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Most of us have never flown Concorde — and we aren’t ever going to get a chance. The only supersonic commercial aircraft to ever go in service (besides its ill-fated Russian clone, the Tupolev 144) was retired in 2003. And yet no other aircraft, save the Queen of the Skies — yes, the 747 — is quite so admired by aviation enthusiasts. It’s the only aircraft I know of that is referred to simply as Concorde and not the Concorde — that would be too ordinary. On her last flight, a couple from Ohio paid $60,000, one way,to be aboard. That’s the kind of emotion that airplane could inspire.
That passion is reflected in Supersonic: The Design and Lifestyle of Concorde, a new book by Lawrence Azerrad. By day, Azzerad is the LA-based graphic designer and founder of LAD Design; he’s won a Grammy award for design and has created branding and identity systems for musicians and brands. But one of his lifelong passions is Concorde; Azerrad is an enthusiast, memorabilia collector and one-time passenger on Concorde, which he flew on its 30th birthday from New York JFK to London Heathrow, a crossing that the Concorde could complete in under three hours.
“Concorde represented two key ideas that as a designer myself, are very dear to my heart,” Azerrad said in an email.
“The first being that Concorde embodies and stands as proof that through creative ingenuity, by the determination of designers, innovators, and artists we can elevate the human experience and deliver the promise of tomorrow here today…It was a triumph of design and a beautiful one at that. The second key idea that Concorde embodied was that every single touch point for a passenger was informed by design forethought.”
The book chronicles the design evolution of Concorde, from its original, slightly dowdy cabin to its modern seating from the early 2000s, and all of the accoutrements that created the Concorde experience. It focuses less on the exterior and operations of this supersonic marvel and more on the lifestyle, decor and magic.
Mad Men Ads from the Era
The book is chock full of advertisements from the Concorde’s operators — not just those that regularly flew them, Air France and British Airways, but also Braniff and Singapore Airlines, which leased Concordes for brief periods. And not just the airlines, but the myriad suppliers to Concorde ranging from Mobil (jet fuel) to Dunlop (tires) and Messier (nosewheel gear) to Dowty (hydraulics.) Rolex got in the game too, pairing its GMT watch with Concorde: a match made in design and luxury heaven if there ever was one.
Some of the more fascinating pages in the book are about the author’s personal collection of some 700 objects related to Concorde. Think model airplanes, toys, badges, luggage tags, pins, patches, amenity kits, menus, bowls, flasks, bottle openers and even a thimble. Many of the objects can be found today on eBay, pilfered by the passengers or presented to them by the airlines. After all, a flight on Concorde cost passengers a pretty penny: $13,000 round trip between New York and London when it ended service in 2003. Indeed, Andy Warhol stole the Raymond Loewy-designed flatware seen above from Air France, Azerrad wrote.
An LAX-Meets-Concorde Advertisement
Is there a Holy Grail piece of memorabilia Azerrad would like to own?
“A key (and largely unknown) part of the Concorde story was that many airlines had orders [for] Concorde. United Airlines, Qantas, Continental, JAL, Pan Am and many others were planning on flying it,” he said. That never happened. The cost of operating a supersonic jet and the sonic booms that limited it to flying supersonic only over oceans were a problem, and only Air France and BA ended up buying the 100-seater jet. But the technological marvel of the Concorde stirred souls at the time: “This palpable hopefulness for a better future, and spirit of curiosity and optimism, was reflected in the architecture of the day, such as the UFO-like Theme Building at LAX,” Azerrad said.
“All of this is captured in a beautifully illustrated advertisement for Continental Airlines, two gold and red Concordes on the runway in front of the LAX Theme Building,” he said.
While the exterior of “L’Oiseau Blanc” — the White Bird, as the French who built it half and half with the British, called it — did not change over time, the book provides a sense of how the interior of the aircraft evolved from the 1970s through to the last years of her mission.
The foreword is written by Sir Terance Conran, a noted British designer responsible for the last iteration of the navy-colored British Airways Concorde seats. The afterword is an interview with supermodel Cindy Crawford, a frequent flier. (Sample quote: The time she got on the Concorde exhausted, “falling asleep before the seat next to me was taken, and waking up an hour later to find Mick Jagger sitting next to me!” Yes, it was really that glamorous.)
Supersonic is a valued addition to the Concorde mystique; a stocking stuffer for aviation enthusiasts or an obligatory read for an enthusiast. The book will be officially released on September 18, 2018 and retails for $35. Find it a bookstore near you or on Amazon.
Mike Arnot is the founder of Boarding Pass NYC, a travel brand, and a private pilot.
Featured image: 22nd November 1977, Captain Brian Walpole smiles from the cockpit of Concorde, having flown from London to New York on the its first commercial flight. (Photo by Brian Alpert/Keystone/Getty Images)
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