In Bid for Prominence, China’s Hainan Airlines Taps Laurence Xu to Design New Uniforms

Chinese fashion designer Laurence Xu, who unveiled his latest collection this past week at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week, is slated to design the next set of flight attendant uniforms for Hainan Airlines, China’s fourth-largest carrier.

Based on the designs of the previous generations, the new “fifth generation” uniforms will incorporate popular Western fashion elements to refresh the classic design with contemporary sensibilities.

Xu is renowned for his ability to combine Eastern and Western aesthetics. For his latest uniform designs, he created a version of the traditional Chinese “qipao” dress but with Western-style draping, aiming to highlight a sense of elegance, femininity and practicality for the flight attendants.

The redesign, the first in seven years, comes at a strategic time for the carrier, which is looking to expand further into the global territory and become one of the world’s most prominent carriers According to Bloomberg, Sun Jianfeng, the President of Hainan Airlines, said he planned to double the number of international flights from China’s second-tier cities to cash in on the ongoing travel boom in the country.

Image: Laurence Xu’s official Weibo account.

Talks between Xu and the carrier about a collaboration started about two years ago. According to a press release by Hainan Airlines Technologies, they reviewed over 1,000 design drafts and tested more than 100 samples of garments and accessories before reaching to the final version.

Hainan Airlines is not the first carrier to partner with fashion designers to create uniforms for flight attendants. Back in 1988 when China launched its first major national carrier, Air China, its flight attendants dressed in Pierre Cardin-designed, knee-length skirts. The attire marked a symbolic breakthrough for women’s fashion in the People’s Republic since at the time, women were required to wear long nylon trousers that did not reveal their legs.

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. flight attendants walk down the catwalk to present the company's new uniforms in Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, June 22, 2011. Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. flight attendants walk down the catwalk to present the company’s new uniforms in Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, June 22, 2011. Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

In 2013, the Shanghai-based China Eastern Airline introduced new uniforms designed by the French designer Christian Lacroix, representing the elegant Asian style that is “simple and dignified.” Cathay Pacific Airlines, on the other hand, has worked with the Hong Kong haute couture fashion designer Liu Peiji since 1999.

In 2015, when Taiwan-based China Airlines invited the film costume designer William Chang (2046 and In the Mood for Love) to redesign its uniforms, the public reception wasn’t wholly positive. While Chang’s talents have been widely recognized in many prestigious films, his work for China Airlines was considered too traditional.

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