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Fabric Conditioning

From onboard apartments to first class double beds, aircraft cabin design has undergone a dramatic shift in recent years. Now, new technologies have helped widen the range of furnishing options available. Helen Massy-Beresford finds out more

In the search for lightweight, hard-wearing, easy to clean and, of course, aesthetically pleasing cabin furnishings, many of the world’s airlines still come back to the traditional tried and tested materials.


Tim Manson, Design Director at JPA Design, says: “High quality surfaces and materials are increasingly in demand. Successful luxury hospitality interiors often demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, warmth and tactility. Luxury travellers are discerning and their expectations are high. The bar is continually being raised in this area and finishes are now becoming more bespoke and considered.”


The global market is leading the move towards innovation. “Middle Eastern airlines are young, ambitious and hungry to be the best. They have an appetite for innovation. The Asian market is very different in that it has well-established premium airlines who continue to be voted the best year after year,” Manson adds.


Wherever in the world it is based, one of the key decisions for an airline designing or revamping its cabin is whether to go for fabric or leather for its seats.


“Leather is considered a luxury product,” says David Gibson, group marketing associate at Scottish Leather Group, the parent company of leather manufacturer Andrew Muirhead. “When passengers are paying a lot for a first class ticket they want to feel they are in a luxurious environment.” 


The trend for leather seats started out with airlines in North American, with European carriers following suit, he says. “Now, Asia and the Middle East are becoming a lot more sophisticated and we have seen increasing interest from Asian and Middle Eastern airlines.” Gibson adds that the company has recently appointed a sales executive based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to deal with demand from the Asia-Pacific region.


However, leather is no longer limited to the front of the aircraft. “In first class it’s all about luxury, people don’t want to be cheated out of that luxurious feeling. That being said, leather is creeping back through the cabin. A lot of airlines are using it in the back because it’s durable, easy to maintain and good for a fast turnaround,” Gibson says.


Paget Scott-McCarthy, Materials, Trend & Brand at JPA Design has also noticed the shift towards using leather in economy cabins: “Leather is synonymous with luxury throughout the world. However, we are observing leather increasingly being used in economy and business. It could be argued that, to a degree, this is diluting its premium value to first class. In response to this JPA Design has noted a trend towards airlines choosing premium textiles for first class covers, such as American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, LATAM and Air China, to name a few.”


Scott-McCarthy adds: “A great textile with a bespoke design has a unique visual and physical texture. It adds more character, which helps build brand intelligence. Textiles are much more challenging to design with, but provide very rewarding results. Looking to the future, JPA Design has a keen eye on smart textiles and has been exploring the advantages these may bring to the passenger experience.”


But leather has its benefits too: “Leather is aesthetically very versatile, due to its organic properties and robust structure. It can also be easily manipulated through a variety of techniques, which can add individuality. Functionally, leather has the advantage in high wear areas such as armrests and headrests. It’s durable and resistant to grease, and that all-important stitch line signifies quality and care,” Scott-McCarthy says. >>

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