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The Secret To Designing The Qantas Uniform

Martin Grant isn’t your run of the mill fashion designer. If you’ve ever admired the chic Qantas attire and wondered how the cabin crew earned their style stripes, then ponder no more. Grant is the man who Qantas calls upon to pen their signature uniforms.

An Australian-Parisian, the designer has been commissioned once again to collaborate with the flying kangaroo; this time designing the pilot’s uniform.

D’Marge recently sat down with Grant to explore his fascination with aviation uniform, his own style habits, and why he thinks Australian men’s style is right up there with the world’s best.

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BF: Nice to have you in Australia and a big congratulations on your collaboration with Qantas again.

MG: Thanks. I was thrilled to be asked. Actually, when I started the design process for the ground and cabin crew uniforms back in 2013, I was almost disappointed that I didn’t have to design the pilot’s. But just like the last uniform design, the pilot’s uniform wasn’t changed until two years after the crew’s, so designing for Qantas two years later feels like a natural chain of events.

BF: You’re a fashion designer at heart, how do you strike the balance between comfort and style when designing clothes for flight?

Designing for uniforms is a completely different process. With fashion, things like comfort come into it but really you’ve got carte blanche – you can do whatever you like. With uniforms, you must follow specific requirements because the clothing needs to allow for really specific activities.

And these are under a tighter realm of guidelines for pilots: being confined to their flight deck and doing their tech walk arounds. Compared to the crew, the activities are very specific. But I quite enjoy the constraints and the problem solving. It’s a different challenge for me in design.

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BF: What can you tell us about the specific requirements that go into a Qantas pilot uniform?

MG: There’s a technical, almost scientific process that I go through. I look at fire-retardant fabrics, breathability and durability. Being a uniform it gets used and used, so it has to last as long as possible – especially from a financial point of view.

So I test colour-fastness – the ink shouldn’t move or fade, and the fabric needs to be able to dry quickly after washing. The pilots need be able to wash their clothes on a stopover if need be and not worry about it drying in time.

BF: What fabric do you plan to use in the uniforms?

MG: I push for fabric with the highest possible wool content, and it has to be Australian, which naturally ticks all the boxes in regards to quality. And it’s supporting Australian farmers. But, you always need a level of polyester content in there, which makes the fabric quick-dry and last longer.

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BF: What influences the design of the Qantas collection?

MG: I tend to look back to the past for inspiration. Specifically, I’ll be looking back at the history of the Qantas uniforms and Australian uniforms in general. The aviation industry has a fairly short history, because commercial flying only came in after WWI.

So it’s only really only since the 1930s that this type of uniform exists. But there are a lot of givens in this type of garment, in regards to aviation norms: the military insignia; the stripes; and the caps. There are certain things that, as a designer, I can’t play around with.

BF: Do the constraints impede on your creativity?

MG: Not at all. In fact, I love the military aspect of the pilot’s uniform, the insignia. It highlights their rank, the things they’ve worked towards and earned, so there’s a lot of pride involved in wearing the uniform. And the story behind each one’s achievements, the markings stand for that. I find it quite fascinating.

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BF: Do you feel pressure from the Australian public when designing for our national airline?

MG: [Laughs] I went through all that last time when designing the crew uniforms. They’re the most visible group and the public are most vocal about them because they see them before and during flying. And I made some extreme changes with that uniform.

So, I think I’ve already worked through the pressure. And it’s been an overwhelming success. Within the company itself, the staff are thrilled with their new uniforms and the public also reacted positively. I mean, there will always be some people that don’t like it – I think pink was a slight risk – but two years down the track, it’s still working. So I feel pretty confident.

BF: Out of all the places that you’ve visited, which country or city has the best dressed men?

MG:The Italians always look incredible. Because of their physique they can get away with a lot. For example, wearing something very dandy without looking ridiculous. Even in their sporty outfits, they look great, especially in Milan.

In London, I love the fact that the young guys wear suits, while New York has a mixture of things. They are usually cooler, and have a more relaxed way of dressing. Unlike the typical American, New Yorkers tend to be a little more trashed-up.

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BF: How do the Australian men fair?

MG: Being back this time, I’m noticing that Australian men are more smartly dressed. But maybe that’s because it’s fashion week. And I’ve just flown in from Broome, which was a complete culture shock.

BF: Any plans for a menswear collection?

MG: I’d love to. But the pre-seasonal collections in womenswear have become so important to my brand these days, that I am already designing four collections a year. So it’s that idea of adding another two collections to the four collections in my schedule that makes me hesitant. But otherwise, I would love to.

I have some demand by men in Japan for my women’s coats. I’d like to start tweaking the jacket – making them more masculine – and then releasing them as their own men’s line the following season.

BF: Who knows what the future holds then?

MG: Exactly.

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