The rise of the designer face mask

NB. 100 per cent silk and scallop-cut ruffles are not medical grade PPE, at time of writing.

Words Jonathan Mahon-Heap

Where luxury used to work to seasons, the exuberant scrawl of a Covid-19 case-chart now sets the calendar. Shunning seasonal trends or fashion shows, premier designers have taken to the sewing mill instead; Sunspel, Christopher Kane, The Vampire’s Wife, and Cristian Siriano among them.

“It looks like we’re going to be wearing cloth face masks for a while, which is all the more reason to find one that you like”, Vogue wistfully commanded us earlier this month. As ateliers have shuttered, and runway footfall reduced to a patter, the drive, both medical and commercial, for a new accessory began.

Iconic British brand Sunspel has been selling out its five colourways of face masks, matching sales with donations to the UK’s National Health Service. Christopher Kane’s More Joy Face Masks promise ‘More Joy Less Germs’, and are treated with VIROFORMULA™ to ‘provide effective protection from pathogens’ (Covid and H1N1 among them) — the independent designer has offered DIY craft kits too. 

Susie Cave’s characteristically chic masks, worn by the likes of Elisabeth Moss, offer a luxe touch (and price point) at £38 (caveat: 100 per cent silk and scallop-cut ruffles are not medical grade PPE, at time of writing). Former Project Runway winner, and NYC-based designer, Cristian Siriano having converted his studio into a mask-processing plant, now has his couture sewers mask-making full-time. Also spinning up a storm are designers Tory Burch, Erdem, Proenza Schouler, and Prabal Gurung. Most donate proceedings to ‘charitable causes’, or match each mask with a piece of equipment for essential workers. 

It’s a human thing, redressing a crisis as a marketable moment. Even Charlotte Brontë wistfully described consumption as the “flattering malady”, as the disease ushered in its own trends; an era of white face paint, and high-waisted long dresses, that stressed the wearer’s thinness. But in 2020, everything has changed, and ‘Respiration’ — it could almost be the theme of a collection from Zoolander — has become the plus chic habit of the season, darling.

face masks

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