updated 2/3/2004 9:21:47 PM ET 2004-02-04T02:21:47

Cash-strapped Delta Air Lines has ordered up a makeover of its employee uniforms, hiring a big-name designer who promises a classier -- and in some cases, sexier -- look for flight attendants, airport agents and other workers.

The carrier said Tuesday that designer Richard Tyler, whose dresses have been worn by stars such as Julia Roberts, Heather Locklear and Jamie Lee Curtis, will be overseeing the uniform change.

"I want them to look sexy and great, but you have to keep that classic look as well," Tyler said in an interview with The Associated Press.

All Delta would say about the new uniforms, to debut in 2006, is that they will be better fitting and more durable. Their color, currently gray, could also change.

The Atlanta-based airline refused to say how much the project will cost -- a new outfit Tyler created for actor Pierce Brosnan cost $3,500 -- or give specifics about the design. No mannequins or pictures were displayed at a news conference announcing the project.

The potentially expensive move comes amid months of cost-cutting initiatives at Delta, which has lost more than $3 billion in three years and laid off 16,000 employees since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Andrea Taylor, a Delta flight attendant and union advocate from New York, said she has concerns about money being spent on new uniforms in light of pay and benefit cuts.

"That money would be much better spent supporting the livelihood of Delta flight attendants," she said.

But Taylor acknowledged the current uniforms are not exactly fashion-forward. "We have been referred to as prison wardens wearing them," she said.

Delta officials said the decision to redesign uniforms is a "wise investment" that will boost morale among employees and increase the airline's bottom line in the long run.

Uniforms for flight attendants, gate and ticket agents and airport lounge officials will get a complete makeover -- from their shirts or blouses to their pants, gloves, hats and scarves. Technical operations workers, maintenance crews and baggage handlers will see minor changes in their outfits.

As many as 35,000 of the airline's 60,000 employees will be affected. Delta's pilots, locked in a protracted battle with management over wage concessions, are a notable exception. Their uniforms, which have not changed substantially in decades, will not be redesigned.

Delta's low-cost subsidiary, Song, had Kate Spade design its flight attendants' uniforms. Fashion designer Stan Herman helped design pilot uniforms for carriers such as United Airlines, JetBlue and the defunct Eastern Airlines.

Delta first started courting Tyler for the project a year ago. He said at first he was unsure if he wanted to take on such a big project, but he believes the opportunity is too great to pass up.

"This is the dawn of Delta, it's the beginning," Tyler said.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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