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NEW YORK — Talk about a match made in British heaven. Vivienne Westwood and Richard Branson — both known to buck the norm in their own ways — have joined forces, with the irreverent designer creating the new uniforms for Branson’s Virgin Atlantic airline.
This story first appeared in the May 2, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Westwood, who first made a fashion splash during the punk era, designed men’s and women’s uniforms that combine her Forties couture proclivities with Savile Row touches. Don’t expect Westwood’s uniforms to be as theatrical as her typical runway fare, though. The designer went for a functional pieces — these are clothes for work after all — with just the right amount of whimsical detail. For the female cabin crew, for instance, a red suit, nipped at the waist and curved at the hip, features strategically placed bust pleats as well as a dart and double pleat in the back. The male counterpart’s burgundy three-piece suit has gray, shadowlike details under the lapels and pockets.
There’s also a focus on using sustainable materials, which both Westwood and Branson are passionate about. “I am always trying to find fabrics that are more friendly to the environment,” Westwood said. “Working with Virgin Atlantic, they managed to research into this and find more eco fabrics.”
Virgin Atlantic is developing each look with Closed Loop Recycling to allow for maximum sustainability from the suits — many of which feature recycled polyester made from used plastic bottles — to bags for the ground staff, which are being made via the Ethical Africa Programme along with the International Trade Centre. These are being produced in Nairobi’s Kibera slum from materials like recycled roadside banners and brass.
Once fully launched next year, the uniforms will be sported by more than 7,500 of Virgin Atlantic’s airline staff, from pilots to cabin crew, Clubhouse staff and Virgin Holidays employees. The uniforms will start rolling out for a trial period in July, so that cabin crew and ground staff can provide feedback to allow for design changes before the official launch.
“Virgin Atlantic has a distinct spirit and, from a design perspective, we continually try to challenge the norm and stand out from the crowd,” Branson said. “When we were choosing the designer for this project, we wanted to work with a group of people who share our spirit of adventure, who believe in challenging the status quo and creating something truly memorable.”