In honor of our co-founders Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power’s latest book, The Career Code: Must-Know Rules for a Strategic, Stylish, and Self-Made Career ($13), we’re running an interview series featuring 17 questions (to parallel the book’s 17 chapters) about the work lives of inspirational female leaders who are at the top of their fields. Last round, we tapped the enigmatic venture capitalist Michelle McHargue. Next up, we have the dynamic Pottery Barn EVP of design and product development, Monica Bhargava.
If we were playing a game of word association, Monica Bhargava's name would be quickly followed with one selection: passion. As the EVP of design and product development at Pottery Barn, she is the creative force behind the brand's innovative, globally inspired collections, which are adored by millions. For Bhargava, the old adage "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life" rings truer than ever. Her intense love affair with the artistic process is infectious, and you can't help but be swept up in the romance.
Bhargava's unbridled devotion to discovering new and ancient artisanal techniques has kept her and the Pottery Barn brand at the forefront of the homewares industry. And this energy can be felt at the consumer level with every piece she helps create. Their collaborations with big-name artists and emerging designers (we loved the Ken Fulk and Jenni Kayne collections) are always instant sellouts too. Here, the creative force shares her formula for career success, morning routines, and her Instagram favorites.
"I am very lucky to have my dream job! The constant state of creativity, dreaming, and designing product allows me to celebrate life every day. The never-ending challenge to find lifestyle solutions that bring fun and comfort in the home is something I love."
"I think people are surprised how involved I am in the everyday designing of product. There is no denying the big business aspect of being part of this iconic brand. I believe I have a responsibility in designing and developing product that is a personal experience within a person's home. My team will tell you I am a crazy perfectionist, and they are right.
"I will always be very involved in the creation of every piece we design. It's part of the process I love so much. Paying attention to all the details. Working one on one with the artisan, going over every detail, pattern, fabrication, color, and finish. The creativity keeps me grounded."
"Of course I remember. Funny thing is it's not that different from what I am still comfortable in today. I was 20 years old, right out of university, and interviewing at Hallmark. I remember thinking I had to look professional but wanted to make sure I also looked creative. I wore black pants, a white shirt, and a suede crochet tan jacket (a gem I found at a local flea market). Over the years, I have learned you should always find a way to show your edge; your own style that helps you stand out. People are so visual; it immediately tells the story of who you are."
"I have been a devoted fan of Jean Louis-Dumas, the Hermès artistic director for many years. He turned the company into a global luxury brand from 1978 to 2006. I have always admired Hermès as the perfect example of a brand that has inspired and preserved its design legacy. My dream would be to go through their archives of print and pattern. They have succeeded in celebrating color, pattern, texture, form, scent—an experience that invokes all the senses. They have created aspiration, inspiration, and whimsy in a world built on signature."
"I never stop gathering ideas and resources. Travel, hands down, is my number one source of inspiration. I have walked flea markets, bazaars, design shows all over the world. Maison & Objet in Paris is one of my favorites. Late nights around a table in Paris with my team brainstorming ideas of everything we have seen are one of my most favorite moments. Pinterest is my daily go-to for staying in touch with the latest trends. There are so many ways to be inspired; I try to absorb it all."
"I don't believe in regrets. Everything life hands you is a lesson to be learned. I have had outstanding creative opportunities and have done my best to learn and grow from each of them. I love what I do; my only complaint is the days aren't long enough to fit it all in."
"A sense of curiosity. A connection with the brand. Fearlessness. Tenacity. Strong work ethic and a sort of 'fire-in-the-belly' passion for the work."
"My style is simple. I always wear neutrals, especially when presenting product; it's about the collection, not you. When I really need to feel powerful, I add my classic diamond hoops and my favorite cashmere scarf. Then I layer on a combo of Tom Ford white suede and Molecule 1, and I am in my comfort zone and confident."
"I asked my assistant, and this is what she said: 'After 10 years, I can honestly say I’ve never met someone so talented, passionate, and hardworking. She inspires me every day to strive to be the best the version of myself in every way.'"
"Even the most creative people have moments when they need a jolt of inspiration. Traditionally I go to the past to inspire me. Being in San Francisco, I'm lucky to have the DeYoung and the Legion of Honor Museums close by. I can always find inspirations there. History, photography, architecture, textiles, ceramics, all of it. I believe you need to know where you have been to understand where you are going. Especially to stay relevant and meaningful in the present."
"Your exit interview is just as important as your first interview. It's not about the job, but your integrity. Never leave a position with unfinished work, and always make yourself available for an easy transition. The world is much too small these days to burn bridges. I still remain friends with my first boss and remain grateful for the support and friendship."
"I have a pretty routine diet. Plain yogurt and spicy daal. I always need my fix of Indian food."
"I think it's important for people to stop and absorb what's going on. Listening is key to educating yourself on the business needs. Once you do that, you can contribute on a much more valuable level."
"I start my day with a run followed by a cup of tea and old fashion tear sheets, pulling images that trigger inspiration. In the evening I disconnect, having a glass of wine and some snuggle time with my daughter for my emotional well-being."
"My father told me, 'If you do what you love, it will never feel like work.' I guess I got very lucky."
"Personally, I am always working on being healthier through eating, sleeping, and plenty of exercise. As a mother to a 12-year-old daughter, I'm always trying to stay up to speed with her to be a #coolmom. At work, we are constantly working on something new, tackling new projects, and preparing for the following season.
"I look forward to every new challenge. The creativity that pours into the studio before a season is one of my favorite feelings, as we solve problems, come up with new ideas, play, and explore as we collaborate in organized chaos to envision a new collection."