An interview with Reena Hammer, Creative Director of luxury hair and beauty destinations The Urban Retreat Beautique and The Urban Retreat Group.

Reena Hammer is not at all how I imagined. I have to admit that the little I knew of her amounted to some spurious Daily Mail gossip on the nature of her past relationship (with a well known yet troubled actor) and her link to uber cosmetics brand Ruby and Millie in the form her mother, founder and celebrated makeup artist Ruby Hammer. A gilded childhood then? A life of ease, affluence and privilege? Followed swiftly by a promotion to the role of Creative Director of Urban Retreat owned by her father George Hammer? Could it all have been that easy?

The answer is a resounding no, because Reena Hammer is much more than the sum of her parts, much more than her tentative ‘public’ persona would suggest; professional, forthright, and really rather nice (not to mention well dressed). A young woman used to confounding expectations it seems. ‘It’s just the feeling you’ve got something to prove,‘ she says of her swift ascent - and prove it she has, especially given her parents lack of, ‘up the ladder morals,’ that might have made the transition that little bit easier.

How did it feel I wonder, to come up against such a challenge as a young woman (Reena joined the company at 19, taking on the role of Creative Director at 23); ‘I can’t explain it,’ she says when referring to the changing nature of people’s perceptions. ‘It’s literally one day and then the next; something happens, and people talk to you differently - that confidence you find massively rewarding.’ Though she makes it sound like a serendipitous meeting of chance, opportunity and latent business acumen, in fact there was a period at the grindstone before her father George handed over the reigns, ‘It has been a much longer process than people realise,’ she says. ‘I always say there is an element to my education that has come from childhood – from my mum and dad. I would go to see friends with them, I would hear the conversations when they went to a party, I was around all the products, surrounded by people - I kind of absorbed a lot, I have to admit it was a sponge-like education.’

This ‘apprenticeship’ led to Reena overseeing a series of building projects; the first ‘trial’ on which she cut her teeth; ‘I worked with my dad and the architects, on all the building work - supervising, because he obviously has another million things he’s working on.’ This collaboration marked the beginning of the father and daughter partnership, one that has proved fruitful to say the least. ‘Me and my dad work very well together, we have a similar way of doing things, but he’s a little more gung-ho than me,’ she laughs. ‘I’m a little bit more calculating - we kind of complement each other in different ways…’

There’s a real sense of respect in her voice, for what her parents have achieved; ‘I mean there is only me, an only child, my parents are both incredibly successful, incredibly driven - my dad is from a mining village in Yorkshire.’ If anything she’s aware there’s legacy to live up to; her ascent to the role of Creative Director was ‘actually a lot faster than I thought it would be, because I know my dad would never under any circumstances have me here, if I wasn’t pulling my weight.’

So now to the brains developing the brand; the reason we’re here after all, to discuss Urban Retreat, the beauty emporium that counts amongst its assets not only a range of salons across the UK, but also serviced apartments, as well as a burgeoning online presence in the form of the Urban Retreat Beautique e-commerce site, full of luxurious high performance products that make the average woman’s mouth water. What is Reena’s manifesto, given that Urban Retreat is no TOWIE inspired beauty parlour, but a serious raison d’etre? A brand that has scaled the heights of the beauty industry with remarkable attention to detail, a constant emphasis on luxury, married with consummate customer service (I should know I’ve been having my hair done there for years).

Well to start with online, it’s all about traffic and in-store multi channel marketing. In Reena’s words; ‘I think the biggest thing for me, was that this place never had a marketing, or an advertising or a kind of a media solution… It wasn’t looked at like a store.’ Changing the emphasis to a retail led business is Reena’s priority; ‘We promote, we sell, we advertise… I think now we are doing very well actually,’ she says with pride. ‘We are able to do so much more. For me it’s not about making money - it’s about funding all the stuff that we do and being able to do more.’

A spike in profits (53% up on last year) is, in no small part down to Reena‘s strategy; taking advantage of the legion of makeup artists, hairdressers and beauty experts working at Urban Retreat. ‘There are two hundred and seventy odd staff who work for us all of whom are experts - I want to bring their expertise to an online environment.’ Another aspect is an incredibly curated selection of products; ‘Everything, I mean every single thing that’s here and online is chosen by our buying committee, which is made up of me, our commercial director, Tracey Woodward and two other great beauty insiders. It’s quite a laborious process sometimes - but that’s the way we do it - it’s really important to us.’

So Reena certainly walks the walk and talks the talk. We pause for a moment, taking a slight tangent to her own online presence. I mention a slew of celebrity blogs lighting up her Google results, many of them focused on said ‘famous actor’, and quoting her directly. ‘It’s completely untrue,’ she says gravely. ‘Absolutely all of it… I would never say any of that, I’m a very private person.’ So these ‘interviews’ are fabricated, has she ever tried to get them taken down? ‘I definitely believe that once you start dealing with it, it just makes everything more of an issue… It is annoying - I work really hard and I work in an industry were all of that’s quite important, especially with all of the big brands, and I’m sure they look that up.’

I feel empathy for her, amazed at the candour with which she discusses her past and the steely-eyed determination that has driven her forwards. As she greets an acquaintance, my mind drifts to the ten minutes preceding the interview; when I cast a beady eye across the room, Reena holding court at a nearby table, a much older man listening intently to her each and every word. She smiles at the mention; ‘You realise they appreciate it, when they address you - when you’ve worked with them - that’s awesome actually… I am still very young - but it’s all happened,’ and indeed it has, but for Reena Hammer I’d wager it’s just the beginning…

December 2012.

Interview by Alice Kahrmann