These days, sky-high fashion is usually restricted to conservative navy skirt-suits and dorky vests. But flash back 60 years, before personal TV screens and feminism, things were a lot more racier and fun. (Heck, Playboy Bunnies were even sometimes hired as live in-flight entertainment.) Writer and graphic designer Keith Lovegrove’s Airline: Style at 30,000 Feet showcases the Golden Age of air travel–the glamorous days of “flying boats,” stewardesses in hotpants and bubble helmets, and “slumberettes” (actual reclining seats). With hundreds of full-color photographs, each of the book’s four chapters focuses on a single area of airline design, from fashion to food to interiors to identities.
Lovegrove tells Co.Design, “The inspiration for the book stemmed from my interest in graphic design and design in general, and also from my days as a boy. My father worked for the airlines and dragged our family around the planet in the early ’60s, which was a really glamorous time to fly. Everyone used to dress up to get on an airplane. I wanted to find out where that glamorous time went. As I started to research it, I found all these wonderful pictures.”
Fashion: As Lovegrove writes, “Chauvinism reigned” in the 1960s airline industry, fueling early designs of stewardess uniforms. Brainiff ad exec Mary Wells, whom Lovegrove describes as one of his design heroines, declared in 1965, “When a tired businessman gets on an airplane, we think he ought to be allowed to look at a pretty girl.” Cramped aisles became catwalks for stewardesses bedecked in Emilio Pucci’s pink and plum paisley prints. Dubbed “Brainiff Babes,” Pucci’s space-age bubble helmets shielded impeccable coifs from windy walks between the aircraft and the terminal. Other innovations in uniform design included Gulf Air’s I Dream of Jeannie-like “adaptation of the Muslim headdress;” and Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain’s colorful sarong kebayas, designed for Singapore Airlines, which turned “The Singapore Girl” into a global icon, “the embodiment of the successful marketing concept.”
Interiors: Among Airline’s featured interiors are private mansion-planes, like Hugh Hefner’s “Big Bunny,” bedecked in animal pelts and black leather. And the striped Boeing 747 “Tiger Lounge” bar resembles an Austin Powers film set. The bubble helmet isn’t the only design that seems straight out of the Jetsons: consider the “Snoozzzer,” the first fully reclining swivel chair for Singapore Airlines’ first-class passengers, used in conjunction with a full “slumberette.”
Identities: Lovegrove’s treatment of airline identities includes pages of retro logo designs. Naturally, wings, the symbols of flight, abound. Air France and Australia went fantastical with a winged seahorse and a winged kangaroo. Other countries go with national pride: Ireland’s Aer Lingus logo still sports a shamrock, while Greek’s Olympic Airways displays the six classic rings. Western Pacific Airline’s “AirLogo” program from the mid-’90s featured a 37-foot likeness of Vegas showgirl Aki Alma painted on a Boeing 737’s tail, complete with a glitter bra, peacock feathers, and sky-high hair. Other planes were turned into giant flying ads, whether emblazoned with Pepsi logos or made to resemble Shamu the Killer Whale to promote Sea World. Still others went the fine-art route, with Alexander Calder, original master of the aerodynamic mobile, recruited to paint a DC-8 aircraft for the “Flying Colors” Brainiac campaign.
Lovegrove narrated a video to accompany the book, offering a sneak-peek of its fantastic collection of photographs.
As Lovegrove says, “Now, airlines have harked back a bit to the vintage era. Though Virgin got Vivienne Westwood to design their uniforms, it still has a bit of a ’40s feel. I think it’s because it’s safe–the artistic designers aren’t running design anymore. Marketeers are running design. We get marketeers creating briefs, and from that, it’s watered down to what is the best for the airline, which makes sense, but at the same time, everything’s looking a little bit samey-samey.” Here’s to bringing back bubble helmets.
Buy Airline for less than $10 here.