Air NZ names its next uniform designer

She has dressed royals and Prime Ministers. Now, Emilia Wickstead’s sophisticated designs will be worn by a different jet set: Air New Zealand’s cabin crew.

The London-based Kiwi fashion designer was named today as the lead for the airline’s first uniform refresh in over a decade.

In May, the national carrier signalled it was time to clear the runway for a long-overdue revamp.

With an open call to New Zealand fashion houses, the airline invited the nation’s tailors to offer a replacement for the well-worn koru patterns of Dame Treliese Cooper from 2011. Wickstead’s signature block colours and flowing silhouettes are certainly a change of trajectory from the Kiwiana stylings in “twilight” pink and “Godzone” green.

Jacinda Ardern wore an Emilia Wickstead dress almost identical to one worn by Kate Middleton in...
Jacinda Ardern wore an Emilia Wickstead dress almost identical to one worn by Kate Middleton in 2016. Photos: Getty Images
Chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty says they received a broad swathe of pitches from “homegrown talent”.

“We received expressions of interest from more than 40 New Zealand designers and heard pitches from the country’s leading design talent, showcasing the depth and breadth of New Zealand fashion, making it an incredibly tough decision,” said Geraghty.

“Ultimately, Emilia stood out as the perfect partner.”

Her dresses in off-white ivory and not-quite New Zealand black have been worn by Kate, Princess of Wales, and former Prime Minister Dame Jacinda Ardern. During a 2016 visit to the UK, the princess and the PM wore almost identical midi dresses by the Kiwi designer.

This reproducible style could be helpful, given Wickstead must now dress 5000 Air New Zealand staff members. The uniform redesign is for cabin, flight and ground crews.

The volume was not the biggest challenge she was anticipating from this appointment by Air New Zealand. Surprisingly in her long, illustrious career Wickstead has yet to design for male models.

“I’ve never designed menswear so this is going to be a first!” she said.

Considering more than 90 per cent of Air New Zealand’s pilots are male, she has under 12 months to rise to the task.

While the new uniform won’t make its final approach for another six months, Wickstead said she could not be more proud to have been selected. As a New Zealand expatriate, her take on the Air NZ brief was inspired by links to Aotearoa.

“First and foremost, it is inspired by people,” said Wickstead.

“My approach to the uniform centres around a deep respect for New Zealand’s cultural heritage.”

Key selection criteria were a commitment to sustainability, functionality, safety and te ao Māori culture. Most importantly, the airline said it wanted a design that would stand out on airport concourses for, potentially, another 13 years to come.

Emilia Wickstead. Photo: Getty Images
Emilia Wickstead. Photo: Getty Images
Emilia Wickstead will no doubt offer a different take on a uniform that has previously been designed by Zambesi, Nina Ricci and the House of Dior.

Over the past 80 years, Air New Zealand has refreshed its staff’s wardrobe around once every decade. But a planned uniform makeover for 2021 was scrapped by pandemic cutbacks.

“Our next uniform has an 83 year legacy to live up to,” Geraghty told press at a reveal event.

“Our designer Needs to create something that is unique and distinct. The uniform needs to be modern yet timeless elegant and contemporary.”

The next year’s work to finalise the uniform will have plenty of input from crew and ground staff. Wickstead’s successful pitch was approved by Air New Zealand pilots and crew, who were “the most important stakeholders.”

“Their feedback and insights were instrumental,” said Geraghty. “They are someone who will create a uniform that will stand the test of time.”

Wickstead’s final designs for Air New Zealand designs will be revealed in late 2024.

-By Thomas Bywater and Sarah Pollok