Dolly Parton greets the arrivals door with a kick and a huge smile. The Pope wears a skullcap and a robe even for takeoff. It’s very hard to make a tracksuit chic, but Whitney Houston in a white suit and coordinating Fila sunshade can pull it off (Justin Bieber, in gray tracksuit bottoms tucked into rainbow socks, can’t) . Jane Birkin looks cool walking through the airport with a big stick of duty free cigarettes sticking out of a wicker basket. Miley Cyrus prefers a unicorn onesie and a pink Barbie companion.
These are just a few of the takeaways from Come fly with me, a new photography book by Rizzoli celebrating the history of celebrity airport styling over the past 50 years. From a bowler hat to Frank Sinatra in 1961 to a puffer-wrapped Rihanna, they tell how the culture of fashion, travel, and celebrity has dramatically changed. Edited by de longue date Rolling stone Creative Director Jodi Peckman and framed by journalist Jason Gay’s preface, the images are punctuated with travel-themed quotes from various high thieves: “Everywhere I go, there’s always an incredible crowd following me. In Rome, as I land at the airport, even the men kiss me, ”said Muhammad Ali, who is captured looking eminently chic in a cream suit. “I didn’t isolate myself,” insists Nicolas Cage, wearing a sleazy rock’n’roll ensemble consisting of leather pants and a leopard-print leather jacket. “I don’t live somewhere on a yacht. I am not hidden or behind a door somewhere. I don’t fly in a private plane. I am going to the airport.
“Whether the subjects strut around the terminal like in a parade or consciously disguise themselves from the paparazzi, they all have an elegant and whimsical quality,” writes Peckman, whose own interest in the genre began with a photo of Paul and Linda McCartney. filmed in the early 1970s. “I liked everything,” she says. “A look at a famous family in such a public space, they seem so natural. They don’t pose, they don’t look too shy and their style is fabulous.
What is most striking when looking at the collection is the precariousness of travel fashion, something that seems to have emerged with the era of mass travel that began in the 1990s. Diana Ross at the Heathrow Airport in 1986 wears a fur-trimmed leather jacket, matching leather pants and heeled boots. Prince in 1989 could walk a runway in his double-breasted plaid suit; in 1997, Sharon Stone arrived at LAX in gold pajamas.
Before the ’90s, traveling was more fun than superficial, explains Gay, which was reflected in the wardrobe. “There was once a magical time when taking an airplane trip was glamorous – for everyone,” he writes. “Dinner was served with a knife and fork. Downtime was a cigarette and vodka in a glass. The flight did not have wifi, but it was attractive. And then have another cigarette and some vodka. Commercial travel, even in first class, is not what it used to be. Passengers “did not have to remove their shoes to security,” he said. “They didn’t sit stuck in the 35F seat paranoid about the barefoot schnook sneezing in 36E.
The change in dress also reflects a broader societal change. “The fashion shift from a coordinated designer-led dress in the 1980s to a more casual and individual style reflected broader social trends,” says Dennis Nothdruft, Head of Exhibitions at London Fashion and Textile Museum. “The rise of Gen-X and the grunge movement ushered in a new way of dressing. There was also a spirit of economy and vintage, of mixing styles and looks, and a general shift from power-dressing to a more subcultural anti-fashion.
Beyond fashion, the images tell of how the nature of celebrity has changed. As they enter the 90s, stars begin to turn away from the camera – a reflection, perhaps, of the deteriorating relationship between celebrities and the media. Elton John arriving at Heathrow in 1982 (possibly returning from his Jump Up tour!) Seems delighted to see the photographer. Cut to LAX in 2014, and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are shown regrouping in the airport, arms raised to shield their faces, hugging each other for support. “It seems like this is just another paparazzi cliché meant only for tabloid sales,” observes Peckman of the Olsens. “But the solid, amorphous form captures the essence of these girls – twins, who seem to move through life as one unit.”
But none demonstrate how much the style of the airport has changed as well as the opening image of the book: Lady Gaga, in a red and white flared mini dress, a red panama hat and white sunglasses, strutting down the striped LAX-lit catwalk in 2015. She cuts a starkly different figure than other 21st-century celebrities en route to their planes. Stiletto heels rather than sneakers, relieved even of the smallest of bags, free legs of the usual bands of cashmere or jersey. It’s a stark rejection of the spandex lace-up fabrics and bulky bags that characterize most flights. Evoking the tropes of 20th century travel style, it aligns with the high performance glamor of the stars of yesteryear, serving to remind us of the fun, style and glamor that travel can hold.
Come fly with me: fly in style by Jodi Peckman is published by Rizzoli at £ 22.50