Dothings’ Estelle Monteillet on her career journey and transitioning from life in Paris to New York
Dothings are an independent branding, design and packaging agency, specialising in projects for the luxury, fashion, and real estate industries. Partnering with brands that inspire and challenge them, the New York-based agency creates value through their unique and recognisable work. We talk to Creative Director Estelle Monteillet about the evolution of her lifestyle, leadership style, and work following her pivotal move from Paris to New York.
PT Hi Estelle! How are you doing?
EM I am doing well, thank you. I’m at the studio, we get beautiful light in the afternoon. A jazz playlist is playing on the Sonos…
PT Can you give us a summary of your career so far?
EM I graduated from art school in Paris and began an internship at W&Cie, a branding company. I stayed there for five years and was fortunate to team up with great designers who taught me a lot; I believe this experience naturally led me to a career in branding. I then spent almost five years diving into editorial design at another agency in Paris, Lonsdale. I took a sabbatical and came to New York for three months, which changed my life. I was introduced to the founder of Dothings (Pierre Jeand’heur) by a friend, and a couple months later I joined the studio as an Art Director. That was five years ago.
PT How do you find working in NYC compared to Paris?
EM It’s very different, everything moves faster here, even the industry itself. There is a sense of less discussion and more action or designing. The decision process is so much faster on the agency and the client side. Clients have more trust and are willing to take more risks here creatively and financially, which allow us to work with people that really inspire us. Since I started working in NYC, I have collaborated with so many talented people (photographers, illustrators, directors…), because people are more willing to try new things and take chances. It has definitely given me more freedom in my work.
PT Has the culture influenced your work?
EM Of course. And it’s funny because I realised it recently while sharing my work with my friends in Paris. Before coming to New York, I was working at a more corporate agency so the move to an independent studio certainly influenced my work. I can also see how everything I see around me changed my design practice – it’s everywhere: the newsstand magazines, the posters in the subway, the street posters… My work has slowly become more bold, more colourful, more impactful. The general aesthetic in NY, driven in part by tech companies, is more design forward, with bold fonts and loud messaging, but done in a very clean way.
Not only has the design culture influenced my work, but the culture in general has also had a big impact on me. New York is so diverse in many ways. It’s rich and inspiring from the people you meet to the faces you see painted on the street murals and the designers whose work you follow from all over the world... I can see all of this reflected in my work and I’m so grateful for it.
PT What does your typical workday look like?
EM I’m lucky to live close to the studio in Brooklyn so my workday typically starts with a ten-minute bike ride to the office. I open my Slack and my Notion and check my ‘urgent’ to do list to be sure that I know what needs to be done immediately and if we have any deadlines that day, checking with the other members of the team. I take some time to go over my emails with design resources like The Brand Identity (of course), It’s Nice That, Aiga, Typewolf and all the updates from foundries. The morning goes by so fast with meetings and internal follow ups. I do make a point of going out quickly for lunch or at least a matcha to get some fresh air and walk a bit. I believe it helps me creatively and puts me in a good mood to take a quick break and talk about other things than work for half an hour. In the afternoon I like to put my headphones, listen to podcasts, and focus for a longer periods of time. It’s usually when I get a lot done.
Instagram is a great source of inspiration if you choose the accounts you follow wisely.
PT Outside of design, where do you like to find inspiration?
EM I am not sure it is technically ‘outside of design,’ but I love to go to McNally and Jackson to browse new books and magazines. I’m probably as interested in the content of the book as its cover, there is so much diversity amongst book cover design. Going to museums of course and especially the ones with a well curated bookstore. I can spend so much time looking at every publication. I love going to the Moma PS1 for that reason. I also think that you can find inspiration anywhere, you just have to be curious and open your eyes. With Dothings, I work with a lot of beauty brands, and I find myself looking so closely at packaging that sometimes I will buy olive oil simply because I like the label. I think Instagram is a great source of inspiration if you choose the accounts you follow wisely but I like to think that just walking outside, looking around, talking to my friends can be inspirational.
PT How has your work with Dothings evolved?
EM My work with Dothings has evolved so much in the last five years. Working with a smaller team has allowed me to grow and to take more responsibilities. I work closely with Pierre who is the founder and the executive director of the agency and at first, we had two different ways of working. I was used to spending quite a bit of time on research and design exploration, and he was more straight to the point, quickly applying design to actual assets. I learned to find a good balance between our processes. I still need to explore and go a bit crazy at first, but I understand more quickly where a brand should go and how the presentation needs to be articulated in order to share the vision with our clients. We also now work on bigger projects that involve so many kinds of expertise and capabilities, from branding to packaging, art direction, CGI videos, and websites…
My work is now more diversified, and my role has evolved into a leadership position, overseeing projects in close collaboration with the designers and our account director. I also have learned to let go a bit and be less involved in the day to day of the design process, and more involved from a management perspective. That is still tricky for me because I love designing and sometimes have strong opinions about how things should look but I work on this every day.
PT What type of creative director do you consider yourself to be?
EM That’s an interesting question. When the time comes to become a Creative Director, you ask yourself a lot of questions about what type of CD you want to be, and you look back at all your previous experiences and all the CDs that crossed your path. Interestingly, all the CDs I worked with were men and I think I always wondered what it would be like to have a woman Creative Director, if the dynamic would be different. It took some time for me to be comfortable in that position, from internal leadership to communication with the clients. I’m not sure if I can say exactly what type I am, but I hope that I am a good communicator, listener, morale booster, and that I give the team enough space to grow.
PT Has your leadership style changed as you’ve become more experienced? If so, how?
EM I had almost no experience managing people when I started to work with Dothings. You can be a great designer but have poor leadership skills. That’s one thing you don’t learn in school, and we should. I hope my leadership style changed over the years and will keep changing. I'm learning every day. I have a couple of close friends in the same position, and you wouldn’t believe the hours we spend talking about this and challenging ourselves about our management style. I definitely gained some confidence as I became more experienced, and it allows me to hopefully be clearer with the designers and also with the clients. I’m no longer second guessing everything I do.
You can be a great designer but have poor leadership skills.
PT Do you have a project that you consider to be pivotal in your career?
EM I can say that several projects have made me grow. We have worked on several big campaigns and photoshoots over the years, and it has been so challenging to be involved in every aspect of the photoshoot, from the first mood boards to the shot lists, scouting the locations, working with production, briefing the stylists, the makeup artists, working closely with the photographers, overseeing post production… It’s stressful but I never thought I would be able to lead (with the help of my team of course) such big productions. Everything seems possible when you survive five days of shoots with early morning calls. More recently, we just completed a project that started before COVID, working on branding a building on the Upper West Side – 393 West End Avenue – from identity, to website, to brochure, art direction, video, print collateral… It was a long process and we collaborated with so many different people, writers, photographers, web designers, web developers, printers, marketing agencies… of course there were some unknown parts along the way and there was definitely a learning curve that made us stronger and very confident about the next real estate project.
PT Who would you love to work with, moving forward?
EM That’s a good question.
I do love to work with friends, I love being part of a project that means a lot to them and feeling that they trust me to communicate their vision. I usually feel like it’s a lot to take on personal projects on the side, but I just can’t say no when friends come to me with an exciting project, they are so passionate about. It’s also a good way to make new friends. During the pandemic one of my friends introduced me to two very talented illustrators, we met over Zoom and started to think about collaborative projects together. We came up with a VIRAL typeface. I’m always trying to find ways to work with friends, photographers, typographers, illustrators, to come up with new ideas together. Collaborations are so rich. I'm now thinking of Dims – they collaborate with designers to make unique pieces of furniture. I would love to work with a designer on something tangible, an object. Their last collaboration with Dusen Dusen is beautiful.