FASHION REACTS TO CONCORDE CRASH
PARIS — The first crash of an Air France Concorde resonated deeply within the industry on Tuesday, more so than many recent air disasters, given the popularity of the supersonic planes among the fashion crowd and its celebrity clients.
Still, several designers, executives and members of the jet set who routinely fly on Concorde aircraft said the crash would not dissuade them from using the planes in the future, also despite coincidental warnings in England about cracks on wings and concerns about the overall safety of the aging fleet.
Marc Jacobs, who was slated to fly from Paris to New York on the Concorde this morning, said during an interview late Tuesday he would not change his plans because of the crash, but shortly thereafter, the French transportation minister ordered the suspension of all Air France Concorde flights today while it conducts an investigation.
“I’m very sorry to hear about this crash,” he said. “My first reaction is I’m still taking my flight tomorrow if it’s not canceled. I’ll go to the airport and see what happens.”
Jacobs said he takes the Concorde from New York to Paris about twice a month and likely will continue to do so. “I don’t think about getting into a car accident every time I get into a car,” he said.
Sidney Toledano, president of Christian Dior Couture, agreed, saying, “I’m not going to change. It’s still very efficient, so we have to continue.”
Serge Weinberg, chief executive officer of Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, said he was shaken by the news, but he had not decided if he would change in his use of the aircraft.
Weinberg said he is familiar with many of the Air France crew members and was saddened to learn that all 100 passengers and nine crew perished when the plane crashed into a hotel shortly after takeoff from Charles de Gaulle airport. Authorities said the plane had been chartered by a German tour company and that most passengers on board were on their way to New York to board a cruise ship.
Many executives pointed out that air travel is unavoidable in today’s business world and that some companies have set policies as to the number of key executives permitted to sit on a particular flight.
“It is a fact of life,” said Camille McDonald, president and ceo of Parfums Givenchy Inc. “You have to use common sense. It would not be wise to have all the members of senior management on one plane going to a sales or marketing meeting.”
Estee Lauder Cos. said it has a very clearly delineated policy. On one plane, there can be no more than two Lauder presidents, or two division heads, or two corporate heads or two senior vice presidents.
Terry de Gunzburg, creative director for makeup at Yves Saint Laurent Parfums, said she likely will take the Concorde again.
“It is a very glamorous plane and flight but is also among the oldest aircrafts,” she said. “I was just talking to someone last week about the fact that I dislike it when the Concorde takes off and then has to return to Roissy after an hour in flight. It has happened to me many times.”
Claude Palatin, president of Escada Beaute, who takes the Concorde about four times a year, said he might think twice about taking the Concorde, at least for the moment.
“The crash seems definitely to be a result of a technical problem,” he said. “I prefer to take a late plane from Paris and arrive in New York at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. With the Concorde, you really have a 30-hour day, after which it takes two to three days to adapt.”
The social world also was distraught at the news of the crash. Lynn Wyatt, reached at her house on the Cote d’Azur, said she also had concerns about the aging Concorde fleet.
“I was horrified,” Wyatt said. “Some say one shouldn’t take it unless one really has to, unless it’s an emergency,” she added, alluding to the potential problem of metal fatigue in the aircraft. “But it’s such a convenience. I know people who take it just for the day.”
On Monday, it was reported that a British Airways Concorde was taken out of service after a crack developed in its wings. Six others also were found to have cracks in the rear of their wings.
Air France officials have said in the past that their current fleet is fit to fly until 2007.
“I’m sitting here just glued to the television,” Wyatt added. “It has been quite a news day with the Middle East peace talks breaking down and now this,” Wyatt said. “I love the Concorde. I think it’s catastrophic that this would happen.”
Nan Kempner, reached in California, added, “I’m so sorry for all those people. I’m so shaken. I can’t believe it’s true. Every other airline has had crashes, and it doesn’t keep you off the planes. What are you going to do?
“As rattled and as horrified as I am right now, I don’t think this is going to keep me from flying the Concorde in the future.”
Susan Gutfreund, who has been flying the Concorde since 1978, said that she arrived at the Paris airport from the south just after the Concorde crashed on Tuesday.
“We could see the smoke, and it was scary, because no one would say what had happened,” said Gutfreund, who herself has a pilot’s license. “You hear a Concorde’s crashed and your mind goes to all your friends, all the people you know who take it. I’ve had all these calls from people who wanted to know I was okay. But+I’ll fly again. I’m not going to be deterred, but, having said that, I’ll say that I won’t be on it tomorrow.”
Odile Gilbert, a Paris-based hairstylist who works with many top French designers, said she has taken the Concorde between 40 and 50 times and would continue to use it with confidence.
“You have the ability to arrive in New York in the morning, and it’s incredible,” she said. “It’s so easy and modern, and that’s why people take it.”