What the A-list wears at check-in is a trendspotter’s dream. Will a new VIP service change that?
Cate Blanchett in silk Armani joggers and blazer, collar artfully popped. Cindy Crawford in denim shirt, jeans and ankle boots. Lady Gaga in a Chanel bomber jacket, 10in platforms and not much else.
Every frequent flyer knows that the arrivals hall is as much a catwalk as any you’d find at Fashion Week — it’s the infrequent flyers who make the mistake of thinking the departure lounge is too. Nowadays, the A-listers wait in the club lounge, wearing cashmere tracksuits and keeping their powder dry for the paparazzi run at the other end.
Not for much longer: last week, Los Angeles International Airport announced the opening of a private terminal for the elite and camera-shy that could spell the end of the time-honoured celebrity arrivals snap — and with it a rich seam of airport style. For £1,175 executive travellers can bypass the crowd of photographers and autograph-hunters that regularly bungs up LAX.
At Heathrow, a similar VIP service has been available since 2010; the Windsor Suite is where royalty, film stars and musicians can relax hassle-free. It is actually a series of six-person suites (the rich and famous don’t even need to encounter each other) with a secluded drop-off point, private passport control and customs, and a limousine direct to the plane steps. It rather puts queueing for the shuttle bus to gate 596 into perspective. Price: £2,000 a head.
But will the A-list really want to hide away? Now they’re competing on check-in chic one-upmanship, the idea of having no photographers to capture their immaculate clothes and fresh faces after a 12 hour flight will no longer appeal. Some celebrities even run the arrivals gauntlet twice for maximum exposure.
The Americans do airport dressing best, of course, thanks to their native ease in sportswear and denim. Gwyneth Paltrow and Julianne Moore do a fine line in army jackets, while Angelina Jolie prefers all-black ensembles of skinny jeans and slouchy jumpers. Kristen Stewart has pioneered a scruffy “yes, I’m turning left” look of grungy hoodies, Converse and distressed jeggings.
Still, if the airport is the new catwalk then there are several terminal tribes. The fashion set includes Sienna Miller in monogrammed Burberry blanket and Gucci loafers, Kate Bosworth with a Loewe Puzzle bag and Prada platforms, and Diane Kruger in a Comme des Garçons T-shirt. Among them are women famous for being well dressed but very little else (the Instagram star Chiara Ferragni was recently spotted on an Alitalia flight from Milan wearing a hoodie with the words “follow me” written across the back — talk about a captive audience.)
Then there are the impossible glamourpusses, known by their impractical heels and team of trolley-pushing flunkies just out of shot. Joan Collins, in white suit and stilettos with a teetering pile of Louis Vuitton wardrobe trunks behind her, was their queen. More recently, Kendall Jenner has arrived in a lacy bralet and her sister Kim Kardashian regularly flies in furs and bodycon bandage dresses.
Salma Hayek, Cate Blanchett and Victoria Beckham come under the heading “tailoring” for their crease-free appearances at arrivals in every chic woman’s favourite all-rounder, the trouser suit — although Beckham is able to move between tailoring and glamourpuss thanks to her penchant for the sort of heels you’d have to take off before mounting the steps, let alone the emergency slide.
They have in common a gigantic pair of sunglasses (the Korean brand Gentle Monster does statement styles that will make any outfit paparazzi-ready — available from Harvey Nichols), a supersize travelling scarf (try Bimba Y Lola’s printed shawls, from £55) and a handbag of Tardis proportions. Céline’s Phantom tote is still a favourite, as is Goyard’s printed shoulder bag, but you can get the look for £1,000 less with Skagen’s woollen Anja tote, £169.
Such is the cultural import of the arrivals shot that Heathrow published a book on the subject last month. A Journey in Style has a foreword by that veteran of the baggage carousel Yasmin Le Bon, as well as countless images of Kate Moss and the Queen emerging from the airport.
The rules of dressing have changed since the book’s 1967 cover photo was taken of Twiggy waiting to board in a huge fur coat. If the check-in queues are to be believed, airports are the new Chiltern Firehouse. Waiting for an easyJet flight, you’re surrounded by high heels, sweeping floor-length skirts and décolletage left, right and centre. Waiting by bag drop is like a night at the TV Choice Awards.
Yet among the cognoscenti (by which I mean the people most likely to get one of those mythical upgrades or those rich enough not to need one) airport style has gone the way of all fashion in recent years: towards studied understatement and a nonchalance so contrived it borders on Savonarola’s bonfire of the vanities.
On Fashion Week flights, models and their bookers, fashion editors and buyers relax in Whistles’ cashmere joggers, J.Crew cotton T-shirts and jumpers from Kit and Ace. The 1 per cent, meanwhile, opt for Lucas Hugh’s flight pants (£225) and a cashmere ballerina-style wrap top from the luxury athleisure label of the moment, Callens (£522). Upon landing, stretchy waistbands are stowed in favour of J.Brand jeans and a pair of Nike Roshes.
My friend’s parents, well into their seventies, still sally forth in their country club attire — he in a lounge suit and peaked officer’s cap like an off-duty Idi Amin and she in tea dress and court shoes matched to her handbag. They’re not looking for upgrades — they just have a keen sense of occasion. This is what we lose with the introduction of private terminals and secret exits for the well-heeled and the paranoid.