Virgin Atlantic’s new airline uniforms. (Courtesy: Virgin Atlantic)
East London’s rush hour was interrupted Tuesday night as a line of red-suited flight attendants strutted down Shoreditch High Street en route to the Village Underground. The occasion? The much-anticipated launch of Virgin Atlantic’s Vivienne Westwood-designed uniforms, set for rollout in September.
Prior to the event, Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson sat down with Yahoo Travel to discuss his collaboration with Westwood and to reflect on the 30-year anniversary of the airline.
Virgin’s new pilot look — always in season. (Courtesy: Virgin Atlantic)
The Branson-Westwood pairing isn’t exactly new. “I first worked with Vivienne Westwood many years ago when we [Virgin Records] had the Sex Pistols. She was the girlfriend of Malcolm McLaren and designed the Sex Pistols’ clothes as well as the punk clothes of that era. Her clothes were outrageous then and have been wonderfully outrageous ever since.”
In May 2013, Branson approached the British fashion maven with a challenge: Undertake the fourth redesign of Virgin Atlantic’s uniforms. “I told her she had to keep the iconic red color and the red shoes,” says Branson. “What she had left to work with was quite tough.” Westwood was up to the task, which entailed designing uniforms for more than 7,500 Virgin staff members, including pilots, cabin crew, Clubhouse staff, and Virgin Holidays employees.
Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson and designer Vivienne Westwood. (Courtesy: Virgin Atlantic)
Among the 22 uniform elements is a red “Bettina” jacket akin to one Westwood designed in the early ’90s. A matching red pencil skirt and ’40s French couture-cut, double-breasted drape coat complete the ensemble. Also new to the mix are handbags by the Ethical Fashion Initiative in Nairobi in collaboration with the International Trade Centre, United Nations. Male staff sport Savile Row-inspired three-piece suits in a deep burgundy Oxford weave wool. Present on all staff — hand-drawn wing pins designed by Westwood.
A crew member look. (Courtesy: Virgin Atlantic)
Beyond adhering to her well-tailored, signature designs, Westwood was adamant that the uniforms be ethically minded, with sustainability being key. Fabrics were made using recycled materials such as plastic bottles and canvas from reused roadside banners. Durability comes by way of nano-finishing.
Special care was also taken in the design of Virgin’s trademark red shoes. The heel has an hourglass shape, and the sole is nonslip. The new design is SATRA (Shoe and Allied Trade Research Association) tested and approved, and must withstand the average 7 miles each flight attendant walks per flight.
A final touch for female employees: lipstick developed by Joe Corré (Westwood’s son) of British makeup brand Illamasqua to match the red uniforms. The shade’s name: Virgin.
Note how the lipstick matches the uniforms. (Courtesy: Virgin Atlantic)
The end result of the Branson-Westwood collaboration? Function meets form. Sleek meets vavoom. Or, as Branson puts it bluntly, “The girls look very sexy in the uniforms, and why shouldn’t there be a glamorous outfit at an airline? Vivienne’s managed to do that.”
When models wearing the uniform took to the stage of the Village Underground, a shy Westwood was lifted up to join them, only to utter modestly of her designs, “They look really posh.”
Now that the Virgin staff is all suited up, Branson has new ventures for them to undertake. Before making those revelations, he spoke about the 30 years that brought the airline to where it is today. The high point for Branson? “Survival; it’s been damn good,” he reflects. “We’ve competed with 19 American carriers in the last 30 years, starting with one plane compared to the 3,000 planes of those 19 carriers combined. Every single one of those carriers have gone bust, not just once, but about four times. We’ve kept the same staff, the same overhead. We’re proud of surviving, and it’s been fun.”
Virgin Galactic — ready for blastoff (Photo: Getty Images)
Coming up later this year: Virgin Galactic’s first space flight. Not one to rest on his laurels, Branson already has a follow-up act in mind. “The engineers working on Virgin Galactic want to start looking at point-to-point air travel,” he says. “That’s obviously ridiculously exciting. If we can, one day, transport people around the world in less than an hour, that will be a fantastic halo for the rest of the Virgin brand. That’s what we’d love to be able to do.”