By Josh Sims

When Dubai sees the opening of its first Fashion TV hotel, expected by the end of next year and complete with the world’s largest LED screen broadcasting the channel around the clock, one thing had better be à la mode: the staff uniforms.

  Staff at the Movenpick Ambassador Hotel Accra in Ghana, wearing uniforms designed by Emile Rassam  Courtesy Movenpick
Staff at the Movenpick Ambassador Hotel Accra in Ghana, wearing uniforms designed by Emile Rassam Courtesy Movenpick

After all, Fashion TV will be up against the likes of the new Burj Khalifa Armani hotel, not to mention plans afoot for hotels in Dubai from Elie Saab and Karl Lagerfeld, the latter on Isla Moda, with uniforms designed by Victoria Beckham.

They will be joining the ranks of designers who have either opened hotels in recent years – Versace, Christian Lacroix and Missoni among them – or been hired to make the concierge more catwalk. If fashion insight has long been tapped for the public face of bars and airlines, hotels have come late to the idea but are making up for lost time, with Michael Kors, Yohji Yamamoto, Cynthia Rowley and even Gwen Stefani having signed to design in recent years, as well as increasingly specialist, style-literate corporate uniform design companies.

“So many hotels are opening now that the uniform is becoming vital to giving each an identity, which means proprietors are ready to accept more creativity to get something distinctive,” says Feizel Virani, the designer for the Dubai-based Dream Uniforms.

The company is behind the style at The Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, as well as The Palm’s Jumeirah Zabeel Saray hotel, with uniforms featuring a new blend of grey flannel with black-and-gold embroidered jackets.

“Putting together staff uniforms now is like putting together a complete fashion collection for each hotel,” he explains. “In fact, it’s not about designing uniforms anymore but a kind of hospitality couture that’s as five-star as the property.”

Certainly, according to Virani, the Middle East has become the hotel uniform design hot spot, not simply because of the world-leading rate of new openings – the first Jumeirah hotel in Abu Dhabi, at the Etihad Towers, opens today – but because of the availability both of specialist designers to create their staff style (with more western designers typically tied up in global brands or own-label projects) and, more crucially, of more economical fabrics and manufacture. Not that price is limited anymore: Dh1,800 for a jacket for key staff is now not uncommon for a uniform that has a lifespan – in terms of fashionability – as short as 18 months, compared with perhaps the three to five years that was the industry standard for most of the past decade.

Uniforms are now typically designed and delivered within just four months of contracts being signed.

“That step up in interest is a real change,” says Stuart Chase, the general manager of the new Mövenpick Ambassador Hotel Accra in Ghana. “Too many hotels in the past have overlooked the uniform, but as hotels themselves have moved up to become more designer products, the uniform has had to follow. Staff not only look good, which is more important to the hotel brand now, they feel it too – they’re more motivated and that’s good for service.”

That perhaps explains why the Mövenpick’s uniform, designed by the Beirut and Dubai-based uniform company Emile Rassam, went through 19 drafts before the ideal look was selected. Small wonder, according to Marion Steinger, the senior vice president of the New York-based Top Hat Imagewear, that proprietors are giving staff more and more say in the design of the uniform they will wear, “and inevitably this means staff are pushing for the kind of clothes that chime with the kind of fashions they choose to wear outside of work”.

Michel Noblet, the chief executive of Hospitality Management Holdings, the owners of Coral Hotels & Resorts, went one further: he hosted a fashion show for staff and clientele, followed by feedback sessions and wear trials, before launching the latest series of uniforms, designed by François Desroches of Dubai’s Marketing Pro-Junction. “But then the uniform is increasingly regarded as a feature of the hotel,” says Noblet. “The uniform is an attitude. Its style expresses what the hotel is about. It instils pride.” More info