- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

ATLANTA (AP) — Cash-strapped Delta Air Lines has ordered up a makeover of its employee uniforms, hiring a big-name designer who promises a classier — and, in some ways, sexier — look for flight attendants, airport agents and other workers.

The Atlanta-based carrier said yesterday that overseeing the uniform change will be Los Angeles designer Richard Tyler, whose dresses have been worn by such Hollywood stars as Julia Roberts, Heather Locklear and Jamie Lee Curtis.

“I want them to look sexy and great, but you have to keep that classic look as well,” Mr. Tyler said.

All Delta would say about the new uniforms is that they will be better fitting and more durable. Their color, which is currently gray, could also change.

Delta refused to say how much the project will cost — a new outfit Tyler created for actor Pierce Brosnan was $3,500 — or give specifics about the new design. No mannequins or pictures were displayed at a news conference announcing the project. The new uniforms will debut in 2006.

The potentially expensive move comes amid months of cost-cutting initiatives at Delta, which has lost more than $3 billion in three years and laid off 16,000 employees since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Andrea Taylor, a Delta flight attendant and union advocate from New York, said she has concerns about the money being spent on new uniforms in light of pay and benefit cuts.

“That money would be much better spent supporting the livelihood of Delta flight attendants,” she said.

But Miss Taylor acknowledged the current gray uniforms are not exactly fashion forward. “We have been referred to as prison wardens wearing them,” she said.

Uniforms for flight attendants, gate and ticket agents, and airport lounge officials will get a complete makeover — from their shirts or blouses to their pants, gloves, hats and scarves. Technical operations workers, maintenance crews and baggage handlers will see minor changes in their outfits.

As many as 35,000 of the airline’s 60,000 employees will be affected. Delta’s pilots, locked in a protracted battle with management over wage concessions, are a notable exception. Their uniforms, which have not changed substantially in decades, will not be redesigned.

Delta is not the only airline to bring in a big name to help redesign its uniforms.

Its low-cost subsidiary, Song, had Kate Spade design its flight attendants’ uniforms. Fashion designer Stan Herman helped design pilot uniforms for carriers such as United Airlines, JetBlue and the defunct Eastern Airlines.

Delta officials said the decision to redesign uniforms is a “wise investment” that will boost morale among employees and increase the airline’s bottom line in the long run.

Sharon Wibben, Delta’s senior vice president of in-flight service, joked that new chief executive Gerald Grinstein wants to be the first person fitted with a new uniform.

Delta first started courting Mr. Tyler for the project a year ago, when airline officials flew to Los Angeles to meet with him. He said at first he was unsure whether he wanted to take on such a big project, but he believes the opportunity is too great to pass up.

“This is the dawn of Delta, it’s the beginning,” the designer said.

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