Designer and amenity kit maker aim to kill ‘Kleenex mentality’

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Just fourteen months into their new partnership, amenity kit dynamos Wessco and designer Philippe Starck are making waves with their stylish, chic and reusable kits. The move is part of a wider trend by Wessco to move beyond simply being a manufacturer to being what the company calls a “global design and sourcing partner”.

Wessco, whose recent successes include the must-have American Airlines retro amenity kits and the popular United “friendly” tins, is clearly aware of the impact a great amenity kit can have on the passenger experience and airline branding, both on board and post-flight. While recording a podcast with fellow RGN contributor Seth Miller at last week’s Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, I noted with interest that Seth and I both still use a years-old Continental Airlines BusinessFirst soft-sided bifold kit — which ended up surviving the airline by several years — he for stowing microphones and cables and I for my standard daily travel washbag. Apart from memories, what other part of the airline passenger experience has such longevity?

Starck’s Wessco kits come in two families around the size of a large clutch: one a hardshell plastic option in a clearly gendered male (square-edged rectangle, monochrome) and female (soft-edged rectangle, pink and grey) pair, and one a set of soft-sided fabric clutches in purple, grey, orange or yellow with a magnetic white closure. It seems clear from the quality and design that kits are aimed at the first class end of the market.

Inside, Starck has designed an amenity set of toothbrush, razor and comb, to which an interchangeable handle can be added, plus a round-bottomed mirror that is, Starck jokes, both ergonomical and ethical, since the round bottom precludes preparing a snort of cocaine. 

Pink kit top

Pink kit top and interior

“My dream was to make a collection of objects that, really, you desire, and you say, ‘This one I shall keep it’,” Starck says, as he paradeded his new clutches around Wessco’s World Travel Catering and Onboard Services Expo stand with Chanel-jacketed wife Jasmine. The Starcks are a hilarious pair, joking with each other and with the family-owned Wessco team, at one of the week’s most informative (and fun) press conferences.

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But Starck’s engaging sense of humour is just one aspect of a design genius who is clearly an engaged, forward thinking intellectual. Starck gives a fascinating aside into the depths of gender theory when asked a question about unisex kits, outlining his expectations that products in the future will trend towards products that suit people outside the binary gender expressions typical today. Designers within the passenger experience industry could well take a leaf out of Starck’s book when considering the shape, design and contents of their kit. 

As with any designer, the process of melding concept into production will determine whether or not a collaboration is a success. Elsewhere in the travel industry, Starck’s designs have not always been matched with the real world user experience in their implementation: the Hilton Frankfurt Airport’s attractive Starck faucets are paired with a shallow banana-curved oval sink that ends up with the water running onto the  surface — which is itself angled to allow the water to run off straight into the front of one’s trousers.

Wessco, with its decades of experience producing kits, is a smart partner for Starck, who himself estimates that he spends more than two thirds of the year in the air, either on his Pilatus PC-12 aircraft or in international first class. Starck says “my nightmare is pyjamas”, brutally noting that most airline PJs look like “we come back from the bathroom, and my wife looks at me like a prisoner escaping from Guantánamo Bay. It’s so horrible. It’s humiliating.”

Making attractive airline sleepwear in a variety of passenger sizes would be an impressive achievement — is it next on the list for Starck and Wessco?

Kit display range

Kit display range

Pink kit wide

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