The Filipino art director behind the design of America’s most iconic magazines

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Art director Geraldson Chua makes heads turn in the world of American magazines for his work in some of the most recognizable titles — from Esquire and The Oprah Winfrey Magazine to WWD and Harper’s Bazaar. Above is a spread he designed for the 2016 Money Issue of Esquire where he is currently the deputy art director. Photo courtesy of GERALDSON CHUA

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Geraldson Chua is only in his mid-20s, but already he’s managed to work for some of the world’s most iconic magazines. From Esquire Magazine to Harper’s Bazaar, and from O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine to WWD, the new Women’s Wear Daily, Chua was hired straight out of his internship at Esquire, and hasn’t looked back since.

Born and raised in Manila, Chua attended Xavier School for grade school and high school before his family moved to the United States. “Truthfully, I wasn't exactly a model student when it came to the academics,” he says, “but was very much into the extracurricular activities. I knew early on that I wanted to go the creative route so I focused my attention on activities that really allowed me to exercise creative thinking and art.”

Chua went to Rutgers University for college, pursuing a BFA in Visual Arts that allowed him to study and work in a lot of different fields and media. After starting out “very much into film,” he found his medium in graphic design. “The program had a bit more of a fine art focus which I think is an advantage in this business,” he says. “It pushes you to experiment and develop your taste and aesthetic.”

Today, after working at titles as far-ranging as Oprah Winfrey’s O and the revamped WWD, Chua is back at Esquire Magazine as its deputy art director. His return comes at a time when the iconic American men’s magazine is once again making headlines.

Geraldson Chua.jpg Born and raised in Manila, Geraldson Chua attended Xavier School for grade school and high school before his family moved to the United States. After working at titles as far-ranging as Oprah Winfrey’s O and the revamped WWD, Chua is back at Esquire Magazine as its deputy art director.  

In January, the legendary Esquire Editor-in-chief David Granger left the magazine after 19 years in office, and the title’s revamp — under new Editor-in-chief Jay Fielden, formerly of Town & Country — has attracted both renewed interest and criticism. For better or worse, all eyes are on Esquire again and one of the minds behind its new look just happens to be one of our own.

CNN Philippines Life talked to Geraldson Chua and asked him about Oprah, Esquire, and what it takes to work for some of the world’s most iconic titles. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

ESQ_Bullshit.jpg A spread designed by Geraldson Chua for Esquire Magazine's March 2016 issue.  

You worked for Esquire Magazine and O, The Oprah Magazine, straight out of college. How did that come about? Everywhere but most especially in New York, a lot of people really struggle to get a good job from school and it seems like you were fortunate enough to get a really good one right away.

Throughout college, I was doing a ton of internships at various publications from Seventeen Magazine to Harper's Bazaar, eventually landing a dream internship at Esquire Magazine. I spent almost a year as an intern (while still wrapping up my junior year) when a crazy opportunity came up. I remember being in Esquire's art room updating the current issue wall when the creative director, David Curcurito, walked in and said, "Do you want a job? I'd hire you in a heartbeat!"

I was completely floored but it only took me a millisecond before I said yes. Turns out, the design assistant at that time was leaving and I had made an impression on the team during my internship. The wonderful managing editor had pulled me aside after I got back to my desk, digesting what just happened, and told me that he understands if I choose to finish out my last school year, but I reassured him that this is an opportunity I can't pass up! I talked to my dean the day after, dropped out, and started the following week.

 

I ended up staying at Esquire for a little over a year and a half before eventually moving on to O, The Oprah Magazine. Esquire was an incredible place to begin my career. I learned a wealth of knowledge and gained so much more experience than that last year of college would have provided. I was incredibly fortunate to have worked with one of the most talented teams in the business!

I have to say thank you to David Curcurito. He took a chance on me and for that I’ll always be grateful.

OPR_Breakthroughs.jpg "O was completely different from my first job at Esquire," says Chua. "The audience, message, and spirit could not be further away but it was exactly that that got me excited to work at such a brand. O's mantra, 'Live Your Best Life,' always resonated with me and the people that worked there."  

How was it working for Oprah? Was she present in meetings?

O was completely different from my first job at Esquire. The audience, message, and spirit could not be further away but it was exactly that that got me excited to work at such a brand. O's mantra, “Live Your Best Life,” always resonated with me and the people that worked there.

More importantly, how did you end up on Gayle King's Instagram? [laughs]

Haha! As for being on Gayle King's instagram, that happened a few months after I had moved on from O to WWD and was actually on the CBS studio, for a shoot with Charlie Rose, when I ran into Gayle. I missed the team so we took some pictures! She's honestly one of the most genuinely nice people I’ve ever met. She's great.

WWD.jpg "One of the major changes [in the new WWD] was the heavier weight that photography had to take in order to really push the revamped brand from its previous iteration," says Chua.  

From O, how did the move to Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) happen?

I was at O for almost two years! Learned a lot and got the chance to work with some incredible people. I was actually approached by the new design director of WWD with an opportunity to join his team (which he was simultaneously building) that will be working on the re-imagining of the iconic Women's Wear Daily brand. After a few weeks of discussion, I decided to jump on this opportunity and came in as art director.

Tell us about WWD. You were a big part of its revamp. How would you describe WWD pre-revamp and WWD post-revamp? What were the challenges of revamping such an institution?

WWD is a truly revered brand which catered to all in the fashion industry's orbit so it was a very tricky task. Before transitioning to a weekly fashion news magazine, WWD (previously called in full as Women's Wear Daily) was a daily fashion newspaper covering all aspects of the business. A lot of the in-depth news reporting remained through the transition, but one of the major changes was the heavier weight that photography had to take in order to really push the revamped brand from its previous iteration.

The great thing about WWD when we first launched was that we were able to work with a lot of up-and-coming young photographers and illustrators. This really pushed us to find new photo and illustration talent to collaborate with, which I think has now become part of the weekly's DNA. It’s a great platform for any young photographer, illustrator or artist to get their work in, as it goes straight to people in the industry.

WWD_Faux-Fur_spreads2_1944_1944_1944.jpg A faux fur fashion editorial art directed and designed by Chua for the revamped Women's Wear Daily.  

You recently moved back to Esquire. Tell us about what you do for the magazine.

It's kind of a crazy full-circle moment being back at Esquire after years away. I'm currently the deputy art director. There are a few layers to the job. One is I help manage the front-of-book sections of the magazine through guiding the junior designers who have assigned sections. I also spend time on-set for shoots as well as design, plus come up with art solutions for feature stories while working in collaboration with photo editors and our creative director.

Speaking of revamps, Esquire recently underwent a big change, after Jay Fielden, the new editor-in-chief, took over. What are the big changes, design-wise, in the magazine?

I think the fashion focus shift is the biggest, which is rather exciting. We're still evolving design-wise and unfortunately, I can't speak any further as we're in the thick of things.

ESQ_Rage.jpg A spread for the "American Rage" feature in Esquire Magazine's February 2016 issue.  

How would you differentiate the design work you did for O and WWD and the design work you do for Esquire? How is the work different and how is the work the same?

For starters, O and WWD relied most heavily on photography to tell a visual story. There were moments where we were able to deviate from that but for the most part, photography was key. That's not to say that Esquire does not do a lot of photography because we do, but we also have liberties to experiment with other visual ways of telling a story, whether it’s through unique one-off type treatments special to a story, or having a good mix of both illustration and photography in one feature to drive a point.

Then of course, there's designing for the audience. When I was at O, we approached the stories with sophistication and just enough whimsy to speak to our readers. WWD on the other hand was a weekly, so we relied heavily on uniformed structures to clearly deliver bitsy stories in the front of book. We broke from that when opportunities arise and allow the photos and illustrations to really anchor the pages.

ESQ_Fashion sneakers.jpg "I think the fashion focus shift is the biggest, which is rather exciting," Chua says of the new direction of Esquire under its new editor-in-chief, Jay Fielden.  

You've worked for a lot of great talents. For you, what is the importance of mentorship? What's the most important piece of advice you've ever gotten from a boss?

Personally, mentorship is such a great thing to have. It can prove to be one of your greatest assets when navigating the industry. Having someone you admire as your mentor is always important.

[For me,] I have to say it's David Curcurito, Esquire's outgoing design director. I have learned so much from him and he has always been an encouraging and positive force in my career. He is brutally honest, immensely talented, and incredibly giving.

He always encouraged me to trust my instincts. I know it sounds cliche, but he knows it’s important to develop your own sensibilities, so you know the type of work you want to do.