They say never judge a book by its cover, or a product by its packaging. But when it comes to the world of beauty and style, the packaging can serve as a reflection of the brand ethos, product quality, company values–and contributes greatly to the consumer experience of shopping, discovery, and unboxing.
For New York City-based creative Kate Doheny (https://katedoheny.nyc/) the packaging and presentation of luxury brands isn’t just her livelihood, but a deep-rooted passion. “I think it's inspiring, that something like branding can have such a powerful pull on any group of people at one moment in time,” says Doheny.
From Kylie Cosmetics and Victoria’s Secret, to Vera Wang and Dior, the New York City creative has built quite an impressive portfolio of design collaborations.
“It's incredibly impactful to me that the designers behind them were able to create such influence,” she says. “I think that really puts stars in my eyes... that I want to make impactful things too, and one day see people, including complete strangers, use products that I designed.” In a cutthroat market, even brands of this caliber must turn to true visionaries like Doheny in order to resonate. With nearly a decade in the cosmetics and style categories, high-profile figures work with Doheny to execute innovative campaigns and product packages.
Although she studied Visual Arts at Fordham University, it was interning and hands-on work that steered her toward the beauty industry, where she “really fell in love with packaging design.” It also took a great deal of experience, inner-reflection, and some trial and error that empowered her to forge her own path and launch her own design business. She shares her entrepreneurial journey with us:
What kind of influences led you to your current career?
I've always been drawn to strong branding. During middle school, hot brands like Louis Vuitton and Coach (authentic and not-so-much) swept the hallways, strikingly adorned with colorful logos placed prominently and carefully on their exteriors. It was the Marc Jacobs x Takashi Murakami era of Louis Vuitton, and though I couldn't afford the real deal, I was there for it.
Have any companies from other industries inspired your work?
Growing up, Apple, with Steve Jobs' genius, seemed to be the only tech company that cared about function AND the way its products looked. In the early 2000s, it felt like a world that only took certain products seriously if they looked "smart" and...like a piece of technology. That always bothered me. Why can't every product have a beautiful personality? These days, thankfully, there are so many products that are both gorgeous and efficient.
Bringing the early 2000s fashion and tech together, I'm realizing that I was enlightened by a movie that had similar themes. Legally Blonde (2001) really helped with the idea that pretty and smart are not mutually exclusive...for me, that's also true for consumer goods and packaging.
What did you do before launching your own creative consultancy and design business?
Once I landed my first internship at Oscar de la Renta, I had been certain that I should end up in the fashion industry. But after graduation, I started working for Christian Dior Parfums, which opened my eyes to the beauty world - an industry I never fully considered before. While fashion is incredibly exciting, I eventually realized that beauty would potentially provide more opportunities.
At what point in your career did you decide to launch your own freelance business?
When I initially started at Coty, a beauty manufacturer and developer, I was met with more tedious tasks. I hated working on other peoples' creative work. I wanted to design something from scratch. I wanted to focus on the identity and initial design. I realized that the initial pack design is truly what trickles down into the rest of the collateral, even photoshoot concepts for main campaigns. So, I started to push for similar projects. It didn't always work out in my favor, with marketing and other higher-up creatives having such a big say, so it felt like a good move to have my own freelance business. Now I have much more agility and creative freedom in my full-time gig, but I am glad to have the continued space to create identities with clients through the realm of freelance.
How did you get big-name clients like Kylie, Coty, Vera Wang, etc?
Many of the brands I've worked on I can attribute to my time at Coty, and people there giving me a chance. I’m going to quote Lady Gaga here: “There can be 100 people in a room and 99 of them don't believe in you but all it takes is one and it just changes your whole life…” That's been huge. For example, I've had a previous boss tell me that I "wasn't ready" to present my work to executives. A few months later under different leadership, I presented directly to one of the most prominent celebrities in the world, with extremely positive live feedback.
What kind of lessons did you learn from working in corporate beauty?
I learned to spend less time doubting myself and worry about one person's opinion. I also had to learn the hard truth that some managers don't want you to grow and move on. Unfortunately, it also takes a lot of work and fighting to get to that mindset and to prove yourself.
As a designer, what are your golden rules for branding and design?
The classic KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) - don't overthink it. I tend to overdesign and then reel it back in, but everyone's process is different. Know design rules before you can break them. This will make your off-kilter choices seem more intentional.
What tips do you have for aspiring business owners?
My favorite quote from Pentagram designer and legend Paula Scher: "You have to get bad in order to get good," and with that spirit, remember that most people are too afraid to put themselves out there, so just starting is already an incredible achievement. Also, learn the difference between criticism and feedback, some responses are important to implement, but changing too much can leave you without a unique identity.
You’re a freelancer. What does it take to develop solid rapport with clients?
Sometimes clarifying communication is all it takes, I've had opportunities that I almost missed because something was misconstrued. Maybe you received an email of rejection because the person didn't understand your request, doesn't hurt to clarify.
Describe an incredibly proud moment in your career.
Working alongside Kylie Jenner to design her rebrand of Kylie Cosmetics was pretty awesome, but I think my current status of finally feeling like I've paved a way for myself is huge.
Why did you choose a .NYC web extension? How does it help your own branding?
Since I live and work in the NYC area, it's important to attract brands and companies who are nearby. I've found it also is enticing for outsiders, there's something about the NYC domain that shows a level of work ethic. I also happen to like how it looks visually on my URL!
What is your advice for other aspiring women entrepreneurs based in the competitive market of NYC?
Get your f***ing ass up and work. Kidding. I think it's more "get your ass up" and strategically choose where to put your energy. I've spent so much time trying to make certain things happen with clients or companies that absolutely do not care about creatives. So fight, but know when to walk away. Also, especially in NYC, don't be afraid that the market is "oversaturated". Every designer is different and offers something unique. Put yourself out there, don't hold back, let yourself be you, and focus on the future, not past failures. If something isn't working, you don't need to necessarily scratch the whole thing. Adapt and get back out there.
One more thing, please remember that there's room for all of us. If you're an older female entrepreneur or businesswoman, raise "greener" gals up! We need to lead with kindness and encouragement over resentment and jealousy - always.