Zac Posen's new uniforms for Delta employees merge function with new colors and a little more glamour.

Share story

Zac Posen is a designer known for dressing celebrities like Reese Witherspoon and Claire Danes in fantastical Cinderella-like extravaganzas. But his latest project has very little to do with the red carpet — though it does involve a runway of sorts.

Posen’s latest collection — four dozen or so looks — comprises the new uniforms for approximately 60,000 Delta employees working as ticket and gate agents, at the Sky Club and in flight. Employees are allocated a set of points so they can mix and match their outfits by choosing from different pieces, including dresses, skirts and blazers, coats, shirts and pants.

Posen signed on in spring of last year. Though he acknowledges it’s a leap from the collection that bears his name (and even his work for Brooks Brothers, where he is the creative director for women’s, and David’s Bridal, where he sells a line of wedding dresses), he says he wanted to do it for a variety of reasons, from his own love of travel to his belief in the power of a good uniform.

And the fact that, in designing for the friendly skies, he will be joining a line of fashion names that includes Cristobal Balenciaga (who designed uniforms for Air France); Pierre Cardin (Olympic Airlines); Emilio Pucci (Braniff Airways); Pierre Balmain (Singapore Airlines); and Julien MacDonald (British Airways).

As for Delta, its very first uniforms were produced in 1959 under the guidance of Edith Head, the chief designer for Paramount studio and winner of eight Academy Awards for costume design. In 2006, Richard Tyler designed the current styles, which will be replaced by Posen’s new look.

Designer Zac Posen’s new looks for Delta.
Designer Zac Posen’s new looks for Delta.

“I do everything in a suit and a tie, from going to the office to walking my dog,” Posen says. “How you dress helps heighten your performance.” Though not every performance has the same requirements.

“This is not models on the runway at all,” he says, noting that he shadowed Delta employees, including flight attendants and ticket agents, to get a sense of their dressing needs. “These are people who have multiple tasks to do in their jobs. It takes great mental and physical concentration to do those tasks, and to be poised at the same time.”

A select group of about 1,000 flight attendants, airport service agents and ground-support personnel will now test the line in action. The final rollout is expected in 2018.

As part of the design process, Posen worked with a committee of 24 Delta staff members and assessed feedback from 20,000 employees. Elaine Casanova, who has been a flight attendant for 43 years and says she has worn at least six different uniform iterations during that time, was on the committee.

“My biggest concern was that there would be a stain-resistant factor and that the uniforms be fairly wrinkle-free,” she says. “Also that the uniform would be able to go from a cold climate to a warm climate in one trip.”

So what was the end result?

A finished prototype of a blazer and skirt that Posen presented at his showroom last week was made of an ottoman fabric that’s stain-resistant and stretchy. Inside the skirt is a rubber grip to help keep the shirt tucked in, and the blazer has a slot at the top for the walkie-talkies that flight attendants use to communicate. Anti-bacterial materials are woven into the lining of the jacket.

Designer Zac Posen’s new looks for Delta.
Designer Zac Posen’s new looks for Delta.

The colors of the uniform — plum, thistle and cardinal as opposed to the standard blue — may surprise frequent fliers. But the company and its employees wanted a change. When wearing the current shade, Posen says, “they felt ordinary.”

Another complaint that came up was that the old uniforms were too frumpy, according to Posen. Inspired by the form of airplanes and by the ergonomic lines of a vessel moving through space and air, Posen tried to rectify that grievance.

On a plum blazer for women, the back panel flares out, for example, emphasizing or exaggerating the wearer’s curves. With the same purpose clearly in mind, a dress has two curved, scarlet lines that almost converge on the front. “Making all bodies look beautiful is really key,” he says.

On a man’s jacket, part of the lapel is sewn into the fabric for a smoother effect. Decorative scarves have patterns that change in scale to make the fabric appear more dimensional.

Aside from the color, these changes may be too subtle for most casual fliers to register. The uniforms follow a classic formula of being fitted yet modest and don’t scream designer (cool school principal is more like it). But Casanova, for one, was pleased. “It’s professional looking, but it’s going to bring back glamour, which we had in the ’70s,” she says.

Prepare for takeoff.