People in fashion: Urban warrior

The man behind US store Urban Outfitters is nothing like his hip young customers. He's more like their dads. But he certainly knows what they want, says James Sherwood

When Urban Outfitters opened their first UK outlet in June 1998, The Face called Urban chairman Dick Hayne "the Lord Lucan of fashion retail". Had Hayne himself disappeared under shady circumstances and been on the run for decades, he couldn't appear more tight-lipped. We are in the office bunkers below Urban Outfitters' three-storey, 6,500 sq ft store on Kensington High Street. Bar a wall of hastily improvised mood boards cut from magazines, the room is bare. You get the feeling DCI Tennyson is grilling a prime suspect next door.

The middle-aged man in a crisp, white shirt and classic jeans is light years away from the kids upstairs shopping for Maharishi camouflage hip holsters, Mickey Brazil combats or G Star denim.

Urban Outfitters isn't a store. It is a grab-bag of Nineties pop culture, packaged as part art installation, part urban cool coffee bar and part DJ booth (there are turnstiles and CD decks for customers to listen to music on). Urban Outfitters doesn't look contrived. It's not trying too hard and it has been welcomed to Kensington High Street like a long lost university drinking partner who's been living stateside for a while. This is Dick Hayne's brainchild, but it's hard to make the connection between the chairman and the hip kid in the Russell Athletic sweat top weekend shopping for Conscious Earthwear.

"Do I have to identify with the customer? No, I'm 50," says Hayne. "I'm off their radar screen now. I could be in a room with the kids and I would be literally invisible to them. My generation makes them uncomfortable if I become visible. The Urban Outfitters customer is at that date-and mate stage. They wouldn't want their parents around and I can understand that. I don't have to identify but I do have to understand what they want."

There is wisdom in Hayne's anonymity as the co-founder and president of Urban Outfitters. Unlike Calvin Klein, he is not a perma-tanned Peter Pan, living the dream he is selling. Hayne is not selling a dream. He has identified what he calls, "the upscale homeless" generation, and he has built an empire of 31 Urban Outfitters stores supplying their demands.

Empire-builder is too pompous a title for Dick Hayne. He doesn't make with the usual corporate spiel of a grey suit hiding behind a "retail concept". "The upscale homeless are a group of people who leave home to go to college," he says. "Throughout this period, they are at their most inquisitive and experimental. They are interested in realities rather than the facade. They don't believe the hype. Fashion may change but the attitudes of these people don't. Maybe they are more exposed to the layers of deceit the media and TV are putting up now. But that only makes them more sceptical of being 'sold' a lifestyle that isn't theirs."

Bullseye. The target customers of Urban Outfitters, whether in New York or London, are the hardest people to please. Their bullshit detectors are on full power. Hayne doesn't sell a lifestyle. He works from it. "If the product doesn't appeal, then it won't wash," says Hayne. "That's why I have buyers who are much closer to the customer than I am. I don't believe in the pyramid concept of a company, with me at the top making all the decisions. The buyers understand our market because they are living that life. I don't make that call on whether to drop a label if it gets too commercial. That decision belongs to the buyers."

The decision to open Urban Outfitters in London is the culmination of three years' research. It is the first strike in an estimated six further UK Urban outlets and strategic openings in other European cities. Hayne says, "I don't believe you can totally transfer Urban merchandise from the US to the UK. There are basics that may transfer, but it evened out that about 65 per cent of the merchandise for London had to be sourced locally. That's the way to bring Urban to Europe."

Hayne's backstage role in Urban doesn't necessarily mean hands-off. The essential concept - that each Urban store had to have autonomy - is very much his. "We don't want a faceless chain like The Gap," he says. "But neither do we want Disney World fantasies/stores that try to transport you to another world, like Banana Republic trying to create the illusion you are on the Serengeti Plains. Are people really that shallow to be fooled? I don't think so. The customers won't buy it. The concept behind the Kensington High Street store was to strip away the layers. Your Mom and Dad's house is perfect. You don't want that. You want something more honest." The open plan store, designed by Ron Pompeii with input from Dick Hayne, is rough around the edges. Concrete, original brick walls and steel girders are exposed. It subtly touches a raw urban nerve. It whispers reality check. Hayne simply says, "People appreciate a more direct approach."

He may be a master of understatement. He may be reticent about taking all the credit for creating something genuinely new on the British high street. He may even underestimate how in tune he is with the Urban Outfitters kids shopping voraciously upstairs. But Dick Hayne has an attitude that would make him welcome in laid back Soho sofa bars, Old Street art galleries or Monday nights at The Blue Note.

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport