High-profile designers to make McDonald's uniforms more hip

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

The fast-food chain has an ongoing effort to reshape its image.

CHICAGO -- McDonald's Corp.'s work force is about to get an extreme makeover.

The nation's largest fast food chain plans to work with high-profile fashion designers -- Tommy Hilfiger and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs are among the top targets -- to create trendy, stylish employee uniforms.

"It's about taking the contemporary look and feel of our restaurants and embodied in our advertising and incorporating that into our employees' business attire," said McDonald's spokesman Bill Whitman.

"The desire is to create uniforms that our crews would want to wear outside the restaurant environment," he said.

Whitman said the company has not yet chosen any designers. Currently, McDonald's uniforms vary among its franchises nationwide, he said.

The uniform plan is an extension of McDonald's ongoing effort to shape its image as a hip, active brand -- most notably with its "I'm lovin' it" campaign launched in 2003. Along with healthier menu options and spiffing up about 1,000 U.S. restaurants, the brand overhaul has helped McDonald's grow same-store sales 25 straight months in the key U.S. market.

The company has hired New York brand consultant Steve Stoute, who previously recruited singer Justin Timberlake to promote McDonald's, to line up fashion designers for the effort.

Stoute said he is targeting some of the design world's foremost names, including Russell Simmons' "Phat Farm" label, Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, American Eagle and P. Diddy's Sean John label.

"Along the same lines of keeping the McDonald's brand fresh and relevant and authentic to young adults, it's very important for their staff to look the part," said Stoute, who McDonald's originally hired to help launch the "I'm lovin' it" marketing campaign.

Stoute said designers will be asked to adhere closely to McDonald's uniforms of old, from the days of founder Ray Kroc, but to add some contemporary touches.

"It's going to be appropriate," he said. "It won't look like P. Diddy's outfit on a Saturday night."

Lynne Doll, president of brand consultant Rogers & Associates in Los Angeles, said snazzier uniforms could be a smart marketing move -- if McDonald's comes up with a design that appeals to young, urban consumers but doesn't put off older customers and families.

"On one hand, better-designed uniforms really could reinforce the image McDonald's is trying to convey," Doll said. "But if it fails it fails big, because it will be reinforced every time an employee puts it on."

Whitman said it's too early to say when employees might be sporting the new designs or what they might look like. He also declined to say how much McDonald's will invest in the project.

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