Pakistan International Airlines will be selecting one out of 16 proposed looks for a new, improved uniform. Is this the start of a new beginning for the distressed national carrier?
PIA may require a lot more than an improved image to make a comeback but for now a new uniform may be paramount to a new beginning. It’s a small step in what appears to be the right direction.
Keeping that in mind the national carrier has chosen 16 designers to create two to four coherent styles each for the Pakistan International Airline cabin crew. The outfits will be showcased in an upcoming fashion show in Karachi. Nabila, who has been roped in to style the show, will undoubtedly play a role in devising a fresh look for the crew as well. The outfits will be judged by a select panel of experts and one will be selected as the official new PIA uniform.
“This is not a competition,” Bunto Kazmi, who has been informally overlooking this project, said. “Everybody is working together and they are designing for the love of Pakistan. These people have such busy schedules and they have taken time out for this. It’s a collective exercise.”
“I do think it’s about time the (PIA) look changed,” she added.
The current PIA uniform, just to put things in perspective, is an in-house design (by Riffat Yasmin) but PIA has quite a style history to its credit. The very first uniform may have been a westernised skirt and blouse but PIA made a mark by being the first international airline to incorporate its national dress as its uniform in 1956. The shalwarand tunic was designed by Laila Shahzada and Chausie Fountainer, an American woman of French descent who was training the PIA cabin crew while on a five year deputation from Pan American World Airways. Feroze Cowasjee modified the look for a new uniform that lasted six years (1960-66) and in 1966 Pierre Cardin, the renowned French fashion designer, came up with the legendary slim-line style that was an instant hit and lasted till 1975.
Sir Hardy Amies – designer to Queen Elizabeth II – designed the next uniform (1975-1986) and in 1986 Pakistani designer Nahid Azfar took over in a very TeeJay’s inspired design that was seen till 2003. (Information courtesy History of PIA)
We have to agree that it is high time the national carrier got a new look.
To achieve this newly devised, contemporary image, 16 designers including Amir Adnan, Nomi Ansari, Shamaeel & Sonya Battla (working together), Nida Azwer, Ismail Farid, Omer Farooq of Republic, Fahad Hussayn, Maheen Karim, Misha Lakhani, Sania Maskatiya, Yasmin Sheikh, Shamoon Sultan, Ali Xeeshan and HSY have offered their expertise.
“I see a slightly individualistic look; our flight staff should not look like any other airline,” Amir Adnan shared his vision for the crew members (male). “There must be an element that distinguishes our cabin crew from the rest of the world. I’ve taken inspiration from the Chitrali chogha that comes in four distinct colours and I’ve contemporarized it. I’ve played around with the jacket and the collar.”
“It’s Pakistan representing itself all over the world so it’s where we are and where we want to go,” Misha Lakhani offered. “I am incorporating details from our heritage but the look will be chic and contemporary. It should not look like costume. The air hostesses should be able to take pride in what they’re wearing.”
“We want a look which is strong and slick,” said HSY, the only designer proposing designs for the women as well as men onboard. “The cabin crew is the first image people get of Pakistan around the world and that image has to be perfect. I don’t think it should necessarily be patriotic because patriotic too often translates to folksy. We don’t want that. We want a uniform that is smart and contemporary. People should stop at international airports and say, ‘wow, where is that crew from!’ I travel a lot and have been observing cabin crew uniforms; we have also done a lot of research asking the current crew on what they will and won’t wear.”
No matter which design is selected, it’s needless to say that the PIA cabin crew does deserve a break for their years of tolerance and resilience. Passengers will vouch for the lack of resources that PIA struggles with and the kind of (generally illiterate and uncouth) travellers that PIA staff has to deal with. The current, rather frumpy uniform does the crew no justice and the one thing they should be given is the confidence that may come with a smart uniform that cuts them an internationally acceptable figure.