The delicate art of rebranding an award-winning, international airline, globally acclaimed for its unique service culture and attention to detail, is about restoring customer confidence. For the carrier, redesigning comfort, improving speed and efficiency, and building on exemplary airborne hospitality begins on the ground. Following significant setbacks in 2013 and 2014, Malaysia Airlines is looking first to the ultra-modern Airbus A350 XWB – assembled at Airbus HQ in Toulouse, France – which it will begin to introduce to its fleet in 2017.
It’s a bold move and a big, big order for such a major airline; the (list-price) $300m A350 XWB is a masterfully engineered fusion of operating efficiency and exclusive customer experience, the most technologically advanced, fuel-efficient and reliable Airbus. It features state-of-the-art aerodynamics, with morphing wings that adapt their shape during the flight, an intelligent airframe made from 53 per cent composites, and a lighter, higher-voltage AC electrical system. It’s also quieter and produces fewer emissions than its predecessors.
Next job? The uniforms, which the airline sees as a key part of its rebranding. Enter Malaysia’s first class couturier Dato’ Farah Khan, who was commissioned by Malaysia Airlines to reboot and modernise its staff livery. Chosen for her progressive vision, flair for colour and fit, and innate understanding of the Malaysian aesthetic, Farah Khan was tasked with creating uniforms that speak of grace and capability, galvanising a sense of renewed self-esteem in the people that will be wearing them.
Farah Khan has also been working from the ground up. ‘It’s been quite a challenge,’ she says. ‘We are designing everything from the shoes to the hair and make-up.’ Her brief spans everything from the ground crew uniforms to the iconic cabin crew outfits. It’s a huge undertaking, not least because of the pride associated with wearing the uniform. ‘Anyone who has watched droves of airline staff gliding through an airport will understand that they are all ambassadors of the brand.’
Colours for the uniforms are inspired by the Malaysian wau (kite) emblem on the tails of Malaysia Airlines’ new fleet. ‘The wau represents a sense of freedom,’ explains Farah Khan. ‘The kites are beautiful, delicate things made by Malaysian farmers after the work of the harvest is done. They represent not just the notion of flight but also the sense that you have time to yourself.’ The traditional South-East Asian kebaya, a fitted blouse and long skirt combo, will be referenced for the female ensembles – ‘so beautiful and elegant when you see it walking down the aisles’, says Farah Khan. ‘I spent hours talking to staff to try to understand what was required,’ says the designer. ‘They want to look stylish and modern and feel a sense of grace and self-assurance. But because they can spend up to 18 hours wearing one uniform, practicality, function and ease of movement are also major issues. Naturally, I also hope to bring some notes of luxury from my fashion collections to the uniform designs.’ A well-dressed airline, says Farah Khan, ‘is a proud, modern, confident airline.’