That awkward fashion faux pas—arriving at a party in the same designer dress as another guest—is now happening in some of the trendiest restaurants. But these days, it could be the waiter or hostess who's sporting the same stylish outfit as fashion-forward customers, as restaurants increasingly turn to clothing designers to create their staff uniforms. Image-conscious operators say it's a way to integrate the food, décor and dress into one polished package that attracts trendsetting diners. As an added perk, staff members are loving the look.
Palo Alto, California
Owner: Anne Le
Designer: Calvin Tran
"My restaurant has an authentic but contemporary Vietnamese menu with high-style presentation," says Le. "Plus, we cater to a cosmopolitan crowd of venture capitalists, lawyers and other Silicon Valley types. I wanted something a little more cutting edge," for the uniforms. Le turned to friend Tran, and the two agreed that he would create a new uniform for Tamarine—a modern version of the al gaiy, the traditional "long shirt" worn by women in Vietnam. Tran translated the look into black tunics for Tamarine's hostesses. Le is catering the opening of Tran's newest boutique in exchange.
New York, New York
Owners: Sascha and Latoya Lyon
Designer: Norman Norell
The uniforms at Sascha—like the restaurant's soaring space and menu's elegant interpretation of early 20th century fine dining—are meant to evoke the 1930s era when Manhattan's Meatpacking District was in full swing, dining out was "a huge deal" among New York's elite and Cuba was the vacation destination. Latoya collaborated with the designers and they came up with a sailor-inspired uniform "that's sexy and flattering on several body types." "It reminds me of that cigarette-girl look from the Stork Club of the '30s," she says. The original design and manufacture cost $40,000.
Los Angeles, California
Owners: Michael Cimarusti and Donato Poto
Designers: Joseph Shuldiner and Dolf Castillo
These designer uniforms are collarless hapi coats—the traditional garb of a rural Japanese farmer—worn over a black T-shirt and flat-front pants. "Castillo cut muslin mock-ups from an antique hapi coat, making it slightly boxier with extended cuffs," says Shuldiner, who looked to Cimarusti's cuisine (seafood with French/Japanese accents) and the restaurant's color palette (burgundy/olive green/ oatmeal) for inspiration. Seamstresses added a hidden sash inside the waist and lined the cuffs with different colors to denote servers' ranks. Providence's logo is machine-embroidered on the front. "The uniforms make a statement but don't draw attention away from the food," says Shuldiner, who worked for free on the designs. "Our goal was to make the restaurant and the menu the star."
New York, New York
GM and Partner: Akiva Elstein
Designer: Rogan Gregory
Elstein asked Gregory for a design that echoed the art deco character of the restaurant and its strong "worker" theme: the restaurant's owners also work as employees behind the bar and in the front and back of the house; the restaurant is an after-hours destination for industry folks; and the motif draws on the labor union culture of the 1920s and '30s. Gregory, who only charged for materials and labor, came up with a chambray dress (for female servers only) with a drop waist and blouson top and a bib collar—a feminine take on traditional '30s work-wear that incorporates a bit of the flapper silhouette of the times.