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Nostalgia takes flight with Pan Am logo line

August 18, 2010 | 10:25 am

Rage_PanAm_bags

While I was recently scouring downtown Los Angeles for fashionable finds for the downtown style issue, I noticed a couple retro-looking bags bearing the Pan Am globe logo -- which struck me as odd because the bags looked brand new and, last I knew, the airline had been pretty much defunct since 1991.

On Tuesday, trolling the aisles of the Project trade show in Las Vegas looking for spring/summer 2011 denim trends, I got the back story -- and it's an interesting one.

That's because instead of a third-party licensing deal to use the recognizable name and logo, the company selling the line of travel-themed accessories (including bags, passport holders and cufflinks) actually is Pan Am -- or what's left of it anyway.

Stacy Beck, the director of marketing and corporate development for Pan Am Brands explained it this way: After initially shuttering in 1991 and going through a series of owners, the remaining corporate assets (which by that point essentially consisted of the rights to the name and logos) were bought out of bankruptcy court in 1998 by New Hampshire-based railroad operator Guilford Transportation Industries.

According to Beck, the company attempted to relaunch Pan Am as a passenger airline but had the misfortune of trying to do so in the aftermath of 9/11. The plan was ultimately unsuccessful.

"But one of things we noticed along the way was that while people only wanted to pay $49 for an airline ticket, they didn't mind paying $150 for a bag," Beck said. That observation, coupled with the name recognition and nostalgia of the Pan Am brand, resulted in the accessories line in 2008. (The parent company also operates Pan Am Railways.)

"We've had an unexpectedly overwhelming response," Beck said. "Everyone has a Pan Am story -- either their family first came to the U.S. on Pan Am or they remember flying the airline as a child. It manages to appeal to both the hip, young crowd as retro, and the older crowd as nostalgia."

The current collection (which can be bought online) ranges from $18 passport holders to $255 reversible messenger bags. According to Beck, the blue Explorer bag (above left, $76) is far and away the most popular.

One of the most fun pieces we saw was a sample that had just come in -- a white belt made with the familiar airline seat-belt webbing and metal closure buckle -- with the Pan Am logo stamped on the front.

As I left the booth, I heard Beck telling an interested buyer the piece should be out in time for the holiday season.

Airline safety never felt so nostalgic -- or looked so stylish. I bet it'll be a big hit.

-- Adam Tschorn

Photos: The logo of the now defunct Pan American World Airways lives on in a line of travel-themed bags and accessories including the Explorer (left) and the 70's Original (right). Credit: Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times

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