The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - GLOBE STYLE -

From min­i­mal­ist wait staff uni­forms to retro-in­spired ho­tel decor, Globe Style’s fre­quent fliers re­port on the fash­ion and de­sign that is in­flu­enc­ing the hos­pi­tal­ity world

Wardrobes for front-of-house staff at res­tau­rants and bars are be­com­ing less for­mal. And as Ellen Himel­farb finds, the new looks are em­pow­er­ing the work­ers who wear them

The own­ers of Luca, a new “Bri­tal­ian” trat­to­ria set in Lon­don’s cob­bled Clerken­well streetscape, wanted to con­vey a sense of calm in their smart, am­ber-lit space. One of the ways they’ve achieved this is with selvedge denim.

Staff at the restau­rant wear jet-black selvedge jeans from the in­de­pen­dent Bri­tish la­bel Folk, paired with an oaty-toned cot­ton shirt and fin­ished with a waist apron to keep the look sim­ple. “That’s im­por­tant,” says restau­ra­teur co-owner Johnny Smith, “be­cause the Folk look is clean and we didn’t want to put an apron over the shirt.”

The en­sem­ble re­flects Smith’s ap­proach to fine din­ing in Lon­don: high-qual­ity clas­sics with a mod­ern twist. When he and part­ners Daniel Wil­lis and Isaac McHale launched Luca’s pre­de­ces­sor the Clove Club in 2013, they com­mis­sioned pale-grey shirts and dark-indigo selvedge denim in a be­spoke chino cut from the Ja­panese streetwear re­tailer Beams Plus. The pin­striped aprons (and match­ing bread­bas­ket cloths) came from Welsh tai­lor Ti­mothy Ever­est. To­gether they amount to the sar­to­rial rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the lo­ca­tion, a grand, grey-stone East Lon­don vestry hall up­dated with sal­vaged wood and teal-blue sub­way tile – and, of course, of the mod­ern Bri­tish menu.

“Daniel and I were keen from day one to get the am­biance right, from the mu­sic to the decor to the uni­forms,” says Smith. “We set out to cre­ate a restau­rant for our gen­er­a­tion.”

If you’ve ever clocked the G-Star aprons at the fash­ion­able Jane restau­rant in An­twerp, or the ca­sual shirt sleeves at Noma in Copen­hagen, you’ll have no­ticed the easy, light ap­proach to fine-din­ing uni­forms is a global trend. As Miche­lin-star res­tau­rants do away with table­cloths, they’re also abol­ish­ing neck­ties. “More and more for­mal res­tau­rants are in­for­mal­iz­ing their uni­forms, be­cause they want to break peo­ple’s stereo­types about what’s ex­pected from that restau­rant,” says Smith. “It’s quite a cal­cu­lated state­ment.”

You’ll see it in the global pro­lif­er­a­tion of Ja­panese-de­signed work­wear, pinafores, loose cot­ton waist­coats and cross-bib aprons – adding up to a front-of-house look seem­ingly lifted off the pages of Kin­folk magazine, the Dan­ish-based ar­biter of the low-fi ur­ban life­style. But per­haps more than any­where, Lon­don res­tau­rants are brands with com­mer­cial clout, and uni­forms are a plat­form for pres­tige col­lab- ora­tions. In this back-to-ba­sics era, food and fash­ion part­ner­ships are dou­bling down.

The flam­boy­ant restau­rant Sketch be­came a sym­bol for Lon­don ex­cess when it opened 15 years ago. Yet when its re­cent din­ing-room re­design was un­der­way, with in­te­ri­ors by In­dia Mah­davi and art by David Shrigley, leisurewear de­signer Richard Ni­coll was com­mis­sioned to cre­ate the uni­forms. Ni­coll, who died last year, de­liv­ered cot­ton T-shirt dresses for the women and boiler suits for the men, all in util­i­tar­ian pale grey. They made a state­ment that Sketch had moved on from its but­toned-up power-lunch­ing be­gin­nings. And at the celeb stomp­ing ground the Chiltern Fire­house, where chef Nuno Men­des wears a dark-wash cot­ton apron fas­tened with a tan leather strap, owner An­dré Balazs hired Emilia Wick­stead – a Bri­tish de­signer of clean, sim­ple sil­hou­ettes – to fash­ion open-backed short-sleeved blue jump­suits for the hosts.

Lon­don cre­atives are a tight-knit crowd and of­ten part­ner­ships are formed over a pint at the pub or around the kitchen ta­ble. Skye Gyn­gell com­mis­sioned her good friend Mau­reen Do­herty, founder of ca­sual cloth­ier Egg, to do the staff uni­forms for her el­e­gant Spring restau­rant in Som­er­set House – though Do­herty’s Bre­ton shirts and un­but­toned vests come off less classy, more part-time mime. Granger & Co., a small chain of healthy, Aus­tralian-in­spired cafés, did it bet­ter with slouchy cham­bray shirts by Syd­ney la­bel Jac & Jack, a col­lab it an­nounces right on the menus.

Sure enough, the mar­ket for a style-led front-of-house has opened the door to en­trepreneurs who fo­cus ex­clu­sively on uni­form de­sign. Jane Porter, a for­mer fash­ion buyer, founded Stu­dio 104 to keep Lon­don’s high-end ho­tels look­ing sharp and rel­e­vant. Bar­ris­tas seek­ing old-fash­ioned aprons in waxed can­vas or leather will find a half dozen mak­ers with work­shops in east or south Lon­don. And this year Granger & Co. switched al­le­giance to the Uni­form Stu­dio, pur­veyor of chic, mod­ern liv­ery that blurs the line be­tween mas­ter and ser­vant. “Work­ers want to look a cer­tain way, too,” says Lois Hill, who founded the cloth­ing com­pany with a line of tuxedo vests and pussy-bow blouses for Ket­tner’s, a now-closed iconic brasserie in Soho.

A for­mer stylist and cos­tume de­signer, Hill had lost in­ter­est in the fash­ion in­dus­try’s de­mand for sea­sonal change and saw a mar­ket for func­tional, hard-wear­ing clas­sics that hap­pen to tie in nicely with the cur­rent café cul­ture and hip­ster zeit­geist: “There wasn’t that much com­pe­ti­tion in the in­dus­try. And not much good de­sign ei­ther.” She says she’s in­spired by Bauhaus “form fol­lows func­tion” ide­ol­ogy and 18th-cen­tury French work­wear – like the blue work­man’s jacket with pock­ets, worn by the late pho­tog­ra­pher Bill Cun­ning­ham. Th­ese val­ues surely en­deared her to the staff at the new De­sign Mu­seum, who com­mis­sioned a range of fit­ted dark denim aprons for the café, shop and ex­hi­bi­tions. And Hill’s cig­a­rette pants for the shop girls at Anya Hind­march and shift dresses for Soho House have had a hand in mak­ing front-of-house work ac­cept­ably cool.

She likens it to brand am­bas­sador­ship – no dif­fer­ent from a celebrity pitch­man. “In­creas­ingly, my clients are a step ahead now,” she says. “They want to feel like they’re on trend.”

‘There wasn’t that much com­pe­ti­tion in the in­dus­try. And not much good de­sign ei­ther’ – LOIS HILL, FOUNDER, THE UNI­FORM STU­DIO


WORK WEAR Lon­don-based Uni­form Stu­dio has adopted a more util­i­tar­ian look for hos­pi­tal­ity garb (left), in­clud­ing pieces for clients such as pri­vate mem­ber’s club Soho House (far left). The De­sign Mu­seum com­mis­sioned the com­pany to cre­ate up­dated aprons for its gift shop staff (be­low).

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