Bates

Christopher Bates says designing new Air Canada uniforms ‘a career highlight’

TORONTO — A move to Milan to help expand his label is already reaping rewards for Christopher Bates.

The Canadian menswear designer was recently in Toronto to unveil his European-inspired collection. But before his signature designs for spring-summer hit the runway, it was revealed he would be collaborating with Air Canada (TSX:AC) as the airline’s uniform designer.

Adding to his list of homegrown partnerships, Bates will also be teaming up with Montreal-based retailer Browns on a footwear collection launching this fall.

The Italian-trained Bates has past experience in creating corporate uniforms, but he described designing for Air Canada’s 28,000 employees as a “career highlight.”

“I am trying to instill elements (into the line) in my own esthetic, and you will see that,” Bates said following his recent runway show at Toronto Men’s Fashion Week.

“It has to be done tastefully and subtly, of course, because it’s a corporation. But you will see hints of flair that I’m trying to bring to a uniform.”

Air Canada invited 10 designers from across the country to illustrate their creative visions for the brand through uniforms. A short list of three candidates produced clothing samples and Bates emerged victorious.

“I think we like the idea of being able to work with someone who is up and coming,” said Craig Landry, Air Canada’s vice-president of marketing. “The quality of what he produced was outstanding.”

As the airline pushes for growth overseas, Landry said the company wanted to bring an international feel to their uniforms, which Bates “beautifully expressed” in his contemporary yet classic designs.

“Christopher’s already done a fantastic job of integrating and actually helping us come up with new ideas in terms of how to improve things like fit, flexibility… the cut of the uniform, things like wickability in terms of the fabric…. He’s been a great collaborator on the technical side as well.”

But there’s still some time until those creations will be worn by airline staffers.

Landry said the current uniforms will be almost 10 years old when the new designs are rolled out in 2017. It’s part of a brand transition that will also see a colourful revamp of the company’s mobile app and website, as it embraces greater use of red and white.

Bates made bold use of colour in his own spring-summer 2016 collection, with garments saturated in rich shades of navy, pink and lavender. The collection was inspired by the lifestyle of the French Riviera and Monaco. The range incorporated brushed cotton twill suits, double-breasted short suits and goat suede leather bomber jackets, in addition to his signature range of sleek tuxedos.

It was the second collection unveiled by Bates since opening his design studio and showroom in Milan last November, in a bid to bolster his brand internationally from Europe, a prime luxury market. The line is now entirely made in Italy.