Braniff International Airways – Not So Secret Obsession

Braniff International Airways was an American airline that operated from 1928 until 1982, primarily in the midwestern and southwestern U.S., South America, Panama, and in its later years also Asia and Europe. The airline ceased operations on May 12, 1982, due to factors including escalating fuel prices, aggressive and unsustainable expansion, and fierce competition following changes that resulted from the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.

New Mexico architect Alexander Girard, Italian fashion designer Emilio Pucci, and shoe designer Beth Levine were called in, and with this new creative talent, Braniff began the “End of the Plain Plane” campaign.

Girard outfitted the interiors with 57 different variations of Herman Miller fabrics. Fifteen colors were used by Braniff for plane exteriors during the 1960s (Harper & George modified Girard’s original seven colors in 1968). Many of the color schemes were applied to aircraft interiors, gate lounges, ticket offices, and even the corporate headquarters. Art to complement the color schemes was flown in from Mexico, Latin America, and South America.

Pucci used a series of nautical themes in overhauling the crew’s uniforms. For the stewardesses, Pucci used “space age” themes, including plastic “space bubbles” (resembling Captain Video helmets) which the stewardesses could wear between the terminal and the plane to prevent hairstyles from being disturbed. However, the “space bubble” was dropped after about a month because the helmets cracked easily, there was no place to store them on the aircraft, and jetways at many airports made them unnecessary. For the footwear, Beth Levine created plastic boots and designed two-tone calfskin boots and shoes. Stewardesses were called “hostesses” at Braniff and were attired with uniforms and accessories composed of interchangeable parts which could be removed and added as needed. In 1969, Pucci designed “Pucci IV”, for the intro of “747 Braniff Place” (1971). The collection was debuted at the Dallas Hilton by Pucci himself, in 1970. Today all of the vintage Pucci attire designed for Braniff is valuable.

In 1968, under the leadership of Mary Wells and Jack Tinker, Braniff expanded the advertising campaign that showed the likenesses of Andy Warhol, Sonny Liston, Salvador Dalí, Whitey Ford, the Playboy Bunny, and other celebrities of the time, all flying Braniff. It became one of the most celebrated marketing efforts Madison Avenue had ever produced, blending style and arrogance. One advertising slogan was “if you’ve got it — flaunt it!” Although management considered the campaign a success, Braniff’s core customers were outraged by the grandiose behavior and perceived “bragging”, causing many corporate accounts to leave Braniff.

In 1977, Braniff dropped Pucci as its designer of uniforms. American fashion and couture designer Halston was then brought on to bring a more American look back to Braniff. His all-leather looks—dubbed the “Ultra” look—were applied to uniforms and the fleet, including Braniff’s new Boeing 727-200s (and the “Flying Colors” planes as well). His uniforms and simplistic design were praised by critics and passengers.

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