to have the platform, love and support of Adrian Joffe, Rei Kawakubo, Comme des Garcons, Dover Street Market, those families, new friends, clients and fans. I want to focus on my brand in myriad, unique forms and be able to shift energies away from tattooing, yet maintain its practice in a more balanced and controlled way.

What's next?
I have a solo show at Three Kings Studio in April. It all just keeps evolving and expanding naturally. I'd like to think of this space as a prototype of my concept store one day--all facets, forms, new exploratory media and concepts, functional products and design, art, books, clothing, media. I've been building this world, for the world, for a long time. The forces are coming together with wholly new, unforeseen alignment after 45 years on Earth. I just keep working. It has to be pushed into new territory and dimension to keep me moving forward, inspired and ever-challenged. This is just what is unfolding according to the plan in the moon and the stars. To be continued. 



Text Paige Silveria
Runway images courtesy of Comme des Garçons
All other photography Paige Silveria

New York
Comme des Garçons
Rei Kawakubo
fashion interviews
Dover Street Market
comme des garcons homme plus
joseph arialoi