More and more hotels are working with fashion designers on bespoke uniforms, is this a trend? What are the key reasons for doing so, and are uniform companies responding? Vicki Williams investigates to learn more.

From the growing number of hotels introducing fashion designer uniforms it would seem that function and fashion are becoming increasingly equally important. One of the latest to work with a designer is SO Sofitel Hua Hin, Thailand. Teaming up with illustrious Thai fashion designer Polpat Asavaprapha, founder and creative director of ASAVA, the uniforms are an extension of the resort’s Imaginative Escape concept. This is not the first designer uniforms for the SO Sofitel brand, others include properties in Mauritius and Bangkok working with such fashion legends as Kenzo Takada and Christian Lacroix.

Inspiration for the Hua Hin design was drawn from the destination itself, a popular Thai beach getaway since the 1970s. “What was important in the design of the uniform was that it had to be stylish and at the same time feature elements of fun and playfulness, and most importantly, be comfortable and casual,” says Asavaprapha.

Chidchanok Pasinpong, GM, SO Sofitel Hua Hin added, “A signature component of the SO Sofitel brand is having a fashion signature designer for each property. It is a unique approach that defines the brand as a leader in being a lifestyle hotel with fashion forward thinking. Our target market is stylish socialisers who appreciate fashion and design, which is core to the brand. We express this through our uniforms.” Also adding, “When ambassadors (our staff) look great, they also feel great, and are able to deliver a dynamic and fashionable service to guests.”

Pasinpong, who believes that both the design and the function are of equal importance says that uniforms do make a difference to a guest experience. “A great uniform expresses the different positions in a restaurant to the guest. And, a well-designed uniform empowers with a sense of authority and projects confidence to guests.”

Adding, “Our guests love the uniforms, but our ambassadors love them even more. They are proud to be wearing a top designer brand. The uniforms are an integral part of delivering the whole SO Sofitel brand experience to our guests.”

Another to recently introduce designer uniforms is Belmond’s Eastern & Oriental Express. Drawing inspiration from the Golden Age of Fashion, emerging talent, and fashionista favourite, Thattaworn Sugunnasil has created a new collection of uniforms featuring French tailoring. Founder and creative director of Vvon Sugunnasil, Thattaword says, “My ideas for the uniforms are inspired by the actual travel experience which is of a level beyond luxury; sensual onboard refinement and inspiring views along the way.”

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The uniforms are also minimalist interpretations of classic Oriental style, with individual uniforms specifically designed for each area of the train. For example, the Bar Manager is attired in elegant emerald silk, while the waiters wear the classic white shirt and black trouser ensemble, the sharp lines bring a contemporary note.

While designer uniforms may be the option for an increasing number, many many other brands are still turning to leading uniform companies for their fashion forward on-trend uniforms, such as Chef Works. The company has thousands of unique accounts across Asia, including Wynn Palace Macau and W Hotel Shanghai. Adam Josselsohn, Chef Works China director says, “We launched over 250 new products styles this year.” One of the hottest items is the Berkely Apron, which instead of a traditional neck strap has a cross-back suspender strap.

“We have seen a move away from overly formal and stiff looks to more natural free-flowing designs. There is also now a big focus on the artist and the artisan craft, for example making the mixologist take centre stage. We have designed uniform concepts to support these new heroes.”

Another big trend is pastels. “What is really hot at the moment is pastel colours and tone on tone styling, with lighter on darker and playing around with different hues,” says Josselsohn.

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He too agrees with other interviewees that fashion and function are both important. “There will always be a yin and yang balance between the two. It is important to find the best synergy to create originality and uniqueness each brand wants with the comfort and functionality that their end users require.”

Looking to the future Josselsohn is optimistic. “We are really enjoying where the industry is at the moment, especially with the increase in the luxury independent resort space and also the continuation of casual dining. From a product standpoint some of the new technologies are really interesting and fun to work with. Chef Works continues to view Asia and China as the most exciting geographical area for the foreseeable future and we will continue to set the benchmark in terms of trend-setting and good value.”