Based in LA for the past two years, Monaghan is now working on two new retail ventures: experiential pet brand Sgt Puppa, which is slated to open its first store in November and glamorous businesswomen’s brand Blonde Velvet, which will also include an exclusive social club with events and networking.
“I’m flying by the seat of my pants. I’m so excited. I’m pumped again, I’m my own boss,” she said.
“I made the decision because things weren’t going to be in my ultimate control. I’m always going to be a boss, not an employee and I know that’s when I operate at my best. Playboy is an amazing group, they’re all about women’s rights and empowerment and the brand has gone through an evolution, despite what the recent Hugh Hefner documentary said. For me, it’s just about working for myself again, making my own decisions, going on the run and going with my gut.”
Last year, Brett Blundy-owned Honey Birdette was sold to Playboy for $443 million and Monaghan came on board as creative director. The brand was first launched by Monaghan and co-founder Janelle Barboza in 2006, which has since grown into 60 stores in Australia, the US and the UK. Over the years, it has attracted controversy over its racy marketing campaigns and allegations of employee mistreatment.
Reflecting on her time at Honey Birdette, Monaghan said some of the most valuable lessons she learnt were “customer experience is everything, do not have a late order, make sure you have a phone line where customers can talk to a human, not a robot and always put the customer first.”
“I really believe in bricks-and-mortar and digital combined. I think the narrative is hugely important. And make sure your teams are treated exceptionally well and they’re in an inspiring environment. I think that’s the key to retail.”
Barking up a new tree
When Covid hit, like many people, Monaghan bought a puppy and it didn’t take long for her to notice a yawning gap in the pet retail landscape.
“I never thought I’d buy a dog I my life and after being with the gays in the dog parks in Surry Hills, I realised there’s a massive need for experience-based retail! [My wife] Natalie will do anything for our dog,” she laughed.
Set to launch its first store in November in the US, Sgt Puppa will be an aspirational fast-moving consumer fashion and lifestyle brand for the trendy pooch, offering must-have fashion drops and matching accessories for people and their pets, from matching surfboards and puppy paddle boards to limited edition couture pieces and gourmet treats. The piece de resistance of the spaces will be a clawfoot puppy bath for doggies to luxuriate in.
“Sgt Puppa stores will be experience-based to the nth degree and it will be as much for dogs as it will be for humans. I want people to think: ‘What are we going to do this Saturday? Let’s go to Sgt Puppa’,” explained Monaghan. “There will be champagne stations and treat bars, limited edition collaborations with the hottest influencers and celebrities, clothing for dogs and humans, eskies, picnic baskets… It’s really about bringing pleasure to the pet space.”
Sgt Puppa will also be designed as a social club, where customers are invited to join to gain access to exclusive in-store events. Monaghan is also hoping to collaborate with relevant charities in the future.
The first Sgt Puppa store will launch in the US in November and plans are underway to expand to 300 stores later down the track.
“We’ll launch some in Sydney and Melbourne, but I want to kick the tyres while I’m here in the US. The success of Honey Birdette lay in me being in the stores and getting on the shopfloor. I love being on the ground floor again,” said Monaghan.
Ready to engage and enrage
At a time when women’s reproductive rights are under threat in the US since Roe v Wade was overturned, Monaghan is working on her personal “passion play”, Blonde Velvet Club. The new venture comprises two parts: a sleek women’s workwear label offering suiting, shirting and lifestyle accessories and a social club that’s the modern female version of a traditional gentlemen’s club.
“It’s a place where women can be women and we can get riled up, we can argue, meet friends, network, have a whiskey and discuss what’s going on in the world. I’m enraged. It’s gotten to the point where women don’t have control over their bodies and it’s astounded me that there’s not a bigger movement, there’s not a lot of mass commentary out there,” explained Monaghan.
“When I go to New York, I want to go to a ladies’ club and discuss politics, swivel my chair, then talk to a doctor or engineer. I want to have erotic reading nights, a trunk show or a cabaret show. It will be very exclusive, very sinister, maybe closed off to 1000 members that are women.”
Meanwhile, the Blonde Velvet workwear label is inspired by iconic fashion photographer Helmut Newton – streamlined, sleek, 80s powersuits and 90s shoulder pads.
“Women are fucking cool and we’re fucking smart and we can have a big presence. I know that myself when I’m putting on the collared shirt, the high heels, the braces, the cuffs. It’s what men have been doing for many years, but [the industry] just hasn’t cottoned onto it yet,” she said. “I’ve always struggled to find empowering business clothes, tuxes, bowties, heels, travel wear and even travel leather goods.”
The first Blonde Velvet Club will open mid-next year in the New York financial district, followed by locations in Paris, London, Boston and Chicago.