This Montreal-based creative studio is slowly accumulating like-minded clients to establish its niche
Stephen Robusto had grown tired of his job as a production designer, slapping logos on hats and apparel for a small marketing firm in Montreal. So last year, armed with a three-year degree from Dawson College and knowledge accumulated from hours of scrolling Behance, he gathered a few friends to open House of Youth near the city’s Mile End neighbourhood. Robusto leads the creative with the help of fellow Dawson grad Jeremy Pilote Byrne; Carl Frisko, the resident web specialist and “Swiss army knife”; and Francis Cucuzzella, whose experience at Unidisc Music Group has helped connect the agency to recording artists.
The quartet spent their first few months determining the agency’s scope and creating a brand, which led to the soft launch of their website in January 2017. From the outset, the goal was to highlight self-initiated projects as a way to establish their own style rather than demonstrating their client’s tastes, not unlike artist on Instagram who garner the attention of big brands. The nascent portfolio includes branding and design for Couugh.com, which gathers the team’s favourite creative work from across the web; illustrations commissioned for self-portrait artist Meredith Adelaide; a custom typeface dubbed Dauphine (below); and a moody, wintry photo shoot replete with a short behind-the-scenes video. It’s all got a raw “art school vibe” designed to attract clients who match the House of Youth aesthetic. The team plans to launch a fully developed site this winter, once they’ve established a more sizable client base.
“We’re always trying to find the right balance between personal projects and client work,” says Robusto. “We don’t want to jump off our own ship to climb onto a client’s ship and sail away from our dreams—that’s not why we all left our jobs to begin with.”
It’s too soon to tell if it’s working, but reaching out to their own network of friends and colleagues has helped them get off to a good start: After being introduced to a pharmaceutical manufacturer who owns Jouviance, Dermapure and Functionalab, House of Youth redesigned one of the company’s websites on spec, and presented the work directly to the client, which led to paying gigs. Another friend connected the agency to Virginia Black whiskey, which hired the team to art direct a photo shoot for content that’s destined for social-media sites.
Robusto modeled his professional dreams after the pursuits of Steve Angello, a European DJ who began his career as a member of Swedish House Mafia, and who has since gone on to form his own record company, invest in start-ups and collaborate with fashion brands.
“We’ve realize that inspiration doesn’t have to come from other artists—it’s everywhere,” says Robusto. “Karl is fascinated with Elon Musk…Jeremy is inspired by fashion designer Alexander McQueen, and we all find travel is a really liberating experience—it turns you into a sponge. When I’m walking the streets of Montreal, it’s like I have horse blinders on, but when you’re traveling, everything is so new.”
A trip to Europe planted the seed for the agency’s future. Next summer, the team plans to move its headquarters from a humble five-bedroom apartment to a Montreal house that’s equal parts “coffee shop and coworking space,” modeled after the creative spaces that Robusto saw in Berlin.
“Ultimately, we’d like to have a lot of divisions and side projects—everyone is full of ideas from a line of apparel to a record label to designing and producing furniture—but we’ve already realized that you can’t create six companies at the same time,” says Robusto. “We have to build a five-year business plan that allows us to bring some structure to the process. Being ambitious is great, but at the same time, you have to have a sense of reality—it’s all about balance.”
This feature is an exclusive online companion to "They Run This," a feature on millennial-owned and -operated creative studios in the November/December 2017 issue of Applied Arts. Find the digital edition here.
Scott Kirkwood is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Communication Arts and HOW Magazine.
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