A funny thing happened on my flight home from Sydney last week.
As I stepped onto the aircraft I congratulated myself for travelling light. For once.
And then it slowly dawned on me.
My cabin bag was still enjoying the free wi-fi and anti-pasto in the Qantas Lounge. Scrap that, by now it had probably settled in and grabbed a Pinot Gris from the bar, hoping to pick up a new owner who might show it more respect.
Enter stage left Neil and Oliver, the very charming flight attendants who didn’t even so much as smirk at the very blonde manoeuvre that this blonde had managed to … well … manoeuvre.
No, they swiftly went into Operation Bag Retrieval Mode. Smiling.
Just as the flight was closing and I came to terms with the fact that my bag would be finding an alternate route home and that I would spend a night without my favourite bed socks, the captain announced the flight had been delayed.
I may have been the only passenger happy about this news, particularly when Neil reported that my bag had made it on board.
A plane change and re-board later, my bag and I were on our way.
One very happy flyer indeed.
This over and above service is stuff that makes me very happy.
These Qantas flight attendants didn’t know me personally but it sure felt like they did.
They – and their colleagues - are the public face and daily brand ambassadors for Australia’s national carrier. Men and women of all ages, shapes, sizes and backgrounds who carry the pride, spirit and history of Qantas each day they put on their uniform. No pressure guys
And no pressure either for Paris-based Australian fashion designer Martin Grant, who last week was announced as the designer of the next Qantas staff uniform, which in 2014 will replace the existing uniform by designer Peter Morrissey introduced in 2003.
Martin has the mammoth task ahead of creating that new uniform range for 12,000 cabin crew and ground staff – a uniform that carries with it the spirit and style of the airline but also meets the function and form required for such a huge, diverse range of staff flying everywhere from Darwin to Frankfurt.
We’re very passionate about diversity and we hire people from all Australian backgrounds, in all shapes and sizes …we’re proud of that. What Martin has the ability to do is design uniforms that look great on everybody. Martin has been working with a panel (of Qantas staff) to make sure these look good on everybody. Alan Joyce, Qantas CEO
Twelve thousand people? That’s a small Australian town. Makes the issue of what to wear each day as you run out the door seem somewhat trivial, doesn’t it?
As I said, no pressure!
Now, if you were scratching your head a couple of sentences back when I mentioned the designer Martin Grant, you’d not be alone. His collections are not stocked by Australia’s major department stores so he’s not a heavily marketed household name like other successful Australian designers.
But you might remember Vogue Australia’s 50th anniversary cover featuring Cate Blanchett? Yes, that’s Cate in a Martin Grant gown. Martin’s designs are not only worn by Ms Blanchett but also Juliette Binoche, Blake Lively, Tilda Swinton, Kate Hudson … and more.
I love that you can look at Martin’s ready-to-wear collections, as shown on the catwalks of Paris Fashion Week, and realise that, yes, should the budget be willing and able, his pieces are indeed wearable. Martin’s design aesthetic is one that immediately appeals (and not least because in his current spring-summer collection he seems to like orange ALMOST as much as me *).
He offers structure to his designs but with a genius, almost effortless quality to it. Not effortless in the sense of what it takes to design such a collection; effortless in how it looks when worn … which is not unlike what an ideal uniform would be, is it?
I also like that Qantas has chosen a designer whose fashion roots began in Australia (he won the Cointreau Young Designer Award in 1988) but who is someone who has gone on to fly the Australian fashion flag on an international level for almost 20 years. Much like Qantas – as an airline – has been able to achieve over its 92-year history.
It was that history that hit home last week. Uniforms worn by female staff since 1948 were paraded at the press conference announcing Martin’s appointment as the new designer. It was impossible NOT to get swept up in the fashion nostalgia trip. (And ummm, to admit to actually being old enough to having seen three of them on actual flight attendants, on actual flights.)
For me airplane travel has always held a sense of romance and excitement. Always has. Always will.
I’ve never been a nervous flyer, instead relishing each flight since my first at eight years of age**. That flight was on a TAA (Trans-Australian Airlines which became Australian Airlines, which became Qantas) Fokker Friendship.
My two younger brothers and I were TAA Junior Flyers and we wore our gold-winged badges with pride, getting a stamp in our Junior Flyer “passport” on each flight only added to the adventure. We wore our “Sunday” best, which for me was most likely an op shop dress reinvented by my Nan. For us, take-offs, landings and mid-flight turbulence were akin to jumping on a ride at the Brisbane Ekka … we just wanted more!
I think it’s because this passion for aviation is in my blood.
As I was preparing my late grandfather’s eulogy two months ago, I was privvy to his amazing history, which he had documented by hand some years before. Growing up and visiting Nan and Pop at their home and seeing Pop’s photos and memorabilia hanging up in the study, I never really “got” how important that history was. Kids don’t, do they?
But when Pop was a kid in Sydney, his dad regularly took the family on Sunday drives, usually finishing at Mascot to watch the planes take off and land. The seed was well and truly planted for Pop’s love of flying and aviation.
He had his first flight in 1929 in a Giant Moth called The Canberra. It was through striking up a friendship with aviator Jim Broadbent that Pop got to fly even more, including the time in 1933 when Jim decided it would be a good idea to fly under the Sydney Harbour Bridge to see his wife off on a cruise ship that was sailing out of the harbour. Jim received a ‘please explain’ from the Civil Aviation for that one!
Pop started his working life as a hanger boy for De Havilland Aircraft, meeting the likes of great aviators Jean Batten, Frank Neale, P.G.Taylor and Nancy Bird. He would talk to us – his grandkids – about these flying pioneers. It was like listening to a radio broadcast from an era that our generation only really relates to thanks to Hollywood movies.
It would not be until 1965 before Pop was to make his first overseas trip. Knowing Pop and knowing that this uniform (pictured below) would have been the one the “hosties” were wearing, I think he would have approved
The history of Qantas’ uniforms is as much wrapped up in the people who wore them as it is for those who flew on board with them in those eras. Each uniform marks a period in aviation history. A period that would have been considered incredibly technically advanced at the time. A period where the fashion of the day most definitely influenced the uniform of the day.
There’s the romance of travel. Right there in that line of uniforms.
As we stand on the edge of another era in aviation – the era of the A380 – I wonder how much Qantas’ appointed uniform designer Martin Grant will be looking to the Qantas’ past uniforms for inspiration for the future?
Actually, instead of wondering, I’d really like the opportunity to find out the answer to that question first hand.
You see, this post forms part of my application to become Qantas’ Fashion Correspondent for the next 12 months, tracking the design process for Qantas’ new uniform with Martin. If successful, I’d be bringing you a Catwalk Runway to Airplane Runway story each month. Plus, I’d be blogging from Paris Fashion Week. (I KNOW … I’m trying to keep a lid on the potential excitement of this project but I’d be lying if I said that was working!) ***
And as you know, Styling You is all about taking catwalk trends to creating looks we can wear everyday. Nothing will demonstrate that more than a designer working to create a uniform for such a large and diverse staff.
I’m also busting to know just how a designer creates a uniform that is not only symbolic of the history of a company but one that allows its current staff to best carry out their day-to-day jobs … which often may or may not include rescuing forgotten cabin bags from Qantas lounges
If I were successful in this application, what would you most like to know about this process?
Are you interested in the history-in-the-making aspects or the practical ones of fitting and flattering such a diverse range of people? If you have any questions you’d like me to ask the designer, please add them in the comments section below.
* If you’re new to Styling You, you may not be aware that lately I’ve had a passion for all things orange – from lippy to trench coats, scarves and shoes. I may get over this obsession … one day.
**UPDATE: My uncle has just informed me on Facebook that I was actually two and a half when I had my first flight, sitting on the lap of my aunty on a TAA F27 to Sydney. Now, that I would have loved to have remembered!
***FINAL UPDATE: I was not successful in applying for this role – congrats to Helen from SassyBella. And thank-you my lovely readers for your ongoing support of what I do here. It means the world.