When the first Concorde jet took its maiden flight from Toulouse to New York City in March of 1969, crossing the Atlantic in just under three hours, it embodied the pinnacle of aviation technology and industrial design. Offering a glimpse into the future, it soon became the ultimate symbol of the jet-set lifestyle, garnering the kind of cult following usually reserved for sports cars, motorbikes or military planes.
Exploring the famous needled nose and delta wing is a new book, published by Prestel and titled Supersonic: The Design and Lifestyle of Concorde. Released this month, it tells the story of the 27 years the aircraft graced the skies, through the designs that shaped it.
The author, Lawrence Azerrad, is a Grammy award winning, Los Angeles–based graphic designer and creative director. An obsession sparked by childhood memories of craft models, Lawrence spent his twenties scouring auction pages for Concorde memorabilia, building a collection that now consists of over 700 items. Here, he talks us through his six favourite examples of Concorde design from his new book.
Pre-production model, Concorde 002, visits Los Angeles International Airport on a promotional tour, October 23, 1974
Lawrence Azerrad: Concorde was a vision of the future from our past; conceived in 1962 when technology and progress were the answers to everything and the sky was no longer a limit. This spirit of promise brought by the dawn of the jet age was so clearly reflected in Concorde, but also in architecture, automobiles, and so much more. In the example of the curved and flowing lines of Eero Saarinen’s iconic TWA Terminal (1962) at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Saarinen explained that he explicitly followed the client’s design brief to capture the “spirit of flight.” Similarly, the UFO-like Theme Building (1961) at Los Angeles International Airport designed by Pereira & Luckman mirrored the city’s dream to become ‘the city of tomorrow’, forecasting a possibility of a fabulous reality in the very near future. I’m particularly fond of this image where we can see both examples of postwar jet age optimism in one frame. Ultimately, Concorde only commercially serviced transatlantic routes, making this rare glimpse of Concorde in Los Angeles – where I was born and raised and still call home – one of my favourites.
Ferranti Concorde engagement advertisement, 1966
LA: In the first chapter of Supersonic, we examine ephemera and design from the pre-Concorde era. To the public at the time, flying faster than the speed of sound in order to travel from London to New York in just three hours seemed like outright science fiction. But to those inspired by the scientific, mathematical, and technological advances of the 20th century, to aim for the impossible was precisely the point. As John F. Kennedy put it in his famous “moon-shot” address, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone” The spirit of this thinking, shared by many of the era, laid the groundwork for rapid innovation on a global scale. In the advertising of the time and around the world, there was a palpable hopefulness for a better future, a spirit of curiosity and optimism reflected in the designs of the age that eventually helped set the stage for supersonic commercial travel. In aeronautical industry trade advertising, for items as workaday as tires, nose-wheel gear, data processors and, in this instance, Ferranti Automatic Chart Displays, that aspiration and future facing wonder is sharp and clear as exemplified in the design execution.
Die-cast Concorde toys in British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), Pan Am, and Air France liveries, c. 1960s
LA:These children’s toys from the mid 1960’s spotlight an enthusiasm, hope and promise of tomorrow delivered by Concorde. That there was a market for toys like these reflects that Concorde did embody a captivating futuristic promise for youth of the 1960’s and 70’s, on both sides of the Atlantic. Everything about the shape of Concorde announced fast, from the shape of the swept-back delta wings, to the needle-shaped fuselage and adjustable droop snoot. Everything about Concorde (the actual aircraft or in toy form) was the embodiment of pure speed. And not just any speed, but Mach 2 – twice the speed of sound. The visionary shape of Concorde captured the imagination. In the foreword of our book, Sir Terence Conran writes, “In a heartbeat it raised the spirit and opened our eyes to something that had never been experienced before—supersonic travel… it gave us all an irresistible glimpse into the future, captivating us instantly and daring us to dream.” This, of course, includes the children. Today for most kids, their engagement with visions of the future lies mostly in the digital space. The fact that these toys were made for children to touch, to hold, to play with, and to spark their imagination for the future represents something heartwarming and an idea that we could stand to be reminded of these days.
Air France Concorde Raymond Loewy stainless steel flatware, c. 1970s
LA: The acclaimed French-American industrial designer, Raymond Loewy, known to many as the father of industrial design, was the creative behind this set of stainless steel Christofle flatware for Air France. That Concorde was a source of national pride for both Britain and France was reflected in their respective approaches to its visual design, advertising, and overall passenger experience. Air France was the first to hire an outside designer to translate Concorde’s technological marvel into an equivalent brand identity, and for this they first turned to Loewy. From the china service to the latches of the seat-back tables to the meal trays and the geometry of the headrests, the modern, forward-thinking stylings of Loewy further elevated what had become one of travel’s most rarefied experiences. Each piece of the flatware is individually engraved “Air France” and the uniformly long stems, sometimes sleeved in formal black or white, mirror Concorde’s exaggerated length. The lollipop shape of the spoon and the paddle-like knife add a note of charming whimsy to the design’s minimal elegance. The cutlery became famously difficult to return to the flight attendants and, in fact, appropriating “prezzies” during one’s flight became one of Concorde’s unofficial perks. None other than tastemaker Andy Warhol made it a point of pride to steal the Loewy flatware, encouraging others to do so “because it was a collectible.”
Concorde brochure designed by SYNELOG and printed in 1975, offered to passengers of the first commercial flight, January 1976
LA: Concorde came into service at a time when the success of a commercial airliner was greatly dependent on the quality of its hospitality, and in that regard, Concorde quickly set the highest bar both literally (flying at an altitude of 60,000ft) and figuratively. Along with the evolving visual identities of Air France and British Airways, the entire Concorde package – echoing Eero Saarinen’s design approach to the TWA Terminal – pioneered what was to become the art of branding. The sense of the new and modern that Raymond Loewy championed through the interior design for Concorde was further reinforced and complimented by other Air France design system touchpoints. Their logo and wordmark, created by influential French typographer and designer, Roger Excoffon, and one of my favourite pieces from my collection, this Concorde brochure designed by SYNELOG and printed in1975, was offered to passengers of the first commercial flight in January 1976. Though passengers were constantly reminded that they were comfortably ensconced in the lap of luxury, this is one of the pieces that summarises the whole futuristic and elegant experience in the best possible way. At 20 pages, with the four-panel center gatefold seen here, the brochure’s text explains the technical and time saving marvels and premium service of Concorde, but the design shows the peaceful elegance, style and glamour of Concorde. Sophistication very much defined the atmosphere of a Concorde journey, and this brochure captured the essence of this perfectly.
British Airways Concorde room, 2003
LA: The Concorde experience as expressed through design was one that was reflected in every touchpoint of the passenger journey. Between the technological excellence of Concorde, the privileged sense of partaking in something at the vanguard of modern experience, and the pure wonder that came with flying at twice the speed of sound above the planet’s weather, stirring a sense of enthusiasm among even the most jaded rock stars, heads of state and business was not a problem. When Concorde first entered service, critics were quick to point out that the equivalent of half the flight time was ‘wasted’ in airport procedures…With this in mind, the British Airways Concorde Brand Management Team arranged everything to cut the red tape. But while you were on the ground, they also did everything to extend the exceptionalism of the experience before passengers set foot on board. The quiet elegance of The Concorde Lounge (here showing the JFK lounge in 2003) was designed to reflect the discreet and modern grace of the overall experience. Filled with design icons of the 20th Century, Eames Lounge Chairs, and Wilhelm Wagenfeld Bauhaus table lamps one only needed to look up and out the window to see another great design icon of the 20th Century parked outside, waiting to take you across the Atlantic at 1,350 miles per hour, in just under three hours. Seemingly tying everything together in one modern and beautiful package. When I flew Concorde on my 30th birthday, just three months before the last flight, I distinctly recall the hushed sophistication of this lounge, and what I thought was the most beautiful room I had ever been in.