Air France - a constant symbol of French elegance.
THE FIRST INSPIRATION
The first 'uniforms' were made up of a wardrobe inspired by the clothes worn by sleeping-car attendants, in keeping with the conventions of high-end hotels: a white jacket, navy trousers, a white cap and a collared navy spencer. Stripes and insignia served to highlight the crews' hierarchy, ensuring military order as well as a military style that male civil aviation uniforms retain even today.
In 1946, Air France organised the first competition to recruit hostesses. Having a uniform became essential. The fashion house Georgette Renal, chosen by hostesses, included a wardrobe of basic clothing items: a suit, a summer dress, and a coat. In 1951, with the airline experiencing great success, it chose the Georgette de Trèze fashion house to modernise and feminise its hostesses' appearance, and to convey the spirit of the 1950s.
The old uniform no longer suited the active role Air France wanted its hostesses to play. In March 1962, the airline launched a new model designed by Marc Bohan at Dior, which introduced the 'Air France' range into its haute couture collection. The outfit became lighter – a shade of 'Marceau' blue – and a navy blue pillbox hat adorned with the Air France insignia replaced the beret. The tiniest details of the new uniform recalled the refinement of high fashion. The first couture uniform, this version left the most lasting impression on flight crew.
At the end of the 60s, the famous fashion designer Cristobal Balenciaga created Air France's new uniforms. The project was confined to the uniform of female flight attendants, who would receive a winter suit cut in a very 'aeronautical' style. In 1971, the Balenciaga fashion house added two outfits (winter and summer) to distinguish ground hostesses. At the end of the year, hostesses were complaining that fashion designers were not taking their working conditions sufficiently into account.
THE 1970S : A TIME OF INVENTIVENESS
The classicism of Air France's uniform was out of place in an environment that was already channelling interstellar travel. UTA chose the most avant-garde edge of fashion by ordering its new uniform in 1968 from Pierre Cardin, aiming to rejuvenate the airline's style. In 1973, in order to retain the airline's inventive character, UTA tasked André Courrèges with creating the new uniform. Trousers made an appearance, alongside ski jackets, close-fitting sweaters, miniskirts and flat white boots. Air France chose to express its modernity by incorporating the latest fashions.
In 1971, Jacques Esterel launched the new Air Inter uniform, which featured dynamic orange colours and a geometrical design with a pop flavour: mini-coat, polka-dot dress, shoulder bag, pumps, and hat. In a period when trends were fleeting, the uniforms soon went out of style. UTA and Air Inter opted for a more traditional style, working with Nina Ricci, Hermès and Dior in the 1980s. The 1970s turned a new page in the history of Air France's uniforms: a focus on gentleness and amicability, breaking with the airline's traditional style of dress. To celebrate the arrival of Concorde, the task of designing a new uniform for Concorde hostesses was given to the Jean Patou fashion house in 1976.
In 1978, after three years of crises, Air France's activities expanded, and a new uniform for flight crews was designed as part of an approach to re-establish a brand image. Blue and white, Air France's traditional colours, were made dynamic with the introduction of red. To achieve a diversity of styles, three fashion houses were tasked with producing this multi-form uniform: Carven, Nina Ricci and Grès.
Air France unveiled a new uniform for sales agents on the ground in 1987. The Georges Rech brand was the perfect embodiment of the style of the active and dynamic woman, boasting a masculine-feminine charm. As for the flight crew uniform, the task of creating the wardrobe would be given to three designers: the coat to Nina Ricci, the four main elements to Carven, the summer dress to Louis Féraud, and the accessories to Catherine de Karolyi.
Each fashion house was given specifications (comfort, ease of wearing, practicality) and flight attendants voted to choose which would make up the new wardrobe.
THE 1990S AND THE SINGLE IDENTITY
At the beginning of the 90s, the airline returned to a single uniform, giving a shared identity to all of its staff. Flight crews' outfits were formed of a mixture of the 1987 uniforms from Nina Ricci, Carven and Louis Féraud.
As a result of its grouping policy and successive mergers, Air France had to create an appearance that personified this coming together of worlds and cultures. The uniform, entrusted to renowned designer Christian Lacroix, was born out of a subtle hybrid between the need for identity and freedom of imagination – a blend of wonder and style.
"You could recognise an Air France crew in a crowd of a thousand people in any airport in the world," Christian Lacroix would later say. Not just from its colours, but also the "indescribable blend of flair and style". In 2005, the designer created a wardrobe of around a hundred combinable items, revisiting French elegance once again.