Meet 18-year-old designer Gabrielle Uy, whose work tells visual stories

Meet 18-year-old designer Gabrielle Uy, whose work tells visual stories

Earlier this month, Gabrielle Uy reached out to Ballerina Book Club host Isabella Boylston with a surprise: she had reimagined the brand, casting it in a maximalist palette of neon hues and bold patterns.

Reimagined Ballerina Book Club logo. Gabrielle Uy.
Reimagined Ballerina Book Club logo. Gabrielle Uy.

An 18-year-old designer and slow fashion entrepreneur from the Philippines, Uy is currently taking a gap year before diving into her studies at Yale University, where she is a member of the User Experience Society. She’s using the time to “hone her branding skills, spend time with her dog and devour as many books and movies as she can.”

We corresponded with Uy about the spark behind her project, her work as an emerging designer and what books she’s reading.

What was your inspiration behind reimagining the Ballerina Book Club brand identity?

I hope to pursue a career in identity design, so I started this project to have a little fun and seriously work on my chops. Nothing like Ballerina Book Club has ever existed before, and as much as I love ballet and reading, they’re often thought of as a little outdated and a little uncool. Throw in the fact that Bella’s personality is exactly the opposite of what non-dancers or non-readers might expect from a ballerina or bookworm, and you basically end up with chaos!

Ballerina Book Club redesign. Gabrielle Uy.
Ballerina Book Club redesign. Gabrielle Uy.

Things fell into place when I stopped trying to make things look cool and embraced the chaos instead. I took the kitschiest stuff I could find — think neon art nouveau and plastic flamingos — and threw them together to make something shamelessly, ridiculously, spectacularly tacky. I hope it’s something that makes people laugh and challenges assumptions about ballet and reading just as well as Bella does.

How does design fit into your story as an artist?

Recently, I’ve come to see myself as more of a designer than an artist. I don’t know why it took me so long to come to that conclusion — I was literally the weird kid who’d put up a lemonade stand and go all out with a logo and “commercial” and nipa hut-inspired stall! I now run a nonprofit slow fashion label that helps empower Indigenous Filipino weaving communities, and I have a few branding gigs going on the side. Branding projects are my favorite because they’re a chance to tell other people’s stories, solve their problems and quite literally remake the world — it’s like being a genie.

A digital painting of a friend created by Gabrielle Uy in her junior year of high school. Image: Gabrielle Uy.
A digital painting of a friend created by Gabrielle Uy in her junior year of high school. Image: Gabrielle Uy.

What’s your design style?

I wish I had one! I’m 18; I’m definitely still figuring it out. That said, I like to think that my designs are pretty playful and witty, and I definitely don’t shy away from color. The world is messy enough as it is, so I’m especially passionate about creating work that brings people joy and builds a sense of community.

I’m also a big believer in the importance of good writing — both literally and in a design sense. I try to ensure that every visual choice I make supports the story that I’m trying to tell because at the end of the day, the story is the whole point. Keep it short, keep it spicy and never be boring.

Selected designs from the Loom Project, Gabrielle Uy's slow fashion nonprofit. Image: Gabrielle Uy.
Selected designs from the Loom Project, Gabrielle Uy’s slow fashion nonprofit. Image: Gabrielle Uy.

What do you turn to for inspiration?

I get most of my design inspiration from art — novels, movies, ballet (obviously), and particularly music and fashion. There are certain songs that demand to be turned into posters! I also love daydreaming about working with the designers I admire and will happily dig through their websites for hours at a time. Some of my favorites include Jessica Walsh, Paula Scher and Michael Bierut.

Reimagined posters and album covers for some of designer Gabrielle Uy's favorite songs. Image: Gabrielle Uy.
Reimagined posters and album covers for some of designer Gabrielle Uy’s favorite songs. Image: Gabrielle Uy.

And because it’s book club: What are your favorite books to read?

Whatever I’m currently reading — design books aside, my taste is all over the place! I just finished “Winners Take All” by Anand Giridharadas, and it absolutely blew my mind. It explores the win-win mentality that the global elite often have about social impact and to what extent these initiatives actually work to reduce inequality, and I honestly think it should be required reading for the whole planet.

But my favorite book of all time would probably be “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez. Coming from the Philippines, it’s nice to see a history and storytelling tradition similar to mine represented in literature. It’s the ultimate magical realist escape, a brutally honest depiction of colonialism and the world’s most convoluted family gossip rolled into one —perfect for these crazy times!


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Top Image: Image: Gabrielle Uy.