THE WAGES OF HIP: Forbes Ranks Urban Outfitters Founder As One Of The Richest Men In America

INQUIRER: The super-rich got richer, but not so much in the Philadelphia area, according to Forbes’ new list of the wealthiest Americans. No new local names joined the four from last year, and the quartet’s estimated collective worth was up less than 3 percent. Nationwide, however, the Forbes 400 Richest Americans saw their portfolios bulge by 8 percent, as the cutoff to join the club rose to $1 billion from $950 million. The Philadelphia-area members are: Richard Hayne, 63, the Urban Outfitters founder who lives in the city, ranked 308 with $1.3 billion, about the same as a year ago. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: The irony of Richard Hayne–the undisputed king of under-30 retail cool–is that there’s nothing remotely hip about him. Nothing at all. With his loosely knotted yellow silk power tie and boardroom-blue dress shirt, he looks like a typical $1,000-a-plate Republican fundraiser attendee. An eyeglass case bulges nerdily in his breast pocket, his teeth are slightly crooked and a few thin strands of hair arc over a small constellation of moles mapping the northward advance of his forehead.

He is even-toned, courteous and articulate. Although he rarely makes direct eye contact when talking, Hayne projects a Dick Cheney-esque aura of no-nonsense gray flannel gravitas. Like all niche retailers, Hayne’s relationship with his customers is a sort of reverse Dorian Gray: He gets older and they stay the same age, eternally 18 to 26. He long ago gave up on trying to figure out what young people want to buy, turning over purchasing decisions to a cadre of hip, plugged-in twenty- and thirtysomethings who routinely crisscross the capitals of cool–New York, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo–in search of the new new thing.

“If you are fiftysome years old, as I am, and your job is to figure out what a 21-year-old woman wants to wear to attract a male, there is probably something wrong,” he says. “She certainly doesn’t want me to know what that is.”

To maintain the company’s fashion- forward edge, buyers are encouraged to fail. “If everything a buyer is putting in the store is selling, then they are not taking enough risks, they are not experimenting enough,” says Hayne. “It’s not rocket science. We just try to give our customers what they want: something to wear on a Friday night that will make the boys look at them–or the girls look at them. We have two rules: ‘It’s okay to fail’ and ‘Never look in the rearview mirror.'”

When Hayne says “we,” he is essentially saying “I.” He is the company president, after all. He’s never had much reason to fear failure. The day he started what would become a $700 million retail colossus with just $4,500, a few high-minded ideals and a lot of hard work, Hayne stared failure in the eye, and failure blinked and moved on in search of easier prey. He’s never had much use for looking in the rearview mirror, either.

Still, when PW was forcing him to march down memory lane, he recalled how seeing Dylan and Joan Baez perform in 1964 was a transformational experience. It opened his eyes to everything that was phony and uptight and unjust in the world–and made him want to change the world. And there is a part of him that believes he has done just that in his own small way. But as the hippie party of the ’60s devolved into the post-Vietnam hangover of the ’70s, it must have occurred to him that idealism–like the length of your hair or the cut of your clothes or rebellion itself–was nothing more than fashion. And fashion is a commodity to be bought and sold for a profit. MORE

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