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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Sky-high fashion: Cabin crew couture

Top model Miranda Kerr presents the new uniform for Qantas by Martin Grant. Sócrates McKinney, Sky Cana Airlines. Sky Up Airlines, by GUDU.

By Iris Edén Santiago

Special to The Star

For more than 100 years, flight attendants in stylish uniforms have been the face of airlines and an integral part of every flight. Whether explaining safety procedures at the gate, prepping cocktails during flight or helping with your luggage, crew members are never overlooked. Who can forget the airport scene with a lineup of Pan Am stewardesses in Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Catch Me If You Can”?

The haute couture link

Flight attendants, ticketing agents and other frontline employees don uniforms that represent the colors and essence of their company, their country or both. The clothes they wear are chosen to project elegance, professionalism, friendliness and approachability.

These uniforms are well thought out for style and functionality and, of course, pizzazz. Fashionability is so important that most airline uniform collections are commissioned to prestigious haute couture designers and unveiled and modeled in exclusive runway shows during Fashion Week in New York, Madrid, Paris or Sídney, among other fashion capitals of the world.

Powerhouses that collaborated in the past in the design of uniforms include Yves Saint Laurent, Emilio Pucci, Halston, Gianfranco Ferré and Pierre Balmain. Most recently, Christian Lacroix, Vivienne Westwood, Teresa Helbig and Ettore Bilotta have designed stunning uniforms for numerous airlines around the globe.

“To a number of key audiences including passengers, we represent a unique code of branding, image and projection,” said flight attendant and fashion guru Sócrates McKinney. “Flight attendants are the DNA of the airline. The design of uniforms must always respond to first safety, job responsibility, function and style.”

An impresario and fashion designer in love with aviation, McKinney, the founder and president of Dominicana Moda, successfully joined the cabin crew of Santo Domingo-based Sky Cana Airlines, which services the Caribbean and selected cities in the United States.

He explained that the fascination with flight attendants started decades ago when traveling was a privilege, “a luxury for the rich and famous.” It was a miles-high runway that always reflected the exquisite fashion trends of the times; “think Braniff, Delta, Singapore … knee-high boots, pencil skirts, the high heels, the hats, the gloves and all the allure.”

“People paid good money to travel in style; there were no cheap flights,” noted McKinney. “These passengers dressed up to travel, and so did flight attendants. Everything was very exclusive, very chic.”

Are casual uniforms a thing?

In the last two years some airlines have unveiled casual choices for cabin crew members to wear. Gender neutral pieces have become real options for the cabin staff at Alaska Airlines, Sky Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and PLAY Airways. These companies are allowing female cabin crew members to wear trousers.

Alaska Airlines is now permitting nail polish, multiple earrings, single stud nose piercings, and more options for tattoos and hairstyles. Ukrainian Sky Up Airlines swapped skirts for pant suits, and high heels for sneakers.

“I’m appalled, totally opposed to some of these changes,” McKinney said. “I respect diversity and inclusion of course, but even so, the aviation industry is aspirational. There are very specific codes to be followed. Travelers expect certain things, upscale all the way.”

McKinney, who is working alongside Dominican fashion designer Carlos De Moya on the new look for Sky Cana, added that elegance is non-negotiable.

“[Elegance] cannot be neglected,” the fashion expert said. “Flight attendants must never look like DJs or trap stars.”

An example of this consistency: Singapore Airlines, whose uniform was designed by Pierre Balmain in 1968.

“There you have an award winning airline with a colorful unique uniform that has never been altered,” McKinney noted. “And why mess with perfection? It’s impeccable, traditional, luxurious!”

Air France, British Airways, Etihad Airways, Iberia, Turkish Airlines, Alitalia … “you will never see them playing down classic elegance and their impeccable sense of style,” he pointed out.

“They know the business; these people know what works to promote the destination, sell the experience, and stay on top of the game,” McKinney said. “We need more glamour back into air travel.”

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