If you're traveling to a major city, sleeping in designer bliss isn't difficult, but for road warriors heading to Plano, Texas; Providence, R.I.; and other secondary markets, "modern" probably means late-'80s chic. Enter NYLO Hotels, the latest strike against the unemotional business hotel experience. Promising a youthful energy combined with the chic amenities of a loft (think soaring ceilings, exposed brick, polished concrete, and custom furnishings), the properties ooze innovative hipness, right down to the uniforms. Daniel Vosovic, the out finalist from Project Runway's second season who was tapped to design the NYLO collection this past summer, is setting his stitches on recasting our expectations of what a hotel uniform can--and should--be.
How did you get this commission?
Mike [Mueller, the president of NYLO] contacted me through a mutual friend of ours whom I had gone to school with. I'm looking to hold off on doing my own collection for a few years, so it's a great place for me to be in my career as a designer.
How do you interpret NYLO's key concept?
It's very hip, but not trendy--very much what I would say about my clothing. I'm going for innovation that doesn't slap you across the face. Everything from the shape, proportion, and colors are very streamlined but approachable to people outside the fashion industry. I know I'm being vague, but I don't want to give away all my goodies!
How are you planning to keep it fresh, edgy, and relevant in the face of changing styles and colors?
It has to be classic design--classic, good design--that's going to withstand for five, 10 years from now. You hear the word uniform and it just brings horrible, horrible pictures to my head of boxy polyester burgundy and navy uniforms with big brass buttons. I wanted to do something that was much more fluid, so I designed a collection that's based on mix-and-match pieces, tonal colors, and layering.
So can employees decide what to mix?
I'm too much of a control freak to let that go! [Laughs] I'll do a look book of "optional" mix-and-match guidelines to work from. I can't have 'em wearing hot pink lace-ups!
How has NYLO's striking interior design and color choices, such as bright greens and oranges, affected your design?
Each hotel is going to be slightly different, so my color palette was dictated around the space that it's going to be used in. We decided to work with a lot of neutrals--blacks, grays, whites, more traditional stuff--then whether it's color brought in through belts, trims, or logo placement, each hotel will have a distinctive look and a distinctive color palette.
To quote from Project Runway, what story are you telling with this collection?
I really wanted to get a grasp on who's going to be looking at these clothes, coming to the NYLO hotel, working late nights, and enjoying drinks at the bar. In this case we're talking 25- to 45-year-old people who either love fashion or who don't know why they like it but they understand good aesthetic and good design. What is it that they want to take home from it?
How are you making these signature Vosovic?
I'm known for a very clean aesthetic. I don't do a lot of wild prints. I love tailored garments, structure, and innovative seam lines. In everything from the orchid blouse to my military collection, shape and proportion are very important to me. With fabrication I'm trying to bring in balance and explore the dichotomy between [NYLO's] industrial space of polished cement and glass and more natural fibers.
Who's going to be wearing these uniforms?
I'm designing for the front-line staff--bartenders, hostesses, front desk, servers--basically all the people who will be interacting with the guests. And in each hotel the clothing will be for sale for the guests.
So it's a uniform that's hip enough that somebody would want to wear it outside?
Yes! It's clothing that's meant to be worn, that can be worn on the street and in the office. Aside from the pieces that are going to be shown on the staff, I'm also designing accessories: bags, belts, cuff links, jewelry, and outerwear. It'll be a full collection.
How many are going to be manufactured initially?
We're doing a five-point size run, your traditional extra-small to extra-large, of a 20- to 30-piece apparel collection that includes menswear, women's wear, two to three versions of pants, dresses, and skirts, and all the layering pieces--T-shirts, long-sleeved, blouses, jackets, coats--plus the accessories to go with it.
Is polyester a bad word in this collection?
Well, I don't know, is it a bad word? Don't you cringe when you hear it? [Laughs] I'm really trying to push new fibers for the uniforms, so there's everything from spandex to silk, a lot of brushed cotton and coated fabrics and brushed chrome hardware. I'm also trying to do some innovative work with bamboo and recyclable materials because I think that's what's important nowadays. It's not hard to create beautiful clothing, but everything has to say something new. And that's what's so great about the NYLO concept as well--NYLO isn't refurbishing existing places with a new paint job. From the ground up, everything in the hotel will be designed.
Your background is in women's wear--were there challenges in designing for men?
Well, shoot, I need something to wear! [Laughs] I get away with some of the most horrific things here in New York that I can't get away with in Idaho, like wearing super-super-tight stovepipe pants with silver Converse shoes and a low V-neck vest down to my rib cage. One of my biggest hurdles was just the acceptance of menswear across the country.
Have you been staying in hotels all over the world as part of your research?
It's funny, a few weeks after NYLO contacted me I was sent to Detroit to do some appearances and I was staying in this room that was so utterly depressing I couldn't believe it! The beige and the burgundy carpeting and the horrible bedspreads, it was just so…generic. I'm staying in one of the quote, unquote "best hotels" and this is it? I remember grabbing my Treo to type an e-mail [to Mike] that was simply going to say "I get it!"
Have you seen any hotel uniforms that you've admired?
I won't lie--no!
Did you get input from hotel staff members themselves?
Yes, and one of the main things I got back is they need movement and flexibility. I remember somebody telling me--in a negative light--"Your clothes are so wearable." And I'm thinking to myself, Are you effing kidding me? Like, really? They're clothes! I don't design clothes that are meant to be hanging in a museum--I mean, hopefully, one day they will be--but clothes are meant to be worn by people, they're meant to be used.
So what's next? Flight attendant uniforms?
Well, I just flew this weekend back home to Michigan and it actually did cross my mind [Laughs]. The idea of, Oy, they're really wearing that!
NYLO plans to open 50 hotels across North America by 2010. The first property opens in Plano, Texas, in the fall of 2007.