FLY ME TO THE MOON Martin Grant is putting style in the skies with his new Qantas pilots’ uniforms.
Martin Grant is putting style in the skies, says Alison Veness.
Martin Grant is a bit of a pro. Well, he should be: he has been designing since he was 16. There is an elegance and swift undercurrent of Australian energy meets French la-la at play in his work. There is the original strength of his sketches in the sweep of a long wool coat and lush collar. There is a dark swagger in his faille and flou. His clothes are for serious diplomats’ wives; for ménage a trois. Charmant. He lives in Paris. He is the designer who has revamped the Qantas cabin uniforms, adding sensuality and bounce to the kicker of kangaroo with hot red and pink. Now he has been charged with the pilot uniforms.
The original mood board included Catch Me If You Can stills. “Film is so iconic for pilots and that whole glamour of air travel, so this was kind of my step-off point if you like, because we wanted it to be a bit sexy as well.” Rugged/sexy/heroic. “Yeah, exactly. I’ve learnt so much about pilots, obviously, it’s one of the top five respected professions in the workforce and it’s one of those things that everybody responds to. Children, adults, women, men … everybody has some sort of reaction to pilots and it’s always positive. And it’s that thing of respect and I think there is something sexy about it.”
The specific pilot culture is, he says, quite conservative. “I thought that it was really interesting that they talk about that themselves. And you want that conservatism in that role because you don’t want risk-takers. Everybody wants to feel reassured that whomever is flying that aircraft is stable and solid and so that’s what came through in the meetings. I’ve met something like 50 to 60 pilots through the whole process. I’ve tried to meet as many as possible to get as much information.”
He discovered that Qantas has a growing number of female pilots. “It’s the first time their uniform has been addressed, because up until now they has been sort of squeezed into men’s uniforms.”
The women will be wearing pants and jackets, because they’ve got such a specific working environment. “I mean, the flight deck is really quite small and they’re often there for 12 hours and they have a three-point harness to wear as well. They actually don’t mind having a uniform that’s very close to the men’s and so I’ve just feminised it in the cut, the jacket is more fitted. Everything is more streamlined and tailored, the pants more narrow. And then we’ve introduced a special tie for women, a plain tie which is somewhere between a cravat and a tie, with a metal tie pin, which has the Australian coat of arms on it.”
“FILM IS SO ICONIC FOR PILOTS AND THAT WHOLE GLAMOUR OF AIR TRAVEL”
“I SPENT HOURS WITH THEM BEING TAUGHT HOW TO FLY AN AIRCRAFT”
The women wanted to be aligned with their male counterparts rather than set apart. “If we had created something too feminine and they suddenly looked girlie-girlie, they wouldn’t feel as comfortable. And so it is practical and I think also a little bit about as being as good as the guys,” he adds. “There are female pilots who have been there for a long time, and then new recruits, women in their early 20s – these gorgeous fresh-faced girls being introduced into the workforce.”
And so he has revolutionised the black to nighttime navy blue, tailored in 80 per cent wool sourced from Australian growers, naturally. “The pilot’s uniform is military-based and it’s got very specific codes, which are important. The gold braid is gold bullion braid and so on the sleeves, for example, it defines the rank, and then we also used it on the trim of the hat and on all the embroidery for the wing badges and the hat badges. I’ve kind of taken it back to more of the classic military style. I wanted it to have that real richness, because sometimes I think those uniforms can look like dress-ups.”
He researched pilots uniforms across the board, across history and then specifically Qantas. “The origin of the uniform is actually naval-based, because when aircraft were invented the only thing that they had were naval uniforms, so they just wore the same kind of uniform, more than the fighter pilots’ leather jacket and cap,” he explains.
“It’s so subtle the changes that we could make, but really cool is the new white top of the hat, because in the last 30 years I think the majority of airline companies switched to a black or a dark top. Qantas had the white top up until the 70s. So I wanted to take it back to a slightly more nostalgic feel, back to that ground-roots travel.” The embroidery on the edge of the hat had a generic design, which he has addressed. “Historically, it always related to the country of origin, so it might have been olive or oak – so I’ve taken it away from what was generic and introduced the wattle on it.” And so while Leonardo DiCaprio, the star of Catch Me If You Can, was on Grant’s mood board, and Amelia Earhart, Australia’s own feted female pilot Nancy-Bird Walton was there too. “She was the first Australian female pilot to get her commercial license; I mean she got it when she was just 19!” History-making.
This latest part of the Qantas project has been an epic journey for Grant. “It’s been fascinating to walk into the lives of a whole different group of people and learn about them – and have the experience of the flight simulator as well. I spent hours with them being taught how to fly an aircraft, so all of that stuff is brilliant.”
Could he fly an aircraft now, I ask him. “No way! No way!” he says, laughing. “Not in a million years.”
Clockwise from above: gold bullion thread was used to sew iconic emblems; Martin Grant in his Paris atelier; a navy coat bearing the designer’s name and Qantas livery.
Clockwise from left: Grant’s mood board; bolts of fabric in the Paris studio; Ken dolls used by Qantas to model mini uniforms for an exhibition.