#1007 The great Air NZ uniform debate

It’s been a while since I did a debate on here, so what better topic to get the ball rolling again than the new Air New Zealand uniforms? Two years on our national carrier must have decided that the Zambesi-designed uniforms were no longer representing the brand, so a change was needed.

This from an industry insider:

“I don’t think Yves Saint Laurent or whoever’s doing it now could give Air New Zealand the best uniform. They’re under the impression that designers can do uniforms. Uniform designers are not fashion designers and vice versa. A uniform has to be a high performance product. It’s not about colour schemes or where you’re going to put the flowers. These people are on the planes for 12 hours a day and so the uniforms have to stand up like Nike rugby jerseys. No fashion designer’s uniform has ever worked or lasted. And then on top of that the people judging your work are the first callers on 1ZB. You have to go to a thousand focus meetings. And you’ve got sizes ranging from very small Asian women to larger Polynesian men so you can’t get a uniform look. They have to perform and they’ve got to be the billboard for New Zealand – and they have to be recognisable from across the room in Heathrowe Airport. They’ll end up in the same situation as last time.”

Questions below.

What do you think of the current Zambesi-designed Air New Zealand uniform?

Do you think it should be changed?

Is it a mistake for Air New Zealand to be changing the uniform just two years after it was released?

If they are going to change it, how should it be done?

Is Trelise Cooper the right person for the job?

Is a corporate uniform the way to go or should it be a more sportswear-inspired uniform?

Remember, keep it clean – no swear words or slanderous comments will be allowed.


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  1. says

    1. It’s going to cost a fortune to change the uniform. I’m interested to find out exactly why they want to change it. I would presume they must really not like it if they’re willing to go to all this trouble to change it.

    2. Corporate uniform is the way to go in my opinion, If they’re going to make it look like our Olympic team uniform, I’m changing airlines.

    3. I read somewhere that the Zambesi one was launched in 2005?


  2. Kate says

    I love the teal uniform they currently have – especially when people wear the special pieces such as the thunderbirds style hat! But when I am travelling overseas the Air NZ staff are often wearing a very dull brown colour? It looks terrible and is not a flattering colour on any of the staff – washes them out. I don’t think there is any need to change the uniform so soon?

  3. Anonymous says

    1. I am very interested in why they wanna change it too since these uniforms as you say are only two years old.Is it because they want to fit into the changing fashion trends and just want to be up with the play?.

    2. I dont reckon it should I reckon they just want to be better than the rest of the airlines with their designer diggs no really cares what designer the wear you dont see quantas and emirates coming out and saying theyre getting new uniformsby alex perry. all abit stupid i guess.

  4. Anonymous says

    Seems far too soon to change. I always thought Zambesi, with their unstructured, more fluid signature look, was a curious choice. However the uniforms grew on me and did seem to embody a certain ‘NZ’ feel.

    Trelise, with her flowery flounces and lack of design subtlety (or design in general!) is certainly a far more curious choice.

    Airlines the world over have a history of pairing with their local fashion talent (British Airways have Julien Macdonald, France Airways have Christian Lacroix, United airlines have Cynthia Rowley, Delta Air have Richard Tyler, Qantas have Morrisey etc). Here in NZ we have several designers who are known for their strong suiting and cater to a wide range of corporate customers (KS, KW, Helen Cherry) and surely the decision to go with one of them would be better than a designer whose core customer is an eastern bays housewife.

    The price for this change is going to be extremely high and the timing of this announcement is very odd on the back of today’s announcement that AirNZ have withdrawn as the major sponsor of NZ Fashion Week. (see page 3 of the NZ Herald)

    I personally couldn’t care if fashion week goes ahead or has a major sponsor or not, but if I was the organisers I would prefer a commitment to the country’s biggest fashion event over an unnecessary and doomed-for-failure uniform re-design.

    Just sayin’

  5. oldgirl says

    please tell me it is not true. Trelise Cooper clothes are for over weight middle aged women, I am that type of women but I would not be seen dead in her clothes. A airline unifrom should make you feel that the person wearing it has the skills to make you feel safe and they know what to do in a emergency. I was not a fan of the zambesi uniform but I did get use to it . I think a nice navy jacket pants and skirt with bit of colour in the lining and scarf , because they always have a scarf and a great white shirt .I know it is old fashion but it looks smart.

  6. oldgirl says

    I just had a idea. Barbara Lee who has done school uniforms for private schools in ChCh would be just the person. she may not be a cool designer or a name designer but she has the skills and it is her look. Uniforms should be like they where in the movie Catch Me If You Can . You can tell I am not to busy at work.Have a great xmas everyone

  7. oldgirl says

    thanks K .I do remeber they where smart and did have that 50’s look. Can you just see in a emergency the crew tripping over their long layered skirts and the bow shaped beading falling off their sweaters as the plane is falling from the sky,thats if it is Trelise doing the uniforms. also what about the mens uniform I can not even think about that. i must stop and get downstairs and sell some clothes or Iwill not be flying anywhere.

  8. Anonymous says

    I like elements of the current uniform, the slight nod to the 1960’s and the lost glamour of air travel, the distinctly New Zealnd – and Zambesi- draped merino wrap tops. I think that new additions could freshen up the look or dresses and/or skirts in different shades for example. One complaint I have is the shapeless car coats that are worn by the staff often when you are disembarking the aircraft – they are shapeless, slate-grey and just dowdy! Trelise Cooper on the other hand is a terrible replacement. She is derivative and not necessarily as rooted in New Zealand fashion identity as, say, Zambesi. Zambesi are about longevity. The fact that they have an extensive archive and have recently held a retrospective shows that they have integrity and that their design can stand up to anything – including long-haul flights! I think that it is also far too soon to be releasing a new uniform especially whilst promoting cheaper and more economical travel. Better options for designers to re-invent the uniform would be Kate Sylvester, Helen Cherry and Working Style.

  9. Anonymous says

    Yeah – Crane should do them. They understand good practical taloring. Can make annyone look good in a suit. Have experience doing mens and womens. No competition! Telise will make everyone look like a middle aged Remuera merenque and Zambesi were comepletely out of their comfort zone. What were Air NZ thinking? Crane Brothers. FULL STOP.

  10. says

    My friend works as cabin crew, she says the current ones are not at all flattering on most people, and to my mind the colours were WAY too muted to begin with. I would love to see something more glamourous. I believe if you wear the hat/scarf/other accesories too it looks a bit better, but most of the time the guys are in pants and a plain shirt and nothing else. I’m not sure it’s fair to assume Trelise can’t do anything other than what she’s most known for, but I would imagine someone known for their tailoring would be a better choice.

  11. Anonymous says

    Air Tahiti Nui’s uniforms by Balenciaga are beautiful, so maybe perhaps we could take a page outta their books…..

  12. Anonymous says

    if its about marketing then singapore airlines did right with their uniforms. you can tell an employee from a mile away. and the women’s unis have apparently not been changed since 1968. i’m not saying they look awesome or anything, but they’re instantly recognisable. pretty good airline too.

  13. Anonymous says

    My vote is Crane Brothers too. They make their gear in New Zealand (although I guess at this scale they may have to outsource as would any designer selected), they have uniform experience and tailoring is what they do better than anyone else in this country.

  14. Anonymous says

    i dont think trelise cooper should be designing any uniform in general . this is a business. not a fashion show for older women.

  15. Anonymous says


    They should professionally give the job to uniform designer to design practical uniform.

  16. Anonymous says

    I vote Karen Walker for style direction and women’s uniforms in colaboration with Crane Brothers for menswear.

    Ps: Many Air NZ men had to have the Zambesi pants re cut & adjusted in the front crotch (at there own expense) due to the poor fit. I am lead to believe that they made there eeeerrrmmm “packages” look stupidly huge!!!!!!

    Its all about having a good suit maker get the structure and fit correct to begin with.

    Isaac can you get any anonymous reviews from Air NZ staffers? might be interesting.

  17. Anonymous says

    Put them in burlap bags. They’re tough, long-lasting and stand up well to abuse as well as being very eye-catching and fashion-forward! 😉

  18. Anonymous says

    I dont mind the the current zambesi uniforms,i agree that they definately have a distinct kiwi flare!!! But elastic ties for the pilots?what the hell were they thinking there??I would welcome a change to that part of the uniform for sheeeeez!!

  19. says

    “Barbara Lee who has done school uniforms for private schools in ChCh would be just the person”

    nooooooo! barbara lee designed my old school uniform. i enjoy travel, i don’t want it to remind me of high school. thanks.

  20. says

    When you see airline staff then certain things stand out, and that surely is what is needed; but then some bean counter stuffs it up. The red hat of Ansett NZ was noticeable. The beige works for Pacific Blue but is terrible for Emirates. So it comes down to fabric and cut. The Pacific Blue trowsers and skirts are sharp, the Emirates is a similar colour but the jackets fit so poorly that the lining often hangs below the back of the jacket. The Pacific Blue beige is teemed with a crisp white shirt or blouse with the logo on the back of the collar, this works with the summer white coat/raincoat because it is crumple resistant, but the winter red coat even though it is eye stopping, one’s eyes then travel to the crumpled lower part of the coat – cost cutting spoils a great coat. If an airline can get it right the correct uniform lasts for years in style – think of Singapore, a simple change in background colour denotes rank. So a uniform has to stand out, and then when you find the branding one has to stick with it, then add service ability, and comfort for the staff. If you let accountants in on the act then you find that the man’s tie snags on chin stubble, etc….

  21. says

    Dear “Isaac likes.” I quote “No fashion designer’s uniform has ever worked or lasted.” I am a Paris Couture diploma designer YSL trained work for over 30 years as Fashion, Uniform and Interior Designer and Architectural Designer.
    I have dressed world class Airlines such a Sabena (when it still existed) the Cathay pacific sister airline “Dragon Air” and others, the Hong Kong police uniform and many five star hotels from Beverly Hills to NY and Europe and I still design fashion. Sizes may vary from S- XXL also in USA with multi ethnicity, that what makes a project fun. Here are some visuals http://bit.ly/4AYmqW
    It all depends on the Designer having a “tailoring & pattern making” degree as I do and to love the sense of dressing a “space” in this case the human body that comes in all shapes and sizes and finding the right formula. Nothing is impossible I just always stick to classic fabrics and put the edge into the cut.
    Believe me designing baby clothes, fur Coats, down jacket, active climbing and north pole wear, tents as also do is much more difficult..
    Italian based Gian Franco Ferre, before passing on has designed the new Korean Air uniform and it works very well.
    To finish on a fun note we loved the NZ uniform worn by drags in Vancouver gay pride. It was stunning and funny:-)google for it.

  22. Anonymous says

    Does Air New Zealand have something to hide?

    What’s going on?

    Last time round poor Elizabeth Findlay would have hit her head against a middle management brick wall. Zambesi delivered what Nana Koru asked for and Zambesi did accomplish something unique in the uniform history of Air New Zealand. They unveiled a uniform that symbolised the airline’s leadership quality; tired, generic and faded middle management. Rob’s mob.

    Everything is confused, billboards, aircraft livery, publications, napkins, trays, cabin furnishings, there’s simply no consistent brand signature. Personality appears in shades of grey unless you’re a font.

    Air New Zealand staff face a fashion Rugby World Cup every day. They line out against:

    Virgin Atlantic and John Rocha

    Singapore Girls and Pierre Balmain

    Delta and Richard Tyler

    Air France and Christian Lacroix

    There are bigger questions to be asked:

    Why hide details of the contract?

    There is no commercial reason to be secretive. There is probably more promotional value in exposing the uniform’s evolution over time rather than clinging to the premature climax of a launch party. Not even Lady Penelope came at the last one.

    Why hide the cost from the taxpayer

    The New Zealand taxpayer is entitled to transparency.

    Why hide the process from staff?

    In your post Vicki Taylor mentions presenting pieces but Trelise Cooper was chosen because of her “wow factor”. How can the design be final without widespread staff consultation? If I put a “w’ on each of my bum cheeks will that spell “wow” as I pull on my boots?

    Why has Air New Zealand selected a designer who does not make men’s clothing?

    “Her original business vision to create distinctive and directional clothing for women aged 30-55 is still a strong influence in the Trelise Cooper brands” From http://www.trelisecooper.com

    What kind of global business associates itself with tags like MILF, Freshmeat, and CrystalMeth?? Porn industry? Drug barons? Misogynists? Watch this pitiful grabaseat advertisement on youtube and find out.

    I do not want my uniform associated with 30–55 year old MILF.

    Who is $$$ benefiting by hiding this project?

    The brand power of the Air New Zealand uniform is tested in the air terminals, aircraft, and hotel lobbies of the world. That’s where the public and our staff determine the value of our uniform. There was a time when from Dallas to Frankfurt people would stop and say “that’s Air New Zealand”. They made us proud because they meant “that brand means New Zealand.”

    I saw someone mention Barbara Lee in another post; that uniform was loved by staff and customers; it was practical, stylish, and beautiful Pacific colours yelled “New Zealand”. Bring back the image of punching above our weight. Barbara Lee still does some sharp work.

    Air New Zealand needs quality decision making to deliver a global brand image, not just a uniform. The uniform maintains the brand image by celebrating the nation and staring down the competition.

    That’s who we are.

    Air New Zealand management, do everyone a favour, stop disappearing up the ‘o’ in ‘wow’, and get back to basics.

  23. Anonymous says

    Hi Isaac

    Are you able to contact Taylor Boutique and ask them to place their submitted designs on your site for us all to see?

  24. Anonymous says

    I used to work for air nz and loved the barbara lee uniform – it was well tailored and suited everyone – old, young large and small as you could choose the pieces that you liked and it was very practical also. They should go back to her again. I worry that trelise will be too over the top, frilly and as big of a disater as zambesi which was so ugly to wear.

  25. Anonymous says

    Funny that so many people say “I didn’t like the Zambesi uniform either, but it grew on me”! Why not give Trelise the same benefit of the doubt?

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