We had the good fortune of connecting with Julia Montanez and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Julia, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I had been working for Architectural Digest Design Show, a large trade event for emerging design and trade furniture, in NYC from 2013 to 2020. In order to scout new talent for my section of the show, which focused on emerging design, I began traveling to other trade shows around the world. Now, most large furniture trade shows function as an anchor for even larger city-wide design weeks which feature tons of events. While traveling to see these design weeks, I saw that the best exhibitions, and the coolest talent, were being featured in lesser-known, small exhibitions. I wondered how I could create a job for myself that focused on my favorite aspects of working for AD Show: international travel, discovering emerging and collectible design, and organizing it extremely well. I met my co-founder Leo Lei, and we decided to combine forces and create The Design Release, a one-stop website for discovering design exhibitions around the world, and RSVPing and routing from event to event during larger city-wide festivals, which is a challenge if you are not from that particular city. During the pandemic we expanded TDR to include industry news and jobs, and bespoke PR, which began as a way to support designers who needed to market their new work in a year that didn’t allow physical events. TDR PR would end up being the major turning point for us.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My entire career from the beginning was an exercise in risk-taking. I graduated with a finance degree during the recession, and it was impossible to find a job. I jumped from internship to internship and discovered my love for design during a severance-package “sponsored” trip to Paris (basically my mom said, you’re being paid to do nothing, go do something!)
I moved to LA a few months later to become an interior designer, which brought me back to NYC a few years later where I would eventually work for Architectural Digest Show and meet the entire NYC design industry (at least it felt that way). Taking all these risks and moving around, especially on my teeny tiny budget, was not easy, but I like to make decisions and see if “the universe” pushes me further in that direction. For example, deciding to move to LA, and then suddenly being introduced to people who could help me realize my goals. That’s another thing – I wouldn’t be anywhere without the help from family and friends who believe in my dreams and help me, whether it’s with introductions or encouragement, both are so important to me.
I think a big lesson I learned was when I was in the beginning years of working for AD Show, when I felt small and insecure within the industry, and I had impostor syndrome, I allowed myself to feel intimidated and nervous around others more successful than me. I was in my early 20s so it was a whole other time, but my advice to myself and others in my position is to just put blinders on, cultivate the special people in your life, focus on what you’re doing, and keep traveling and meeting people!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I left NYC right before the pandemic with the dream of moving to London and expanding TDR. Of course, none of that happened, and I ended up spending the year in DC, where I had lived throughout my teenage years. I never felt too connected to DC, maybe I took it for granted, but I am now so grateful to have spent all this time here reconnecting with the city, and having my family around during this crazy year.
Whenever friends come to visit, the first place I take them to is The Watergate (2650 Virginia Ave NW), where my mother lives. The Watergate is a complex of six buildings (3 residential, 2 offices, and one hotel) located on the Potomac river, adjacent to Georgetown. Although it is mostly known as the scene of the crime during Nixon’s scandal in the 70’s, the Watergate is a true architectural marvel. It is a series of curved, concrete buildings that simultaneously give a feeling of having been there forever, while also alien and futurist. It was designed by Italian Architect Luigi Moretti, and built from 1962 to 1971. I hope more people visit it, it’s a breathtaking example of modern architecture. I also recommend people go for an evening drink or bite to the Watergate Hotel rooftop, which has fabulous, panoramic views, and whose interiors were renovated by Ron Arad, which not enough people know about!
I spend most of my time in Georgetown, which is sort of the Soho of DC, walking distance to where I live. When I want matcha, I go to Baked and Wired (1052 Thomas Jefferson St NW), which is across the street from The Graham Georgetown (1075 Thomas Jefferson St NW) a hotel with is a cozy rooftop bar with a lovely view of the neighborhood. Georgetown is so beautiful and photogenic, but the main street is mostly consumed by commercial retail, but there are little nooks to explore, another good one being Call Your Mother (3428 O St NW) a super adorable deli favored by Georgetown University students.
Adam’s Morgan is another great part of DC, a very lively and hip neighborhood, and when I’m there I love to spend time at The LINE hotel (1770 Euclid St NW) which is my favorite hotel to work from, which is close to Tryst (2459 18th St NW) a super low key, yet popular, coffee and internet cafe. Nearby, JINYA Ramen Bar (1336 14th St NW) is the best ramen in DC hands down, and if someone doensn’t agree please let me know asap and send me your recommendation!
If you’re into fancy situations, The Jefferson Hotel (1200 16th St NW) is one of the most beautiful, elegant, and old school places to stay in DC. The dining room is gorgeous, and you’re within walking distance to the White House and The Mall, where all the museums are. Around there is Taberna del Alabardero (1776 I Street Northwest) an elegant Spanish restaurant that feels like an extension of my family’s dining room. The food is outrageously good (I strongly recommend Berenjenas fritas con miel/ Fried Eggplant chips with Honey and the Garlic Shrimp), and the service is wonderful.
In terms of culture, there is so much art to see in DC, and the museums are free which is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. Once you’re on The Mall, most of the museums are side by side and you can spend all day hopping around. My favorite is the Hirshhorn Museum, famous for its architecture, sculpture garden, and contemporary and modern art collection. They always have great exhibitions. I also love the National Museum of African American History and Culture, designed by Architect Sir David Adjaye, the exterior of the building is jaw-droppingly beautiful and intricate. The National Gallery of Art – East Building, is also an architectural marvel, designed by I. M. Pei in the 70s (who did the glass triangles at the Louvre). The best part is how the East Building, both modern in style and art within, is connected to the very stately and neoclassic National Gallery of Art – West Building (built in 1937) which houses paintings and sculptures by European masters, from the thirteenth through the sixteenth century. The grand marble interior is equally breathtaking.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would dedicate this shout out to my TDR cofounder Leo Lei. Not to get too sappy, but meeting him shifted my life into an entirely new direction, and we are now working together as entrepreneurs in an industry we care about so much, living the dream and traveling the world. Leo’s brilliance with design (marketing materials, branding, Instagram identity, and our website, in particular) is one of the major reasons I believe TDR was successful from the beginning. Our talents combined are complementary, and we don’t hesitate to encourage each other to be better. We never worry about what the other is doing, because we are so dedicated to our company. I hope everyone who is starting a business has the opportunity to work with their own version of Leo!!
Other: instagram for TDR: @thedesignrelease
Photography by Meredithe Ettrich