Travel

Looking neat at 35,000 feet

Virgin Atlantic is donning new uniforms in the fall, designed by Vivienne Westwood, with many items made of recycled materials.
Virgin Atlantic is donning new uniforms in the fall, designed by Vivienne Westwood, with many items made of recycled materials.

Since 2008, Rebecca Creer has been “chief beauty officer” at Virgin Atlantic airlines, an unusual position that is the first of its kind. She has flown more than 1,000 flights with the airline, and oversees the health, style, and well-being of the Virgin Atlantic crew. From her home base in England, she filled us in on her unique job.

Q. What is most people’s reaction when you tell them you are Virgin Atlantic’s “chief beauty officer”?

A. Their first reaction is, “What on earth does that mean?” They are quite surprised. When you explain what the role is, they are amazed that the company has someone in this type of position. I’m in charge of all of the spas. [At a few airports, Virgin Atlantic has clubhouses with spas for travelers.] I look after all of those, and the spa supervisors, hair stylists, spa receptionists, and training team. I also look after their styling guidelines, for the makeup, hair, and the nail polishes. I create the styling guidelines . . . that includes the type of makeup we allow our staff to wear. The basic requirement is that female flight attendants must wear mascara, blusher, lipstick, and nail polish. With hair, it’s can’t be too high because we have to safety-check everything, and see that it fits the requirements. If your hair is down, it can’t be any longer than the base of the collar. Nails have to be a certain color. I manage all of that.

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I have a styling team, who go out and teach all the styling classes to everyone in our business. They teach how to wear the uniform, and their hair, and we give them guidelines and a demonstration. And then we go to skin care, and how to wear specific makeup. The Virgin Atlantic “look’’ is a massive part of our brand.

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Q. What color nail polish is allowed?

A. Currently female flight attendants can wear red, nude, or French manicure. Our therapists have bare nails. Nail polish colors are going to change with the introduction of the new Vivienne Westwood uniforms that will be in place in September. We will then allow a deep burgundy nail color for the female flight attendants.

Q. Are you expected to look fabulous at all times?

A. When working? We should. If I’m telling people they need to look good, I also try to look good when I come to work.

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Q. Who created your job?

A. That’s quite interesting. The job evolved over many years. Virgin Atlantic in 2008 was going through a restructure, to look after the hair and makeup things and the spa.

Q. What is your background? Why were you selected to be the chief beauty officer?

A. I’m a fully trained beauty therapist — that’s how I started out 22 years ago, dare I say. I had two to three years of training. I’m trained in absolutely everything. And I worked on cruise ship spas and in other spas. I also used to train other beauty therapists. I even had my own business in Hong Kong in 1996. When I joined Virgin Atlantic in 2001, I was one of the in-flight therapists working on Upper Class customers, offering all kinds of services such as massages and nail services. [In-flight spa services were discontinued in 2008.]

Q. How many airline lounges — clubhouses — does Virgin Atlantic have around the world?

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A. Eleven.

A. Tell me about their spa services.

Q. We only offer spa services in our main clubs such as JFK, Gatwick and Heathrow, and in Heathrow Arrivals, the Revival Clubhouse, when people land in the morning. There, in the Revival Clubhouse, you can go into the lounge have a spa treatment, a shower, and breakfast, and you can dress, get into your Virgin Atlantic limo and go to the office. Our team even presses your clothes for you. That’s all complimentary: The food, the drink, the shower, everything if you’re flying Upper Class. We have one free treatment in every area: massage, hand treatment, a foot treatment, a facial, or hair treatment. There is always something in each category that is complimentary, so we cover all bases. A few years ago passengers told us that they wanted more, and so we introduced longer services. People absolutely love it.

Rebecca Creer, “chief beauty officer” at Virgin Atlantic airlines.

Q. Tell me about the new Virgin Atlantic uniforms.

A. They were designed by Vivienne Westwood and will be on board in September. They’re for flight attendants, cabin crew, ground staff, everyone. They all have a variation of the uniform. Many of the items that comprise the new uniform will be produced using recycled materials, such as polyester yarn that’s made from plastic bottles. Ties and scarves must be quick-release for safety reasons, and all shoes must have a non-slip sole. The garments must work for the staff working in New York during the winter, and for example, for the summer season in Mumbai.

Q. Are Virgin Atlantic flight attendants expected to be drop-dead gorgeous?

A. Not necessarily. In recruitment, they need to be warm. We look for lots of different qualities.

Q. Are the Virgin Atlantic spa treatments costly compared with other non-airline related spa treatments?

A. We are a great value. We didn’t want to overprice our services. A facial is around . . . $40 in the U.S. We didn’t want to put people off.

Q. What’s the bestselling spa treatment?

A. One of them is the gents’ Bumble and Bumble haircut. We do about 10,000 a year. Next is the back massages. We do around 20,000 every year. We do 10,000 facials a year. We use Dr. Hauschka for all of the skin care. For shaves we use Truefitt & Hill, a luxury brand since 1805. [Truefitt & Hill operates the world’s oldest barbershop, and clients include the British Royal family.]

Q. Are you on a first-name basis with Richard Branson?

A. I’ve met him a few times. I have no problem sending him an e-mail, and he always responds. If he’s en route, he invites all the crew out for dinner. He loves being part of the team.