Richard Christiansen‘s past is littered with sparkling gems of visionary ventures. Founder of Chandelier Creative and former creative director at Suede, Milk Magazine, and Radar, Richard is driven by curiosity. is this really the best way? Can we do things differently? He embraces “thinking outside the box” as a lifestyle.
Chandelier’s clients range from Old Navy and Bloomingdale’s to Versace and Mandarin Oriental Hotels. Typically, brands seek Richard’s company for one main reason. They know Chandelier will deliver a high-quality campaign full of unexpected delight and a certain level of taste.
I recently visited Chandelier’s swanky SoHo headquarters and sat with Richard, sipping coffee and quizzing the agency founder on his creative projects and work philosophy. I found his answers to be altogether original and even refreshing.
What was the initial idea behind Chandelier Creative?
We started in publishing when the magazine we were working for closed. I said to our staff, “If you come and work in my apartment I’ll match your salaries as long as I have enough money.” and so we started an agency.
We were all in our early 20s at the time and nothing was really resonating with us from a lot of big agencies in that world. I called the agency Chandelier because it wasn’t about my ego, so it didn’t have my name on the door. it was more about a collection of really interesting people who shared that idea, coming together on projects. So when you looked at that network of people from above it was almost like the arms of a chandelier.
What were those days like, working out of your apartment?
I had a broken ankle after getting ready for a marathon, so I was bed-ridden for the first three months of it. We would all sit in my bed and talk about who we were going to try and get work from. We didn’t really know anything or anyone, so we were a bit naïve. but I think that served us well.
First off we said let’s think of doing things differently. Shift your money out of print or TV and into something else. and no one was really that interested. but then the recession happened and everyone ran out of money. So we had a lot of people coming back saying, “All that stuff you talked about for the last few years, now we only have a little bit of cash, what could you do?”
What’s involved in the creative process? Are the ideas laid out in bullet points, or is it more of a shot out of a cannon?
We’re very democratic here. No one has an office. We all work together. When we brainstorm a job, big or small, everyone in the company, even if they’re not a creative person will sit in the room and be part of the brainstorm.
The best ideas come from a little idea on a post-it note. I’ve noticed we do our best when everyone is traveling, and everyone is going out, and everyone is seeing art galleries and movies and books. So I have a very strict rule about no weekends. Very, very rarely will anyone work after seven or eight. I’m really transparent about how much I want everyone here with me to travel.
There are lots of different project genres your company undertakes. what kind of staff do you have and what kind of qualities do you look for?
We have just under 40 people. the only shared characteristic I think is that all of them are curious. I’d much rather have someone here who’s not qualified but really curious about learning. It’s not unusual for people to jump around roles. My last three assistants have all gone on to become art directors or producers. Most of the interns who come for summer end up getting jobs here. It’s very much about curiosity.
I think one reason your clients come to you specifically is because you have a certain level of taste. how do you stay true to your brand?
There’s definitely an aesthetic. back in the early days I used to say my personal aesthetic was dynasty meets the Muppet show. Big flashy America meets something that’s a bit crazy and over the top. There’s lots of stylish agencies in new York and lots of stylish people in our industry, especially.
I think we do have a good taste level in everything we do and in everything that’s here. I do still feel like we’re a bit the new kids on the block. There’s a lot of big, traditional agencies doing good work. now we’re getting to be one of those big agencies, but I’m glad we’ve stayed true to doing only projects that make us really proud. We’re lucky to be in that position, which is a luxury. I’m so grateful for it.
What advice would you have for someone who really connects with what Chandelier Creative is doing? what are some characteristics they need to develop?
I’m such a huge fan of anyone who wants to start their own business, having now done that a couple of times. I think it’s a really brave thing to do. the most important thing is to not worry about what people think. When you stop worrying about what people think, all the fear goes away. and to see this as an adventure. What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen?
I think my best advice would be to just have a great shot at it. There’s more than enough work for everyone in this industry. new agencies are great. Don’t try to be someone else. try to be the best version of yourself that’s possible. the people who have broken out have been really true to what their personal aesthetic is and what they’re really curious about.
I know a creative agency can be a fast-paced, exhausting place. what do you dream about doing when the craziness hits?
I’m not very good at sitting still. I like to run, surf and now I have a garden, so I’m going to be working there growing vegetables. I love to do things with my hands and create. I also love to cook; that’s another form of creativity. now that I’m starting to get a bit older, I’m returning to home more. I’m trying really hard to have more balance and have a home life. I’m really excited about that, which means I’m cooking for all my friends and building a home that’s really fun.
For more on Richard and Chandelier Creative, visit their (awesome) Web site.