Why you should care
Because while Virgin passes as today’s version of cool, back in the ’60s an airline called Braniff was out of this world. Way out of this world.
Today, when our carry-on bags are overstuffed with survival necessities like edible food and eye masks, noise-canceling headsets and Ambien (to block out the entire experience), it’s hard to imagine the glory days — back when airplane travel was glamorous and elite, and flight attendant style went far beyond dull standard-issue pencil skirts.
In the 1960s, a now-defunct, Texas-based airline called Braniff International was intent on making sure passengers’ flight experience was not only memorable but totally unforgettable.
Which meant eye candy: a psychedelic, eye-popping, full-on design experience best illustrated by its uniforms, created by famed Italian designer Emilio Pucci.
Pucci designed many different uniform lines for Braniff, but each had his splash of his signature vivid prints. In some cases, it was more like a tidal wave. And the shoes. They whispered in soft Italian leather but screamed in their bold colors, stripes and patterns. More fun to look at than the clouds.
Braniff enlisted the first lady of American shoe design, Beth Levine — who also designed Nancy Sinatra’s boots for “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’” publicity — to create both leather and plastic footwear for its hostesses. (Note: Hostess is the un-PC predecessor to the eventually also un-PC term stewardess.)
But maybe nothing more effectively conveyed the subliminal message that ”through flight, anything is possible” than Pucci’s clear plastic helmets. Called Rain Domes, they were meant to keep complicated hairstyles protected from the elements on the tarmac. Their Jetsons vibe suggested passengers might be getting a thrilling blastoff into space — not a two-hour ride to Minneapolis.
Just like a true flight of fancy, however, the impracticality of the Rain Dome was its downfall. They cracked easily and were abandoned after one month, when — big surprise — there was no space in the overhead bins, or anywhere in the cabin, to store the large plastic bubbles.
The uniforms were just one piece of Braniff’s successful multiyear marketing push, launched in 1965, to make jet travel a luxurious, high-style experience for the masses. “The End of the Plain Plane” ad and design campaign featured airplanes painted in shades of ochre and metallic purple; 57 different Herman Miller fabrics in plane cabins and lounges; and colorful, arty airline ticket counters.
All told, Pucci and esteemed designer Alexander Girard initiated more than 17,000 changes in about six months, as part of the famed campaign.
Surrounded by that much style — plus flowing cocktails and actual meals like shrimp and bon-bons in lieu of (no longer free) peanuts, Braniff, may it rest in peace, made airline travel something it may never be again: fun.
No Ambien required.