Volume games reminiscent of the lines of an airplane engine, silver buttons in the shape of a propeller, uniforms signed by the big names in fashion, miniaturized and hand-sewn on a white canvas ... To celebrate its 90th anniversary, Air France called on Xavier Ronze, head of costume workshops for the Paris Opera Ballet, to imagine, from emblematic elements of the airline's heritage, a collection of five dresses embodying its history.
"Since its inauguration on October 7, 1933, Air France has always been at the forefront of its time," explains Sylvie Tarbouriech, brand and marketing director of the company with 1,000 flights a day, to 200 destinations, thanks to a fleet of more than 230 aircraft. "She has never ceased to build her legend by working with pioneers in design, architecture, gastronomy and haute couture. Transcribing his career through these five creations * is a way to bring to life once again French excellence, this "je-ne-sais-quoi" that the world recognizes in our country. "
This "je-ne-sais-quoi" that the world recognizes in our country
It's a fact, Air France rhymes with elegance. And it's not for nothing that the company has made it its signature ("Fly in style. Air France.") in his latest commercial, in May 2022. Even Christian Lacroix, the fashion designer who has been dressing all the company's staff since 2005, says: "We recognize among a thousand and in any airport in the world an Air France crew." Who has never turned their head, the time of a stopover on the other side of the world or an endless walk in the corridors of a terminal, to admire a parade of pilots, stewards and flight attendants branded AF? "More than a uniform, we are talking about looks, attests Sylvie Tarbouriech. By turning to great couturiers (Dior, Balenciaga, Carven, Patou) over the decades, the company has transcended the usual codes of work dress to invent its own style: an irreproachable elegance very French, ambassador of haute couture. That's definitely one of the reasons why our staff is extremely committed and proud of their locker room."
Air uniforms France designed by Cristóbal Balenciaga in 1969. Air Museum Collection France
The style contrasts with the fashion of the street
In April 1946, thirteen years after its creation, Air France welcomed its first eleven flight attendants on board its aircraft. To the stewards (all from the luxury hotel industry and transatlantic liners) the preparation of meals and service, to the flight attendants the mission of ensuring the perfect well-being of passengers and guaranteeing them a welcome "like at home". Initially, most of them wore their first aid nurse pilot outfit, without any distinguishing mark. "The first women's uniform was entrusted to Georgette Renal, which favoured comfort and solidity," says Sylvie Tarbouriech. Coat, suit and dress, all basic, with padding shoulders, in the spirit of the years of the Liberation: a bit austere, the style contrasts with the fashion of the street, upset by the emergence of Christian Dior's New Look.
In 1951, Georgette de Trèze signed a new, more feminine ensemble, whose jacket with its curved waist and tube skirt revealed much more glamorous curves. An extra elegance perfectly in keeping with the refinement of the company's luxury services, then booming. In the 1960s, Air France entered the era of jets, Caravelle and Boeing 707. A technological revolution is underway, with the watchwords: functionality, sophistication, elegance. The new aircrew uniform follows suit. Its production is entrusted to the house of Dior and its artistic director, Marc Bohan. On March 23, 1962, the Marceau blue boat collar outfit, called "Air France", paraded with great pomp in front of the press around the world during the Dior haute couture show, Avenue Montaigne. The smallest details of the whole, with embroidered escutcheons, reflect the French know-how and refinement. Flight attendants become fashion prints and high-flying ambassadors.
Air outfits France signed Marc Bohan for Dior in 1962. Photo Collection Air Museum France
Great international publicity
This coup d'éclat marks a major turning point. From then on, the biggest names in Parisian haute couture jostled to (re)dress the hostesses. "At a time when the Internet and social networks did not exist, sewing your name on cabin crew labels was a great international advertisement for fashion houses," explains Sylvie Tarbouriech. After Marc Bohan, Cristóbal Balenciaga designed a navy blue winter suit without collar and with multiple pockets very aeronautical in the late 1960s, then Jean Patou created a flowing dress in striped satin intended only for the hostesses of the Concorde, in 1976. We also remember the colorful roosterfoot outfits of Nina Ricci and Carven, the neck caround the cloud or the red belt to tie like a bolduc (this ribbon typical of the workshops of confection) of Christian Lacroix ... It's fascinating to see how each designer is the witness of an era, marking the history of fashion with his hands."
One recognizes among a thousand and in any airport in the world an Air crew France
Nothing should impede freedom of movement
If it embodies an ideal of typically masculine femininity (the stewardess falls into the category of fantasies related to girls in uniform: soldier, nurse, lawyer, etc.), the profession of flight attendant has long been synonymous with social ascension and success for women. The reason? "Their arrival in the aisles of the planes coincides with their access to work," explains Sylvie Tarbouriech. How not to vibrate in front of this new promise of escape and exoticism in the four corners of the world? But, beware, the selection criteria put in place since the birth of this profession, at the end of the Second World War, were very strict. A good (rather bourgeois) education and good manners, a perfectly mastered English, as well as the care given to its outfit, a sign of respect and confidence for the traveler: the mission is demanding. "
Since its inauguration on October 7, 1933, Air France has always been at the forefront of its time
But wearing the uniform is a bit like giving up part of your personality... So, in 2005, Christian Lacroix decided to shake up the codes. Exit the Frigate dress designed by Madame Carven and the tailor Nina Ricci, dating from 1987, as well as other outfits inherited from UTA or Air Inter with which the company merged. The Arles designer offers the PNC (Commercial Flight Crew) to wear pants. A first. Just like the choice to put on a dress, skirt or pants depending on the mood of the day, women can also determine the length of their jacket: short or long. Taking into account the morphology of each is now essential, well-being in his work clothing essential. "For security reasons, nothing should hinder freedom of movement," concludes Sylvie Tarbouriech. Chic within wing.
* From September 28 to October 10, Air France exhibits at Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann and unveils this collection of dresses in the windows of the department store.