Urban home boy: Interview with designer Trevor Lunn

GIVEN his influence over what women the world over are wearing, Trevor Lunn has a surprising confession to make.

"I'm terrible with fashion," concedes the Loanhead-born creative director of cult US clothing store Anthropologie. Over lunch in Chelsea, NewYork's gallery district, where he is overseeing a fashion shoot, he continues, "Ninety per cent of the time I wear jeans. I wear boots from one manufacturer because they fit and they're comfortable. I wear Paul Smith shirts because I think he's a genius, but this one is six years old. I absolutely never imagined I'd end up here."

What the self-effacing Scot lacks in personal style he more than makes up for with his design skills. This season his company, Urban Outfitters Inc, is responsible for two of the most hotly anticipated developments on the UK high street. October saw the opening of Anthropologie's first European outlet, in London, and this month sister brand Urban Outfitters finally comes to the Scottish capital, with the opening of a sprawling newstore on Princes Street this weekend. Glasgow has had a branch in Buchanan Street since 2000.

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As he orders swordfish and a glass of water, Lunn casually lets slip that Anthropologie could soon be arriving in Scotland.

"We are having the whole Edinburgh versus Glasgow debate at the moment," says the 43-year-old, "I favour opening in Edinburgh but that's probably because I'm from there and know it better. Glasgow is also a possibility."

Together with his American wife Kristin Norris, Anthropologie's executive creative director, Lunn is responsible for the brand's overall look. Since he began working for the company in 2005, he has worked hard to identify his customers.

"I think the reason for the success and distinctive look of both brands is that we really know and understand our customer," he says, before launching into a

well-rehearsed description. "She is an individual. She loves fashion but she isn't a slave to it. She won't wear something just because everyone else is; she adapts it to suit her unique look. She is educated, worldly and charming. She's the woman you want to have over for dinner."

The customer he describes is also someone most women would want to be.

Urban Outfitters was founded in 1970 in Philadelphia and now has 151 stores worldwide. If its customer is an edgy, urban trendsetter, Anthropologie is a style-savvy older sister who appreciates the label's quirky, handmade aesthetic. The firm's buyers and designers scour the globe for unique pieces and inspiration, giving stock a mixture of ethnic, global and vintage influences.

"I don't think anyone pays as much attention to detail as our designers, right down to the choice of buttons and the label inside the garment," says

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Lunn. "The clothes are often an unusual mix of materials and patterns. Or we take a traditional pattern like a paisley pattern and explode the scale."

When Anthropologie opened in London's Regent Street, shoppers took to Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere to rave about it.

A second London store is opening next March, and while Urban Outfitters Inc has plans for more UK outlets, Lunn stresses that world domination is not his style.

"We are always getting e-mails and letters from customers asking us to open a store where they are, everywhere from Australia to Iceland. We will open shops here and there rather than blitzing the whole of the UK and beyond.

"It's important to us to keep things on a local level. Each store is run like a neighbourhood boutique and every store is very different. The Edinburgh Urban Outfitters will be different from the Glasgow store. The King's Road Anthropologie store will be different from the Regent Street one. Britain is a natural fit for us. We always look to Britain for inspiration. There's so much creative talent there, particularly for such a small place."

One of Lunn's favourite parts of his job is coming up with track listings for all the stores. He pulls out his iPod and calls up the music library he put together

for the London launch. His roots, and age, are evident in his choices, which include numbers by Belle and Sebastian, Cocteau Twins, Altered Images, Del Amitri, Edwyn Collins, King Creosote, Helicopter Girl, Dot Allison and Camera Obscura.

"Music is one of the things Scots are best at. There are some great things coming out of Scotland," he says, with evident pride.

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He and Norris and their children, five-year-old Magnus and 18-month-old Imogen, live in a modernist ranch on a half-acre of land in Chestnut Hill, a village on the edge of Philadelphia. Their home is a testament to the tasteful blending of old and new, hand-crafted and machine-made, an ethic that defines the company they work for, and it has been used several times for Anthropologie photo shoots.

"Home is really important to us," says Lunn. "Our house is a place where the kids can have the kind of childhood I had. They can go outside and run around and we don't need to worry about them being safe. It gives them an old-fashioned childhood."

He recently roped in his son to model for the November Anthropologie catalogue, though Magnus reportedly loathed the experience.

With husband and wife working for the same company, Lunn admits it can be difficult to stop working.

"Because we live and work together, we are always talking about work. It's great because we're on the same page, but when you do a job you love you

have to consciously switch off and make sure you give enough time to your family."

It could all have worked out very differently if Lunn had stuck to his original career plan.

After leaving Lasswade High School, he began a degree in medicine. But a summer spent walking the streets of Paris with a camera and sketchbook persuaded him to quit his studies.

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With the help of his former art teacher, he put together a portfolio and applied to go to art college. Fearing his parents' reaction, he held off telling them he'd ditched his medical studies until he learned he'd won a place at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA).

"My brother (who is a psychiatrist] and I were the first in our family to go to university. My parents couldn't understand why I'd give up a secure career. What

I didn't tell them was that at the time I had no idea how I'd turn a fine art degree into a career either."

While at art college he spent his summers teaching wind surfing in the exclusive New York resort of the Hamptons. After getting a first-class degree from

ECA, he began working at a bronze foundry in Edinburgh, doing casting for various artists and galleries.

A couple of years later, he moved to upstate New York to do a masters degree, and it was here that he met his first wife. The couple spent the next few years living between America and Edinburgh, where Lunn picked up freelance design jobs and spent some time working at Richard Demarco's European Art Foundation. The couple later split and Lunn was teaching digital design at Pennsylvania University when he was offered his first job with Anthropologie.

He's not too proud to admit that "shameless nepotism" helped him get his foot in the door, after he and Norris were introduced by mutual friends at a New Year's Eve party. Their friends had been trying to set them up with different people but Lunn and Norris hit it off and were married in 2002 – in their living room, in front of a judge, their dog and the friends who introduced them.

A demanding work schedule means Lunn doesn't get back to Scotland often, but his parents are regular visitors to Philadelphia. And, though he loves his American life, Lunn says he will never take US citizenship.

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"Scottish people are incredibly individual and that leads to a unique sense of style. There's a real individuality of spirit. We take pride in being the underdog and being out there in the leftfield. I identify with that even more since I've been living here. If I had an American passport I'd feel I wasn't being

true to myself."

As for the future, he says, "I had no grand plan. I still don't. I get so inspired by the people I work with. It's such a creative environment. I can't imagine working anywhere else."

More information:www.urbanoutfitters.co.uk


A version of this article first appeared in the 29 November edition of Scotland on Sunday