#TBT: SPD-U Throws It Back to 1996 Student Competition Winner Gabriel Kuo

#TBT: SPD-U Throws It Back to 1996 Student Competition Winner Gabriel Kuo 50th-Small.jpgAs part of SPD's 50th Anniversary celebration, we're looking back at our past Student Competition winners (see galleries of past winning work here on the blog each Wednesday). A few of them were kind enough to speak with us about what they've been up to since their wins and how the competition affected them. 

In 1996 as part of our 2nd Student Competition, Gabriel Kuo won the B.W. Honeycutt Award (Gold Medal) for his new magazine design as a student at the School of Visual Arts (see his award-winning work below as well as in the  full gallery of winners here). 

His New York design studio has worked with powerhouse brands like Adidas, MTV, Neutrogena and Absolut (to name a few). His work is impressively versatile, spanning expertly across different markets and mediums alike. Now splitting his time between New York and Berlin, Kuo's work continues to inspire. We caught up with him to see where life has taken him since his SPD Student Competition top prize win back in 1996 ...

Image above: House of Marley branding

Gabriel Kuo's B.W. Honeycutt Gold Medal winning design from the 1996 Student Competition. 
Published in Pub31, Title: Fetish // School: School of Visual Arts // Instructor: Chris Austopchuk
(click for larger view)

SPD-U: What are you currently up to and how can you best describe your work?
GABRIEL KUO: I'm currently the creative director for House of Marley, Bob Marley's audio lifestyle brand. It entails everything from branding and advertising, to overseeing video/photo shoots and event activations. I just redesigned the digital over the spring, and we launched the brand's first campaign this summer. The campaign involved getting four motion houses together to each produce video content for the campaign. We shot in both New York City and Kingston, Jamaica. (Check out some of the video here and here.)
    Right now this brand takes up most of my time, but I also have other longstanding clients such as Adidas and MTV. For Adidas, I do art direction mainly for their trend activations, and for MTV, I'm currently working on a photo retrospective book for the metal band PANTERA, to be released in 2016.
    I also split my time between New York and Berlin. I have worked with the creative agency Freunde von Freunden in Germany as an art director.

adidas 2010 adiCup  (click for larger view)

SPD-U: What would you say are the greatest achievements thus far in your career?
KUO: I set out a couple years ago to find a personal project that I could really sink my teeth into. I ended up in Berlin and opened a temporary design store called RATS with my partner. The concept was bringing NYC designers to Berlin, both high and low culture ... meaning we sold high-end, limited, wood domino sets from Fredrick's & Mae, as well as low-end items like off-brand NYC caps from Canal Street. It was a nod to the symbiotic relationship that Berlin has to NYC, and vice versa. We received a lot of good press, and it was a success. (Check out some of that press here on CoolHunting.com and here on the T/New York Times Magazine blog.)
    I would say this is one of the projects I'm most proud of, since it took everything I knew to make it happen: Branding, production, sourcing, interior design, curating -- all in a country where I didn't speak the language.

Maroon 5 book  (click for larger view)

SPD-U: What advice would you give someone trying to get into the industry now?
KUO: I would say to try and meet as many people as you can. I started out my career with a simple plan of not staying in one workplace for longer than 6 months. I did that for about 4 years, and ended up working for more than 10 companies -- SONY, Rolling Stone, ESPN, MTV, and more. After that run, I had met so many great people that I felt confident enough to start my own studio downtown.
    There will always be someone more talented, or faster, or cheaper. But just 'being there' sometimes works out better in the long run -- so much of success is tied to being around and available. I would say to try and go to every social event you are invited to. You never know who your next client or what your next project will be, and sometimes those conversations happen when you're just hanging out, especially in cities like New York, London, Berlin, etc.

NYSE Global Infographic  (click for larger view)

SPD-U: Anything further you'd like to add?
KUO: Winning the SPD award back in 1996 was a huge thrill for me. I remember my parents were super stoked on it as well, mostly because I think they finally started to understand what I was trying to do for a living. But mostly I remember the SPD Gala and being around some of my heroes at the time -- Fred Woodward at Rolling Stone was a big influence early on in my editorial approach, and I'll always remember him cutting through the crowd at the end of the night to shake my hand. I think it's really important to have creative students be surrounded by their industry's luminaries whenever possible -- and that's my enduring memory of that time. And of course winning the Honeycutt Award!

SPD-U: A huge thanks to Gabriel for talking with us! 

You can see more of his work at: 
PORTFOLIO SITE:  thebrm.com/work/

Be sure to check back in with us every Wednesday this fall for more galleries of past Student Competition work, and every Thursday for more Throwback Thursday interviews with past winners. And look for details about this year's competition here (they'll be available soon!).

#TBT series produced and edited by Jamie Feld and Alyssa Clare Hoersten
All images courtesy of thebrm.com
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