MANILA – Before he became a multi-awarded industrial designer, Kenneth Cobonpue experienced rejection when he was not accepted at the University of the Philippines’ College of Fine Arts.
In an interview on the ANC program “Pipol,” Cobonpue recalled how he did not pass the practical exam for the Fine Arts program in UP, saying he “couldn’t draw that well.”
The well-known furniture designer from Cebu initially took a business course as requested by his father, but he eventually applied for a Fine Arts course because it was the nearest program related to design, which he is passionate about.
“So I did the dutiful thing that an elder son would do. And in the middle of an accounting course, I said, ‘this is not for me.’ So I decided to apply then to the nearest program to design, which was then the Fine Arts program. There was a drawing exam and there was a live painting thing, and I really couldn’t draw that well. So I failed the exam,” he said.
“That’s right [I’m a reject from the UP College of Fine Arts],” he added.
In an interesting twist, Cobonpue was eventually invited as a commencement speaker for the UP College of Fine Arts, with the department recognizing his huge success as a designer.
“A few years ago, they asked me to be their commencement speaker at the same college,” he said, laughing. “And I did. And I told them that they were all so lucky to have graduated from this school, from this department which I really wanted to enter.”
After failing the practical exam in UP, Cobonpue spent a year taking up drawing lessons and applied at the Pratt Institute of New York, one of the top colleges in the United States. There, he earned a diploma in Industrial Design, graduating summa cum laude.
Cobonpue also apprenticed with a leather and wood workshop in Italy, and studied furniture marketing and production in Germany under a state scholarship program.
Asked if he had always planned on becoming the top industrial designer that he is today, he said: “I didn’t know that then, though. I took all those (studies and training) because knowledge is always good. Any kind of new technology and information, I took all that in. I wasn’t really thinking of creating a path.”
“That was a dream then, but I didn’t know how to get there. I didn’t have a roadmap to get there,” he added.
After his studies in Germany, Cobonpue returned to Cebu to take over the businesses of his late father, including his mother’s furniture business, Interior Crafts of the Islands.
He then put up Hive, a lighting home accessories company, and eventually his own furniture brand, Kenneth Cobonpue, which has sold pieces to high-profile personalities and Hollywood celebrities such as Brad Pitt.
Cobonpue believes that each of his pieces must answer the question, “why must it exist?”
“It has to be different,” he said of his products. “It’s how you can tell something that when you look at it, oh it’s a Cobonpue. And you have that because in a brand, when you’re making a brand, a brand is a story that you say, you tell over and over again. And if you don’t have a story, you don’t have a product.”