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Plane clothes investigation

CNN checks how airlines are getting fashionable at 30,000 ft

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Fashion experts say Air France staff are among the most stylish.

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(CNN) -- Cabin crew uniforms are often seen as an extension of an airline's identity and with more carriers hiring top designers, there is increasing competition to produce fashionable flight wear.

But who is the most stylish in the air? To find out, CNN Business Traveller set up its own fashion runway -- on a real runway: the windswept Tarmac of London's Heathrow -- and enlisted the help of fashion experts.

Says British fashion designer Giles Deacon, uniforms do not just serve a functional purpose.

"They show the quality of the airline that you're flying with -- or that's what I think they should do. Plus, they have to be there to show some form of authority, to show the airline you're flying with knows what it's doing."

While Deacon is keen to create his own uniform, Australian designer Richard Tyler has already been recruited to tailor airline employees.

Tyler was hired by troubled U.S. carrier Delta airline to refresh its image at a time when it was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

"I approached it like a runway," Tyler told CNN.

"I didn't tell the Delta people that, but I planned it so that the flight attendants who were walking down the concourse... would look like a runway show."

For the airline, the new outfits are seen as crucial to reviving fortunes.

"This uniform change is part of a complete transformation that's undergoing with the Delta brand," says Paul Matsen, the airline's chief marketing officer.

"We've been restructuring everything from our pricing and our fares to our on-board cabins with all new designed interiors and leather seats and the uniform program is just a fantastic new addition to that product transformation."

And, says Tyler, they have helped boost staff morale.

"I do clothing for celebrities and things like that and they tell me that if they put something on they just feel amazing. It lifts their spirit and this is true with the Delta uniform," he said.

"It's really lifted the spirits right through from the flight attendant to the people up front."

Style stakes

In contrast to Tyler's new creations, some carriers prefer to stick to a tried and tested formula. On CNN's Heathrow catwalk, the stewardess from Singapore Airlines sports a uniform designed more than 30 years ago.

"We feel that the uniform still works very well for us -- the Singapore Girl is an icon now, very much part of the brand and internationally recognizable," said airline spokesman John Cotton.

But for Deacon, who judged CNN's fashion show featuring Air France, China Eastern Airlines, Iberia, Kenya Airways, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and Tyrolean Airways, one airline led the pack in the style stakes.

"I think my favorite one was Air France, really super chic, elegantly cut and I could see it suiting many ages and you could actually go and work in it," he said.

His choice reflects the fashion concerns of the airline, which recruited a top name from Parisian couture, Christian Lacroix, to dress its staff.

"In fashion you have to create for six months, one year. Here you have to create for 10 years -- it was something, in perspective, very different," says Air France's Carole Peytavin.

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