Singapore Airlines’ Signature Girl: An Essay

by Claudia Mok

Each airline has its own signature style that is hard to forget; Singapore Airlines is one of them. From dress to interior design, Singapore Airlines works with aesthetics to create an unforgettable experience for those who board with them.

Recently, the airline announced that they have revised their pattern for their signature sarong kebaya; a pattern that was designed by the Parisian Courtier, Pierre Balmain in 1968.

Singapore Airlines' new Batik motif

[Singapore Airlines’ Batik Motif] | © [Singapore Airlines]

The Asian Batik has now been infused with a range of flowers native to Singapore, ten to be exact. As illustrated in the video, the flowers bud and blossom behind a dark blue backdrop, their petals soft, dewy – sprinkled with glitter and spice to shame what came before. This too is accompanied by the creation of a new theme tune titled ‘Symphony of Flowers’.

Since 1968 the Batik motif has transformed Singapore Airlines, infusing it with taste and culture, a print that gave rise to ‘The Singapore Girl’, a creation we are about to explore.

The Singapore Girl – A Gendered Approach

When we think of Singapore Airlines, we think of The Singapore Girl. Born in the 1970s, The Singapore Girl is timeless, elegant, captivating us with her beauty and youth. Her slim, sleek body, her effortless hair dos and minimalistic make up creates an image unique to existing airlines, updating the girl next door to the girl overseas.

The Singapore Girl/s amid the signature Batik motif

[Singapore Airlines’ Creations] | © [Singapore Airlines]

The Singapore Girl is of course very gendered, a creation that reinforces what Laura Mulvey calls the ‘Male Gaze’, at once adding currency to the mundane role of flight attendant.

In short, Mulvey brings together gender theory and psychoanalysis in her article ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ to argue that pleasure in looking has been split into two: active/male and passive/female, that the Woman ‘‘in their traditional exhibitionist role’’ is ‘‘displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual […] impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness,’’ at once holding the look to play to, and signify male desire. Male desire I would argue is manifested into the active passenger by way of looking.

The Singapore Girl demonstrates this concept by the way She is styled, trained to perform, trained to be. As seen in a recent documentary, there need be a certain way for Her to dress, a certain way to behave, a certain hairdo Her Madam stylist chooses for Her that need be a certain length etcetera. Taken together She is a docile, attentive server to the in-control passenger/spectator – a notion that passengers buy into and remember.

The Singapore Girl as Cinematic Appeal

The Singapore Girl, in the eyes of Mulvey, is reinforced by film and visual affects to create for us a girl whose visual aesthetic renders a pleasurable experience. If we look at the video of the Singapore Girl in the 1970’s video, which is no different from 2012’s, we see that She is the eye of onlookers, particularly men, at once evoking the need to engage with her which is made possible through flying with Singapore Airlines, working towards the Airline’s favour.

A cinematic shot: The Singapore Girl walking along London's Tower Bridge

[The Singapore Girl] | © [Singapore Airlines]

CNN once interviewed Singapore Airlines about their rather gendered approach with the spokesperson responding with ‘‘folks do [it…] choose to fly with us and we have a very diverse group of customers,’’ thereby suggesting that the Airline is responding to the passenger’s needs and demands, that is to be served by a Singapore Girl.

Indeed, the start of The Singapore Girl in 1968 generated a great source of revenue for the Airline for it led them to earn $100 million for the first time, suggesting that the Girl’s looked-at-ness generates exceptional value for both the Airline and their passengers.

With the revision and creation of a new pattern and print, accompanied by a new soundtrack: ‘Symphony of Flowers’, it further perpetuates the icon that is The Singapore Girl, a Girl whose role as flight attendant is more than just being a server but also an aesthetic, styled and trained to provide us a memorable experience, but perhaps there need be more diversity, made possible by deconstructing the dichotomies between The Singapore Girl and The Singapore Boy, Passenger as active spectator, Girl as passive spectacle, Old and New. Perhaps this is something that needs revising/creating soon.

Feature image: credits | © Singapore Airlines 

What are your thoughts on Singapore Airlines’ long-running gendered approach? Let us know in the comments below.

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