New York agency Chandelier Creative is known for many things: its ads for retailers like Target and Old Navy; its founder and creative director Richard Christiansen's taste in interior design; and its legendary holiday parties, for starters.
Last year's bash was a tribute to Dolly Parton that featured Paul Reubens, Rufus Wainwright and enough glitz to earn a writeup in the New York Times Style Section before the doors even opened. "Seven hundred people came to last year's party," Christiansen tells AdFreak. "This year everyone asked, How are you going to top that?"
His answer may surprise you. This holiday, the agency founder is skipping the usual festivities and giving all 42 of his employees a special present—a weeklong trip to Japan with all expenses paid by the agency.
This isn't just another publicity stunt. Christiansen says the Chandelier staffers will fly to Tokyo next week and completely immerse themselves in an unfamiliar culture. "I'm really excited for them to get completely lost," he says, adding that he hopes they will all be "radically better versions of themselves when they return."
After toiling away on client work all year, Christiansen describes the upcoming jaunt, in a playful way, as "fundamentally selfish." And in fact, the idea came from personal experience. Australian-born Christiansen—a proud globetrotter who spoke to Adweek last year about his fondness for Italy, Sweden and Los Angeles—recently traveled to India, Mynamar, Morocco and Tokyo with friend and former West Elm creative director Vanessa Holden. The journey made such an impression on the two that they turned it into a photo essay for The New York Times Magazine in August.
"While I was there, I realized that there is something incredibly transformative about cultural displacement … about going somewhere where no one speaks your language," Christiansen says. "Those places are harder to find now, but Japan is one of them. Almost no one in the company has been, which is shocking to me."
2015 has also been a very good year for Chandelier, which experienced such rapid growth that Christiansen says he no longer recognizes all of his employees. The holidays, however, bring time for a needed dose of self-reflection. "We've all spent a whole year in front of a screen, so I want the team to go watch a person who's been cutting the same bonsai for 60 years," he says.
Christiansen has compiled a list of events and locations around Tokyo for his employees to experience each day, ranging from iconic buildings to fashion shows and critically acclaimed restaurants. (They're not actually required to do anything, though—if they want, they could just sit in their hotel room or go meet Bill Murray.) Christiansen sees the trip as a very loosely scheduled celebration of personal discovery, with team members regrouping each evening for dinner and discussion.
He is hardly a Japan "fetishist," though. His office isn't full of ink wash paintings. But he has long admired certain aspects of Japanese art, design and culture, and he hopes to instill some of those abstract values in his employees.
"I have a jealousy of certain things the Japanese do: the ceremony of meeting people, making gestures of respect and taking care of people; the sense of patience," he says. "My friends in Tokyo talk about how their entire staff cleans the offices every morning and takes taxis home together every night."
He wants his own employees to apply this spirit of mutual respect and generosity to their relationships both with clients and fellow team members.
In case you were wondering, the trip won't be all about scholarly observation. "I want to have a crazy time, drink too much sake and sing karaoke all night," Christiansen says, "but also get culturally displaced and come back ready to tear things up."
Employees will eventually create a hardcover book documenting their trip. But if you want to get early glimpses of the experience, you can follow Christiansen on Instagram (which coincidentally doubles as Chandelier Creative's account).
"I hope this is the first of many years of doing this," he says. Time will tell.