x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Nostalgia is back in fashion

Watching the US series Pan Am made me remember my childhood, when my father was an aviation writer.

Finally, I have been able to watch the new "cult" US TV show that is tipped to have an impact on fashion.

No, not The Walking Dead but Pan Am, currently being shown (to mixed reviews) on ABC, one of the big three US commercial broadcasting networks. It also, incidentally, shows in the UAE on the OSN Arabia network.

Personally, I loved it. Not just because of the famous pale blue air stewardess uniform, with its jaunty hat and pristine white gloves, worn to perfection by the actress Christina Ricci.

It also brought back memories of my childhood. No, my mother wasn't a "trolley dolly" like Mrs Middleton, mother of Kate and Pippa.

My father was an aviation writer in the late 1960s through the 1970s when passenger air travel was really taking off.

Framed photos of planes such as the Tupolev Tu-144 and Hawker Siddeley Harrier "jump jet" (an expression coined by my dad) and smiling cabin crew linking arms in front of 747s, could be found dotted around our house in the same way most families might have pictures of aunts or grandparents.

One of my earliest "fashion" memories was, at age six, going with the rest of my family to Heathrow Airport to be reunited with my father following Concorde's first supersonic "World Tour" – part of a test and sales programme that had taken place in Bahrain, Beirut, Tehran, Mumbai, Hong Kong and Australia in June, 1972.

If it sounds glamorous, it was. Coming several years before the first passenger Concorde flight (to Bahrain in 1976), back then test pilots were akin to rock stars.

At the reception party, I found myself talking to one (Captain Brian Trubshaw) flanked by air hostesses wearing the neat, navy blue BOAC uniform. To me they were like supermodels. I got them to sign their autographs on a photograph of cabin crew. I took it into school and practically got mobbed in the playground.

Of course, the TV show, which is being dubbed "Mad Men in the sky", flags up the air hostess uniform ad nauseam. Being set in the early 1960s when the Jackie O-style jacket and skirt and pillbox were bang on trend, it has also sailed into trendy fashion magazines. What else would you expect? It's iconic.

Any suggestion the actual costume has been altered in any way has been conveniently overlooked. I watched one interview with an original Pan Am air stewardess who remembers the outfits of the time being very different. Skirts longer, a lot less curvy and made in a nylon that generated static!

In truth, Pan Am is just another example of nostalgia winning over reality. According to a book I've found called Airline, which chronicles air hostess uniforms over the years, despite being updated by noteworthy designers from Pierre Balmain and Emilio Pucci to Sir Hardy Amies, hundreds of uniforms besides that famous Pan Am version rooted in the 1960s failed to register on the fashion radar. When the Greek designer Yannia Tseklemis, for instance, used white shiny 1960s-style "kinky" boots in 1971 in a bid to take the uniform back to its roots, it was already a decade too late.

Artistic licence is much used in fashion, film and TV. Costume nostalgia is the reason Madonna's latest movie on Wallis Simpson might actually be worth watching. It's why Baz Lurhmann's remake of The Great Gatsby is tipped to be 2012's blockbuster. Starring Carey Mulligan, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tiffany & Co – the American jewellery giant is promising each act will prove a tantalising window-shopping experience – costumes will be done by Lurhmann's wife, Catherine Martin, who won two Oscars for Moulin Rouge which, remember, was set in 19th-century Paris and featured songs by Elton John and T Rex.

There's nothing wrong with remakes (where would we be without the 1956 version of High Society, an update of the 1940 movie The Philadelphia Story?) Let's hope Martin weaves in the era that contributed to the 1974 Francis Ford Coppola screenplay version of The Great Gatsby being a huge success.

Ralph Lauren did costumes for this and was responsible for putting Mia Farrow in a Biba-style cloche and Robert Redford in white flares. The result of his Roaring Twenties-meets-Seventies fashion "fusion" still makes it one of the most referenced movies ever. (Another is the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, set in the 1930s, featuring Faye Dunaway wearing false eyelashes and a 1960s hairpiece.)

There's nothing wrong with catwalk revamps either. I expect the Versace/H&M line hitting stores any day now will bear little resemblance to its heyday in the late 1980s, thank goodness. Meanwhile, we can expect to find a Pan Am uniform homage in Topshop any day. Possibly more like the one Britney Spears wore in her Toxic video than the fading black-and-white autographed photo of real crew I still treasure.