Designer Julien Macdonald on partnering with Etihad for new short film

Dresses worn by celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Madonna make a cameo in a new short film by Etihad. Sarah Maisey gets the details

A still form the new Etihad Runway to Runway video.
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Think of an in-flight safety video and what comes to mind? Dull instructions that we've all heard a hundred times before and barely pay attention too.

In response, Etihad has come up with a new short film that gives the traditional safety video a fashionable makeover. Unveiled on Thursday, during New York Fashion Week, and presented to an Abu Dhabi audience last night, the film features all the standard safety instructions, but in a ­fashion-forward context.

While the promotional film will not replace Etihad's existing safety video, it will be shown on-board from October, and will be used to highlight the airline's ties to the fashion world, since it currently sponsors 17 fashion weeks and events around the world. 

The film is set backstage at a Julien Macdonald show and captures all the hustle and bustle of a model being prepared for the runway. In this instance, however, models don oxygen masks to escape a cloud of hairspray; put on life jackets as if they were the season's must-have accessory; don safety belts over embellished couture gowns; and move into brace position as they are getting their hair done.  

At the launch event in New York, Macdonald tells me why this particular project appealed to him. "I love travel," says the designer. "It gives me inspiration. I have been all around the world and get great experience travelling to exotic places.

"Etihad said that it would like to make an in-flight video that would be very tongue-in-cheek – a bit Devil Wears Prada – for customers to be entertained, because all travellers, whether business or holiday-makers, want to be entertained on board. It's the one place you can sit, take your shoes off and relax, and whether it is a two-hour or 24-hour flight, nobody can contact you."

In their initial exchange, Etihad explained that it would like to do some-thing "different" and "breathtaking", and asked if it could borrow some clothes. MacDonald told them to take their pick. "I said that my clothes are worn by the most famous men and women in the world, like Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Madonna, Shirley Bassey, Puff Daddy, Machine Gun Kelly and Mick Jagger. So would those clothes be good enough?" He pauses for effect. "And they were like: 'Oh, I think so'."


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The film was shot this summer, and the designs needed to be flown in from all corners of the globe. Given their high value, Macdonald also insisted that they be hand-carried on-board. "These dresses are all one-offs, and are all over the world, so to get them all in one place on one date was a bit of a nightmare."

The designer had to call people like Cher to ask them to temporarily part with their Macdonald creations. "I gave a lot of these dresses to people because they wore them and they loved them. The dress that is worn at the beginning of the film is Katy Perry's. I gave it to her. But we managed to get them all back. So, for this video, these are dresses worn by incredible people we all love. When people watch it, they will laugh, and they will see the serious side of it, but they might not realise that's Kim Kardashian's dress or Beyoncé's dress or Madonna's." 

True to the spirit of a fashion show, the filming was intense, and over quickly. "All the dresses have now gone back," Macdonald says. "They all flew first-class with Etihad, so they have travelled back in style, all hand-wrapped and hand-carried by the crew. The captain carried Beyoncé's dress back."