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High-end designers create uniforms for the masses

By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
updated 12:14 PM EST, Wed February 15, 2012
Sephora's beauty advisers will begin wearing uniforms in April designed by Prabal Gurung exclusively for the cosmetics retailer. Sephora's beauty advisers will begin wearing uniforms in April designed by Prabal Gurung exclusively for the cosmetics retailer.
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Designer uniforms: Service with style
Sophie Theallet
Stylish designer uniforms
Stylish designer uniforms
Stylish designer uniforms
Stylish designer uniforms
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Designers Prabal Gurung and Sophie Theallet create uniforms for the working class
  • Sephora's N. American beauty advisers will start wearing Gurung's creations in April
  • A stylish uniform helps burnish brand, incorporate staff into workplace design motif

(CNN) -- For most designers showing off their latest collections at New York's Fashion Week, functionality isn't a main consideration. Models have been known to strut the catwalk in toppling hats, teetering heels and floor-length gowns with enough ruffled trim to sweep an auditorium.

But not everyone's focused on runway looks 365 days a year. Hot Fashion Week commodities Prabal Gurung and Sophie Theallet are also creating uniforms for working people.

This April, Sephora's beauty advisers in North America will begin wearing uniforms designed by Gurung exclusively for the cosmetics retailer. Women can choose between a black shift dress with a red slit and a black fitted pant suit. Men get sleek black separates that also incorporate slashes of red.

Female staff at the Rose Bar in New York's Gramercy Park Hotel are already donning Theallet's drape dresses in spill-proof silk as part of an overall refresh of the hotel's interiors.

Complete coverage: New York Fashion Week

Designer uniforms: Service with style

The looks are the latest in a long line of collaborations that goes back at least as far as the 1960s, when airlines eagerly sought out high-end designers to give their flight staff a touch of class to set them apart. Halston and Pucci designed uniforms for Braniff Airlines in the 1960s and 1970s; Air France tapped Dior and Nina Ricci in the 1980s.

The trend was popularized among bigger corporations in the 1970s with the help of Stan Herman, who was president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America for 16 years and is a pioneer of the ready-to-wear category. As the designer behind uniforms for FedEx, JetBlue, United Airlines, TWA and McDonald's, his creations are believed to cover more bodies than those of any other single designer.

"The most important thing is likeability," Herman said. "If a corporation walks around in a uniform they don't like, they become a grumpy corporation."

A stylish outfit also helps build a brand and incorporate the staff into the design motif of their workplace.

"Art, fashion and music are all important components which shape our culture here at the Gramercy Park Hotel," said Damion Luaiye, the hotel's creative director.

"In building these relationships, we strive to create a place where we can work together to add a new, interesting element for our guests, whether it be new dresses for our female staff, artwork for our lobby and Rose Bar."

This marks the hotel's second uniform collaboration with a high-end designer, after a successful relationship with Narciso Rodriguez.

The designer also benefits from experiencing a new kind of challenge, said Cindi Leive, editor-in-chief of Glamour.

"I think designers like the uniform challenge because it's exactly that, it's a challenge. To work within certain parameters, it's almost like a reality competition: 'Let me see how I can take these constraints and make them look fantastic.' "

CNN's Ethel Bass and Alina Cho contributed to this report.

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