Erarta Exalts High Society
Published: January 31, 2014 (Issue # 1795)
As you walk into Erarta’s new exhibition, “Air France and KLM: The History of the World Airlines,” the first thing you are reminded of is that once upon a time, traveling by air was a fabulous event —something to be celebrated and to dress up for. It’s a far cry from the air travel we know today where the glitz and glamor of boarding a plane has been replaced with lines, delays and tracksuits — especially onboard a budget airline.
Through a series of rare black and white photographs from both Air France and KLM archives, visitors are instantly transported as far back as 1920 when civil aviation was just beginning and proceeds to showcase vintage images up until 1970.
With Air France having celebrated 60 years up in the air last year and KLM celebrating 95 years this year, making it the oldest European airline operating under its original name, the exhibition was brought together as a way to recognize these landmark anniversaries.
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Split into two rooms, the first gallery is dedicated to Air France, mostly showcasing its famous passengers over the years. Launched in 1933 as a consolidation of the biggest airlines of the time (Air Orient, Air Union, SGTA, CIDNA and Aeropostale), Air France quickly expanded and by 1938 was flying to over 85 destinations with some of film’s biggest stars onboard. Walking along, you encounter photographs of timeless beauties such as Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Birkin, each effortlessly posing as though they were on movie set rather than on an airline staircase. The men from Hollywood are equally as young and attractive and include a dapper Sean Connery, a handsome Marlon Brando and a charming Frank Sinatra, all dressed to impress as they grin at the camera before boarding the plane.
While the star power alone in these series of photographs is impressive enough, what makes them truly enjoyable is the close-up, personal nature of them. Yet, despite their Hollywood smiles, it is actually the photographs of the perfectly groomed airline crew that outshine the celebrities hanging on the wall. With past uniforms designed by Christian Dior, Cristobal Balenciaga and Christian Lacroix, the stewardesses at Air France are nothing short of stylish, graceful and fashion forward. The pride felt from working onboard is clearly evident on their perfectly made-up faces.
Not to be outdone, the men working onboard are just as chic, as the KLM photographs in the next room prove. Dated 1938, one particular photograph shows a group of stewards dressed in flashy three-piece suits, complete with a captain’s hat and bow tie as their standard uniform.
Despite a less star-studded affair on the runway, the KLM archived photographs, released from the Maria Austria Institute in Amsterdam, are no less impressive, ranging from vintage planes to well-dressed passengers and even parties held on runways.
Photographs of a (horrifyingly) basic-looking cockpit from the 1930s and an even more sparse-looking cabin from the 1920s, however, make you wonder how anyone had the nerve to board the plane. It then makes you wonder if when people in the future look back on how we travel by air today, will it be more with horror or nostalgia?
Air France and KLM: The History of the World Airlines is on view until Feb. 10 at Erarta Museum, 2, 29th Line, V.O. Tel. 324 0809. For more information, visit: www.erarta.com