In days of packed aircrafts with no living space if you are taller than 5ft, passengers in tracksuits trousers and flip flops and undistinguished flight attendants uniforms, is well-worth to step back to civilisation and take a look at Emilio Pucci uniform designs for Braniff International Airlines.
Everything started with jazz – what else does the hip modern man need?
A title, a cover, an album on Atlantic – a label that wise style lessons had already provided with Coltrane’s ivy look on Giant Steps – Dave Pike, Jazz for the Jet Set.
The title jointly with the cover artwork – a model sitting on a pink background in a futuristic space-age orange dress with a transparent spherical space helmet – summed-up in a nutshell the essence of 1960s jet set coolness.
The hip American way of life portrayed by Mad Men-style adverts for Playboy magazine. The America of Mrs Robinson pouring herself a drink in her home bar with the record player quietly spinning easy listening music while waiting for young Dustin Hoffman.
That amazing dress was not just some futurist fashion catwalk extravaganza, it was part of the flight attendants uniforms for Braniff International Airlines.
In 1964 – in jet age full swing – the Oklahoma company new owner Troy Post decided the airline was in need of a renovation. He hired Harding Lawrence as new president giving him the task to bring Braniff to the level of other leading jet set airline companies.
Mad woman Mary Wells – soon to become Lawrence wife – was given the advertising executive role. She can be considered the real mastermind behind Braniff exceptional style twist.
Italian designer Emilio Pucci was hired by Wells to design new uniforms. Along with him came New Mexico architect Alex Girard and shoe designer Beth Levine.
The motto used by Braniff for this new campaign was “The End of the Plain Plane”, whose spirit whose totally embodied by the three designers’ works.
Pucci, especially, was able to mix and balance Braniff’s ambitions for jet set coolness and mid-60s colours explosion.
Pucci’s distinctive patterns were applied between 1965 and 1974 to futurist space-age hostesses uniforms which perfectly captured the zeitgeist of jet age.
Bold colours including metal purple, chocolate brown, ocher, red, turquoise and lavender were employed along with multi-coloured geometrical patterns for head scarves, tights and dresses. Uniforms could have a conic or straight solid shape with frontal zips decorated by classic 60s round zip rings. From the late 60s flared trousers and long pointy cravats were introduced.
The most interesting elements, though, were the accessories. Apart from umbrellas matching uniforms patterns, the so-called ‘RainDome’ crowned Braniff as the quintessential space-age airline.
‘RainDomes’ consisted in transparent plastic spheres which hostesses had to wear to protect themselves from rain when walking from the airport’s gate to the aircraft. The domes were usually worn over a head scarf and one is visible in Dave Pike’s above-mentioned LP cover.
Not only Pucci designed innovative clothes, he also invented a new way to sport them. With 1965 campaign ‘The Air Strip’, Pucci introduced the concept of multiple layers which had to be removed by hostesses during the flight. The strip, more than a sexy action, was intended as a way to showcase a variety of different outfits, making Braniff a glamorous company to fly with.
Along with Pucci uniforms, American architect Alex Girard designed new furniture for Braniff gate lounges, ticket offices and aircrafts interiors. The same various colour palette adopted for uniforms was used for aircrafts interiors and exteriors.
Plane exteriors got a complete makeover. Aircrafts were re-painted with a range of fifteen so-called ‘jelly bean’ bold colours using monochrome patterns. Skies were now crossed by ocher, red, turquoise and green planes; just to mention some of Braniff colours.
By mid 70s jet age had reached its end and therefore Braniff ended its futurist campaign. The company did not last much longer – closing in 1982 – but Pucci uniforms have survived the test of time and now are part of fashion history, reminding us of times when authenticity and creativity in fashion and design were not only costumers’ rights but companies’ moral obligations.