Friday, October 21, 2016

Couture on the tarmac

One of many displays in the SFO International Terminal for "Fashion in Flight." 
Photo: Bien Vestido.

In the early 70's, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was either an astronaut or a stewardess. It was a toss up. Man had recently walked on the moon which was the most exciting thing ever. But airline stewardesses flew around the world and looked glamorous and sexy while doing it. My grandmother and I took our first plane trip in 1969 from New Orleans to Los Angeles, she holding a bottle of smelling salts in one hand and her rosary beads in the other for most of the flight. While I don't remember what the stewardesses wore, I do remember how sharp, chic and competent they looked.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of seeing the wide variety of uniforms and their place in history. The SFO Museum is currently exhibiting seventy airline uniforms from 1930 to present. Last Saturday my indefatigable fashion friend Karen and I made the trek to San Francisco International Airport to see the show. Yes, a museum show at the airport. With over twenty galleries in various terminals, it's the only accredited museum in an airport.  The exhibit is a fun visual lesson in fashion history, couture designers and the effect of culture on fashion. It's worth a visit to the airport, even if you don't have a plane to catch or someone to meet.

United Air Lines stewardesses, 1939. United Airlines Archive.

They do look sharp with a post-war military chicness.

Transcontinental & Western Air hostess uniform by Howard Greer 1944. SFO Museum

This is a clever design for TWA by Hollywood fashion designer Howard Greer. The TWA logo appears as cut-out letters on the upper right chest with a flap that unbuttons to cover the logo when the hostess has an off-duty cigarette or cocktail. Greer (1896-1974) created glamorous garments for stars like Katherine Hepburn, Rita Hayworth and Marlene Dietrich.

Braniff International Airways hostess uniform by Emilio Pucci, 1966. Collection of SFO Museum.

With "The End of the Plain Plane," an advertsing campaign created by Mary Wells Lawrence, airline uniforms did an about-face from the tailored military styles to this wild psychedelic outfit called the "Supersonic Derby" by Emilio Pucci. 

Braniff International Airways hostess in uniform by Emilio Pucci, 1965. Braniff International Public Relations Archives, History of Aviation Collection, UT-Dallas. 

My dream come true! Pucci makes it possible to be a stewardess and an astronaut! The space age bubble helmets were originally designed to protect the hair on blustery tarmacs but proved impractical and were used only in publicity.

Braniff International Airways hostesses in uniforms by Emilio Pucci, 1965. Braniff International Public Relations Archives, History of Aviation Collection, UT-Dallas.
 Pucci's Gemini IV Collection, with multi-layers for quick-change combos.

United Air Lines stewardess in uniform by Jean Louis, 1968. United Airlines Archive.

Spiffy with double-knit practicality.  Another Hollywood designer, Jean Louis (1907-1997) designed glamorous gowns for many leading ladies, most notably the strapless gown Rita Hayworth wore in "Gilda."

Air France stewardess uniform by Cristóbal Balenciaga, 1969. Courtesy of Air France.

Immutable chic. Designing uniforms for Air France was Balenciaga's last project before he retired. His uniforms stayed in production for ten years.

Qantas Airways female flight attendant uniform by Yves Saint Laurent, 1986. Collection of SFO Museum.

Not my favorite, but definitely a product of the 80's, Yves Saint Laurent designed this Dynastyesque suit for Quantas, complete with a flying kangaroo print.

Virgin Atlantic Airways female flight attendant uniform by Vivienne Westwood, 2014. Courtesy of Virgin Atlantic Airways. SFO Museum.

With Vivienne Westwood's signature touches such as the nipped waist and high collar, this is a very couture look.

Many thanks to SFO Assistant Museum Director John H. Hill for permission to use the photos and his generous offer to schedule a group curator's tour. Let me know if you're interested!