Not every design studio reveals its team on its website's About page, but we can usually expect something a bit different when they do. For Monopo, the Tokyo-born creative agency based in London, it has set the bar higher with new team shots by Fred Mouniguet. We talk with Monopo's Creative Director, Mélanie Hubert-Crozet, to learn more.
There's always a paranoia in the creative industry that we might all end up looking the same. New projects by leading studios inevitably inspire others, perhaps subconsciously, and suddenly design can look all too familiar everywhere we look. But it's the profile pages of creative agencies that often feel the most generic. Everyone is smiling at the camera, looking smart and professional. Perhaps a mouse hover might reveal a quirky face-pull, you know, to demonstrate just how "fun" the team is. And yes, there are a few outliers – Mother London gets our vote. For the most part, team shots can feel quite bland.
However, Monopo has just upped the About page game with the release of its new team portraits, shot by leading photographer Fred Mouniguet. Ethereal and creative, mysterious and otherworldly, the "Monopo lens" inspires the images. That is, the agency's underlying tone that allows its staff to each bring something unique to the table.
The photographs are part of a global rebrand for Monopo. We sat down with Mélanie Hubert-Crozet, creative director at Monopo, to learn more.
Talk us through the recent identity overhaul
Monopo in Tokyo always had a certain mysterious, dreamy, ethereal and intangible image for reasons we couldn't really explain. It never had a proper brand identity apart from the logo at that time, but there were these unwritten rules about our aesthetic. When the company started to grow and expand into new offices, it became crucial to re-think our branding and ensure the Monopo "vibe" would stay consistent throughout the network and communications. We had to put words on it.
The challenge for us was to keep our initial intangible aesthetic, build on it to bring it to the next level and, most importantly, find a system that would allow the individuality of each office to shine through. When opening the new offices, it became clear that every branch wanted to make their own version of Monopo and that we wouldn't be able to make one homogeneous design system throughout the network. This was not the Monopo way.
It's where our core concept came to life: "the Monopo lens". Every member brings their perspective to work, their own lens. We celebrate the power of creative collaboration and see the world through the eyes and experiences of the many, not the few. The Monopo lens is the collective perspective of unique individuals together. It is a metaphor for our philosophy and a visual device that exists in many shapes and forms, always altering what you see in an unsuspecting way. It blurs, transforms, and reveals, allowing us to see something from a new perspective each time. The lens offers us an opportunity to have a graphic element creating ethereal and poetic effects that can be utilised and interpreted in many ways, offering multiple potential outputs open to interpretation by the different teams and members.
The second core element is our colour gradients. We chose not to assign a fixed colour palette to the brand to never be associated with a specific colour but instead be represented by an ethereal mix of colours. Our colour palette is intangible and can't fully be defined. We created a generative art tool that allows us to create infinite colour gradients following a specific style and effects. It can be any colour, but it will always feel us.
'About' page portraits are often quite fun in our sector, but these are the most original we've seen in a long time. What was the feeling behind it?
We wanted our portraits to be an extension of our brand: ethereal, creative, mysterious, inspired by the concept of the lens and photographically bringing our colour gradient aesthetic. The goal was to take an artistic approach, representing us as creative individuals, almost like artists (even if we don't pretend to be) rather than agency staff. We didn't take inspiration from other agency headshots but instead looked at some of our favourite fashion photographers and treated this shoot like an editorial shoot.
It probably comes from a tradition born in Monopo Tokyo, where our portraits often take an artistic approach. In the past, we have worked with Gui Martinez for our portraits and Midori Kawano for our group pictures. The Saigon team created 3D portraits with Vicki, and the New York team analogue portraits with Iwamoto Koichiro.
Why Fred? What was the process? Who came up with what idea?
We've worked with Fred as a freelance producer since the beginning of Monopo London. When we started to work together, he told us he wanted to spend more time developing his photography career and that he would become a part-time freelance producer and part-time photographer and pursue his dream. We were helping each other. We've seen him grow as a photographer since, and have hired him as a photographer on various projects. We've always been impressed with how he challenges himself and delivers incredible work every time.
Mélanie had the idea to create ethereal portraits playing with projections of coloured lights and in-lens camera effects. She created the mood board and contacted Fred to see how he would feel about doing something like this. Even though Fred had never done such portraits, he was very excited to take the challenge. Fred has a very experimental approach, always testing new techniques and learning new skills at every shoot, and this one was a whole new range of exciting techniques to learn and experiment with. Fred experimented with a few of his friends before the shoot, so we could fine-tune the art direction together before the shoot. An important thing to mention is that we all know Fred very well, and he can make people feel comfortable in front of the camera, even the shyest of us. It makes half of the work to create great portraits when working with non-models, i.e. people like us!
Do you think it helps to have portraits like this? Why?
Definitely! These portraits are a way to set us apart as creative individuals and make us all feel part of the same community. We want to be known for creating unique brands and designs with an artistic flair. We want brands to come to us for these reasons. These portraits are here to show who we are. We are a creative agency, and our branding is a sample of what we can do for others. Our goal would be that when people see such a portrait, they think, "Oh, that must be a Monopo member".
What current projects are you working on or just released?
There are a few exciting branding and web design projects at the moment. We are working with luxury travel brand Onefinestay to elevate and develop the brand further. We are currently also working on exciting projects in the domain of Web3, a brand identity for an avatar technology company and a web3 music company and a book design for a beautiful NFT generative art collection. One of our latest releases was a brand identity and sub-culture driven campaign for a new Yonex badminton racquet called Arcsaber 11.