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Australian-born designer Emilia Wickstead has returned to her roots to design uniforms for Air New Zealand.

Wickstead will be suiting up more than 5,000 Air New Zealand employees, spanning cabin crew workers, pilots and ground staff in new styles will be rolled out over the next few years.

Raised in the suburbs of Auckland, she first saw the intricacies of fashion after her mother, Angela, started a made-to-measure fashion line after the death of Wickstead’s artist father. Even though at the age of 14, she relocated to Milan with her mother, the London-based designer’s New Zealand pride hasn’t dissipated.

Reached just off the long-haul flight from the U.K. to New Zealand and running on four hours of sleep, Wickstead waved off any bleariness, knowing she would sleep well that night.

”This project means everything to me. It’s such a passion project,” Wickstead said, noting that her family lives in New Zealand. “I have huge nostalgia in relation to the way that I grew up and the person, who I am today. Basically, New Zealand has shaped me into the person that I am today.”

For Air New Zealand, the partnership underscores the airline’s “premium with a wink” style, said Air New Zealand chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty.

Wickstead’s designs will replace those that were created by Trelise Coope about 10 years ago. The refresh will be in synch with other sprucing up efforts, including cabin spaces, check-in areas and airport lounges. Striving for uniforms that are reflective of modern day air travel, Wickstead’s designs were chosen partially because thy should set Air New Zealand apart in the global stage, Geraghty said.

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand will be replacing these current uniforms. Phorto Courtesy Air New Zealand

During her formative years in New Zealand with her half-Italian mother and half Samoan father, air travel was not a frequent occurrence, Wickstead  said. To get the opportunity to design the new uniforms, Wickstead, who had applied to design the uniforms before, outshone 40 other designers.

Wickstead said it is “such an exceptional privilege to be part of that story. It seems like a real tribute to me and where I am from.” Before COVID-19, Air New Zealand welcomed 17 million passengers each year.

As a designer, Wickstead she is always looking at the past, great structure, silhouettes, fit, tailoring and how dressing up makes you feel, gives you confidence and empowers you, and this new endeavor is no different. “It’s really about the people, what their needs are, what’s going to empower them and make them feel proud. You will see different twists, elements and messages through the designs, and also elegance, a great fit and timelessness,” Wickstead said. “The uniforms will center on the deep respect for New Zealand’s heritage, the people, the stories and the sacred land that make up our cultural identity (through the use of bold colors, prints and details.) I also want it be inspirational so that the workers wearing the uniforms will have feel a built-in sense of pride and occasion.”

Planning to head straight to the water, catch up with relatives and visit the neighborhood where she grew up, Wickstead sounded unaffected by the fame that her 15-year-old fashion label has shone on her, since her childhood days in New Zealand. “It’s funny. When you are in the moment, you always think you are continuously growing and creating more narratives. So I don’t feel so transformed even when I come home. Of course, sometimes there are moments, when I do think about that. I always feel emotional, when I arrive and emotional, when I leave,” she said. “When I come home, I honestly feel that no time has passed. I don’t feel that I’m a different person or that I’m doing something worldly. There are pinch-me moments.”