Neerja Bhatia, Vice President, Indian Subcontinent, Etihad Airways, sheds light on the successful association of Etihad Airways with WME | IMG and the airline’s deep fashion connect.
ELLE: When did the Etihad and WME | IMG association begin?
Neerja Bhatia: In April 2016, we struck a comprehensive three-year global agreement with WME | IMG as a long-term partner of the fashion industry, connecting the airline with the fashion capitals of the world. As part of this global agreement, Etihad Airways is supporting 17 fashion week events around the world annually, including New York Fashion Week: The Shows, London Fashion Week, Milan Fashion Week, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin, Lakmé Fashion Week (Mumbai) and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, as well as MADE events in New York and Berlin. It is our first multinational, multi-year airline sponsorship supporting the fashion industry. We aim to become the preferred airline of the global fashion industry.
ELLE: Why has it always been important for Etihad, as an airline, to associate so deeply with the fashion industry?
NB: Etihad Airways has a strong alignment to fashion and offers services to fashion capitals of the world – New York, Milan, and London, Paris and Sydney - where the fashion industry ‘migrates’ to annually, with tens of thousands of fashion designers, models, stylists, journalists, photographers, suppliers and sponsors travelling to the shows. Fashion and Etihad Airways represent an ideal brand fit, as we share attributes of being ambitious and innovative.
ELLE: The airline supports fashion events globally, what put India on that list?
NB: We connect Mumbai and a further 9 cities across India, with flights to the fashion capitals of the world via the Abu Dhabi gateway. Lakmé Fashion Week is very exciting for us in India, as it has marked another step in our efforts to enhance our position as the global airline for the fashion industry and further elevate Mumbai on the international fashion calendar.
ELLE: You used virtual reality (VR) technology while partnering with Manish Malhotra during Lakmé Fashion Week in 2016. What do you have to say about Etihad’s pioneering efforts in technology?
NB: Technology is the biggest driver of change in any evolving industry and it is the same for us. Designer Manish Malhotra’s stunning show was attended by more than 400 guests who experienced an innovative adaptation of a traditional opening, ‘Etihad Airways Presents Manish Malhotra’, a showcase shot completely in virtual reality (VR) – a first for an Indian designer.
ELLE: You also partnered with Manish Arora to give birth to a show that was larger than life.
NB: Each year, Etihad Airways chooses to partner with a different designer and in August 2017, we worked with Manish Arora. There was a significant hype around his show as it was the designer’s first show at Lakmé Fashion Week in six years. Etihad Airways presented the collection in a larger-than-life format, with the atrium of the finest luxury mall in the city being transformed into an opulent runway – a first at this fashion week.
ELLE: Tell us more about the Runway to Runway programme.
NB: Runway to Runway, launched in February 2017, is Etihad’s exclusive travel programme tailored to support the international fashion community as very few industries travel as much as the fashion industry does. Runway to Runway members are eligible to receive special airfares, airport lounge access, complimentary upgrades, priority boarding and check-in, additional checked baggage allowances, as well as preferred cargo and group travel rates when travelling for photo shoots, showing collections overseas, or conducting business in overseas markets.
ELLE: Tell us more about your ground activation at Lakmé Fashion Week.
NB: At Lakmé Fashion Week every year, Etihad Airways has an activation area on ground dedicated to the airline. This year's airline dedicated activation area featured an ‘anti-gravity lounge’, where visitors had the opportunity to enter a social media competition to win tickets to its home, Abu Dhabi. Guests were gifted monogrammed luggage tags as a memento from the airline.
ELLE: Speaking of the airline’s fashion associations, you recently launched a new loungewear collection.
NB: We leveraged our sponsorships of global fashion weeks and our Platinum Partner status of Louvre Abu Dhabi to launch a new Emirati designed loungewear collection at an exclusive reception held at the iconic cultural institution. The stylish new line by Emirati brand, A Friend of Mine, by Xpoze is offered to the airline’s guests on all First Class flights, and also to those staying in The Residence on board the Airbus A380 fleet.
ELLE: What are your other international fashion collaborations?
NB: In September 2017, we collaborated with renowned British designer Julien Macdonald to launch a promotional fashion film which draws parallels between the production of a high-end fashion show and the preparation that goes into ensuring a safe and comfortable flight. It was officially launched on the opening night of NYFW: The Shows. Etihad also helped bring Oscar de la Renta to Sydney to show its summer 2016 presentation at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia in May 2016. It was the brand's debut runway show in Australia.
Featured image: Pictured at Lakmé Fashion Week in Mumbai, from left, Neerja Bhatia, Etihad Airways Vice President Indian subcontinent; Bollywood actors Sushant Singh Rajput and Shraddha Kapoor; designer Manish Malhotra, whose show was presented by Etihad Airways; and a crew member (August 2016)