From stewardesses' designer uniforms to Air Jamaica's in-flight fashion shows, we look at the moments that have defined style in the skies.
By Mark C.O'Flaherty7:00AM GMT 25 Jan 2013 / http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/ultratravel/9797134/Airline-fashion-key-moments-of-style-in-the-skies.html
There was a time when flying was more about choosing which shoes to wear for boarding, and less about the eye-rolling inconvenience of taking them off at security. People dressed-up to travel – and the airlines reciprocated. The days of BOAC glamour and passengers dining at tables of four are long gone. Today’s airlines struggle with profit margins. Nevertheless, appearances must be kept up and – budget airlines and their rural airports aside – air travel continues to be marketed as a luxury, particularly to passengers in the nose of the plane. Consider the now iconic, richly patterned 1972 Pierre Balmain-designed “Singapore Girl” outfit, the Stephen Jones hats and Julian MacDonald navy tailoring of British Airways, or the fabulous mid-century modern Marimekko prints that have recently appeared on tableware (and on the sides of planes) at Finnair. Design defines an airline and airline design defines an era. We take a look at key moments of high style, old and new.
The Concorde era
Hardy Amies designed the crew’s uniforms, but it may be frequent flier Joan Collins who embodies the Concorde era (1976–2003) best. The fashion pack hopped on the service between Paris, London and New York as if it were a super fast taxi: a young Kate Moss could fit in extra modelling jobs while the late Stephen Sprouse, whose graphics are immortalised all over leopard- and graffiti-print Vuitton, once panicked when the Concorde hit turbulence and quickly scrawled his name on his arm, in his distinctive tag-style, so that his body could be identified if the worst happened.
The new smart casual look
In 2013, there are less Aunt Sally rouged cheeks, pelmets and high heels in the aisles, and more modern, relaxed looks. Cabin crew at Virgin America took receipt of a whole new wardrobe from the ultimate Casual Friday brand Banana Republic last August. Men’s shirts are slim fitting and short-sleeved, there are touches of Spandex, and the women’s trenches are the epitome of High Street chic. Over in Australasia, the new (weekend) uniforms at low-budget airline AirAsia combine red and white short-sleeved shirts, reminiscent of Formula One gear, with blue jeans.
Designer amenity kits
Avant-garde Dutch designers Viktor & Rolf currently put their name to the kits given to passengers who turn left on boarding KLM flights, while Qantas have started giving their Business class customers amenity bags designed by hip New York labels Kate Spade and Jack Spade. Regular British Airways passengers who travel in First will have amassed quite a collection of different Anya Hindmarch wash-bags.
Cabin as catwalk
Chanel spent a not-so-small fortune to recreate the inside of a jumbo jet for its couture show last January. Glasses of champagne were handed out by “stewards” from a trolley that made its way down the aisle, while models with mohawks emerged from the “emergency exit” in Lagerfeld’s latest. From the 1970s through to the 1990s, Air Jamaica did it for real – cabin crew turned into models mid-flight and paraded the aisles wearing new season Caribbean labels. Back in 2008 Air New Zealand hosted a mid-flight catwalk show on the Sydney to Auckland route, with designs by Karen Walker and Trelise Cooper. Model agency Elite had a show on an Air Asia flight from Bangkok to Phuket last year with 25 aspiring Thai models, competing in the Elite Model Look Thailand 2012 competition.
Gianfranco Ferré’s Korean Air scarf
This is the Kelly bag of the crew wardrobe – the most coveted, alluring accessory in the sky for trainee cabin staff. Designed by Gianfranco Ferré in 2005 as part of an off-white and duck-egg blue outfit, with an above-the-knee skirt hem length, the scarf is stiff, tied snugly, with one end styled to take flight away from the neck, as if on a wire. If this scarf were an airport, it would be Eero Saarinen’s 1960s sci-fi TWA terminal in New York.
The coolest airline of all time, bar none. This is the company that commissioned kinetic artist Alexander Calder to paint the outside of two of its planes, and whose TV commercials featured Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali. Braniff really made a name for itself by dressing its cabin crew in magenta, lime, lemon, and frequently psychedelic Pucci, from colour-blocked frocks with space helmets in 1965 to hot pants in the early 1970s. As Warhol said, to camera, in his advert: “When you got it, flaunt it!”
Air Force One and Michelle Obama
Every time the First Lady lands, it’s a photo opportunity that unfolds across countless fashion blog posts. “She’s wearing her favourite Alaïa belt!” “Oooh! Shorts!” In 2009, she arrived in Moscow, in salmon-pink Narciso Rodriguez, with her husband and children, who were wearing head to toe J Crew. The company seized on the opportunity and released a press release: "The Obama Girls Bring Some American Style to Moscow." They detailed each item, right down to the price. In case you’re wondering, Malia wore a buff-coloured, silk taffeta trench ($298) and black, satin ballet flats with contrast trim ($98).
Christian Lacroix’s new collection
Although the Paris couturier was forced to close his atelier due to financial disaster, he still dresses Air France cabin crew and First Class customers (who get Lacroix pyjamas). He’s also designed the new suits which CityJet staff began wearing in December – sober, chic, navy tailoring with taupe and red accents.
New dress codes
Everyone’s had the misfortune of flying next to someone who thinks that not-so-fresh-from-the-beach shorts and bare feet are okay attire for the air. Last June a passenger attempting to board a Southwest Airlines flight from Las Vegas to New York was given a stern lecture by staff for wearing a top that showed “too much cleavage”. In 2011, Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong was removed from a plane en route to Burbank for refusing to pull up his sagging trousers. Lucky Billie: a few months earlier a passenger had been arrested on a US Airways flight for the same thing. Police at the scene reported that his trousers were “below his buttocks but above his knees, and … much of his boxer shorts were exposed.”
Virgin Atlantic’s ruby slippers
It’s simple, memorable branding: British Airways is blue and Virgin Atlantic – which has also cornered the market in Swarovski crystal cabin decoration – is red. In 2011 Virgin issued female crew with vibrant, patent, ruby-coloured heels to go with their scarlet John Rocha suits – staff could choose from the “Dotty” (with a two inch heel) or the more daring “Dorothy” (three inches). For added chic (or indeed camp value), each comes in a yellow “brick” box.
Balenciaga for Oman Air
The turquoise-and-gold-trimmed pillbox hats are a strong statement, but it was Oman Air’s choice of Balenciaga for its uniforms in 2009 – when Nicolas Ghesquière was still at the helm of the legendary house – that puts it in a different league in the eyes of the cutting-edge cognoscenti. Oman Air won Best Business Class Airline Seat at the World Airline Awards in 2012 and gives their premium class customers products by Amouage, the Arabian perfumery that creates some of the most expensive fragrances in the world. This is an airline with a haute ticket.