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Virgin America CEO Describes His Off-Duty Style as 'Urban Slob'

Virgin America CEO David Cush arrives on the airline's first direct flight from SFO to Austin.
Virgin America CEO David Cush arrives on the airline's first direct flight from SFO to Austin.

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Earlier this month, Virgin America flew its first direct flight to Austin, Texas, and the company pulled out all the stops to celebrate. The Bright Light Social Hour performed in the aisle, gratis beverages were served, and Wilmer Valderrama, Audrina Partridge, Jennie Garth and Whitney Port were all on hand to get festive. And, of course, Virgin America CEO David Cush was there to christen the flight.

Virgin America is the only airline based in San Francisco, so we get to claim Cush as one of our own. We sat down with him mid-flight to chat about his personal style, and Virgin's unique take on interior design.


What neighborhood do you live in?
"Russian Hill"

Nice, and how long have you lived there?
"About five years now."

How do you like it?
"I love it."

Do you have any favorite shopping haunts in your neighborhood?
"Not really in my neighborhood."

Maybe on Union Street, down the hill?
"Yeah, and, you know, I'm not a big fashion guy. So I buy what I need to buy, especially for work. I'm pretty casual otherwise, so I'm kind of a Levi's guy away from work. And I generally go to (chain) stores for my suits and stuff like that, so historically it's been ... well when I lived in Texas for many years it was Neimans, and I kind of defected to Saks a few years ago, and I've recently defected to Nordstrom."

Do you wear a suit every day to work?
"No, I don't. It kind of depends on what's going on. I came from American where we pretty much wore a suit every day. Here, I would say that I wear dress slacks and dress shirts without the coat and tie. And when we have something going on public or I'm visiting customers, then it's a suit and tie."

Do you have a favorite place to get your hair cut in San Francisco?
"I'm bad about that also."

You're not faithful to any one place?
"No. I've got probably half a dozen places I go to and I'm very impulsive when it comes to my hair cuts. I don't plan anything out, and I wake up one morning, and I feel like it's time to get a hair cut. And I find a place that has an appointment that day."

Do you shop on line a lot?
"I shop online quite a bit. All of my athletic wear I buy online. So Nike.com and places like that. I buy my jeans online—stuff that's low risk, where you're replacing articles of clothing."

Where you know the size and everything.
"Exactly."

Coming from Dallas, what do you think about the difference in style between the two cities? Do you prefer one or the other?
"I like them both. The good thing is that both cities dress up very well. When you go out and are required to wear things that are maybe a litte more formal and traditional—and you know again I'm certainly not an expert in this area—but I like what I see. The thing I like about both cities also is they can get casual really well also and people can feel very comfortable being in jeans and other just relaxing clothes. So I would say the cities are a little different in that Dallas is certainly a little more traditional and more conservative in its style of clothing. But I think they both do a very good job."

How would you describe your off-duty style? Do you golf or anything like that?
"I don't golf. I would say my off-duty style is urban slob."

What pieces does that involve?
"I know there's only so much I can get away with living in the city, and I go to that extreme in terms of ratted-out jeans and old T-shirts and stuff like that, versus in Louisiana where I'm from and where I have a house, I can push it a little further. I'm quite casual on the weekends and when I go out at night, generally my date tells me what I need to wear. But it's alright, I don't embarrass myself—at least I don't think so."

I'm sure you don't! Do you have any favorite footwear?
"Well, I love my Ferragamos. They've got great leather. They've done a great job of doing a rubber-soled shoe that doesn't look like a rubber-soled shoe. That's important when you're on your feet a lot. I first started buying them when I was running airports, and being able to wear dress shoes out on the ramp, which is a dangerous, slippery environment, was important. They just feel good, they look good, so that's my dress shoe of choice."

How about for sneakers and weekend footwear?
"I'm a Nike guy when it comes to sneakers, and I wear Timberlands a lot."

The design of Virgin's planes is so great, how much do you focus on that in your job?
"The interior of the plane was designed before I got here. And I think it's an important thing for the Virgin DNA—I hate using that term—really just what the company's about. The airline industry, and the American airline industry in particular, really evolved into a very utilitarian style. It was all about making sure you could clean it, and about making sure that dirt didn't show, and that things didn't break. When I first saw this cabin, the first thing I thought of was: 'there were no mechanics in the room, and there were no finance people in the room; there were only design and marketing people in the room,' because this is not how you design an airplane. The dirt shows, and things do break because of the way we designed things for comfort and for appeal to the eye. But taking into consideration that you're sitting on these plances for six hours, and the appearance of your surroundings—not only appearance, but how the light interacts with peoples' moods—is very important.

So my interaction with it now is really more about making sure we stay true to the original thought, which was an appealing design and that a space like this can be functional and beautiful, and making sure we never stray from that. This (white surface around the seats) is a blessing in disguise. The fact that dirt shows up means the planes are clean. Because if they aren't, people know it. It's really one of the best things that ever happened to us. It was my pet peeve at American, and my pet peeve with all airlines now. The plane cannot be dirty because this is where people are going to sit for six hours—versus a dark blue cloth that can hide a lot of things."

Yeah and absorb a lot of things.
"Yeah, absorbant's bad!"

What is the animal on your tie?
"These are horses."

Oh, they're really cute.
"This is my horse tie."

It's so cute.
"They're clipping ties later in the flight and I'm like, 'Okay, this is an Hermès tie, you're not clipping it.' I bought it for the Dallas inaugural, and now I trot it out on special occassions. (Editor's note: We're not sure if that pun was intended.)
· Virgin America [Official Site]