Face Masks Made Fashion

Many countries across the world have issued guidelines to help curb the accelerating growth rate of Covid-19, including recommendations for wearing a face mask. Cue masses of panicked civilians hoarding purchases of a crucial facet of PPE for medical professionals at a rate that would make the earlier toilet-paper-gate seem second tier. But we are all in a better position to combat the virus if proper medical grade equipment - surgical masks and N95 masks - is left in the hands of our care workers on the frontline so they can prevent transmission on a wider scale. This has left civilians with the option of carrying cloth face-masks as a preventative measure that should be observed alongside the additional measures of social distancing and hand washing - this seems like good time to bring back this: 

As we can expect, the call to arms (or faces!) that has seen many start to create or purchase their own face-masks has not been ignored by the fashion community. A recent Vogue article observes that “Masks are not a fashion accessory, but they do take up a fair amount of real estate on your face. And so it’s not surprising that people are looking for aesthetically pleasing ones." Whilst the latter part of the claim is true, I think that people the world over have been reinforcing the notion that masks actually can be a fashion accessory. They wouldn’t be the first accessory to serve a functional purpose whilst simultaneously serving looks. In fact, creatives have been rising to the challenge when it comes to masks as fashion, refusing to allow a global pandemic to curb their sense of creative flair or self-expression. 

Here are some of our favourite examples of
“face-masks made fashion”
that we’ve seen in the past few months: 

Anne Sophie Cochevelou is a French costume and jewels designer based in London and a Central Saint Martins alumni. As well as focusing her latest creative project on the face mask, she has a variety of funky designs for sale on her shopify, including an NHS heroes mask that donates 100% of the sale to charity. She aims to interrogate whether in these new era masks will become the new indispensable fashion accessory ousting hats or scarves and how a mask can reveal and conceal aspects of your persona. Having never worked with masks before it is clear that Cochevelou is one of many artists determined to make the most out of our current bizarre situation.


HELMSTEDT is a Danish fashion house founded by Emilie Helmstedt that wishes to create a space where art meets both fashion and sustainability. They have created safety masks using upcycled deadstock fabrics from Helmstedt's SS20 collection. The profit from the sales of safety masks is donated to WHO's COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund; what’s not to love about an artistic initiative that simultaneously coincides with our principles of sustainability, marrying fashion with ethics? 

COLTY is a US based gender-neutral leather lifestyle brand that designs & creates accessories such as small leather goods - and they’ve now turned their fashion savvy sights on face masks. For each purchase of one mask, one will be donated to their local LGBTQ+ centre. When roll backs on queer rights are occurring across the world during the pandemic, it's wonderful to see designers and small businesses supporting the LGBTQ+ community. 

Designer Voravaj Varazatiravatt is ahead of the game, having experimented with face mask fashion way before the latest Coronavirus pandemic took off. The intricately detailed bejewelled masks take between 36-84 hours to handcraft and are part of up-and-coming design house VORAVAJ Bangkok’s answer to increased air pollution in the city. Varazatiravatt’s work is an embellished emblem of how we can have fun with the restrictions Coronavirus imposes, turning our minds to creative endeavours and making something beautiful out of something seemingly so bleak.

Collina Strada is a brand based out of New York that stands simultaneously as a platform for climate awareness, social awareness, change and self expression. Created by Hillary Taymour, the fashion aims to become fully sustainable and radically transparent in the near future whilst staying loyal to their brand ethos of inward reflection and how we can be the best versions of ourself. To this end, Collina Strada have created resplendent masks out of deadstock material and have been donating masks to doctors in need in New York.

Laura Okita is a New York based fashion photographer and creative director who has long shot for major fashion institutions including Vogue. Whilst she has been using her time indoors to create a beautiful series of self portraits, she has also been creating face masks to send to NYC hospitals - and made herself a fancy face mask in the process! 

Project Runway addicts might appreciate this familiar face - Erin Robertson is an artist and designer living and working in Boston and the winner of Project Runway Season 15. Erin began making reusable masks to try and make a dent in the shortage of PPE, and has since been fulfilling an influx of requests while keeping the needs of healthcare professionals at the forefront. Amongst the thousands of free masks she has donated, she has a limited amount of masks available for general sale. Additionally, Erin plans to release a limited run of masks created in collaboration with artists to support people whose work has become increasingly vulnerable because of Covid-19, and a limited run of “Covid Couture” Bow masks in honour of the fashion fans who have been instrumental in establishing her platform. 

Stello are a US based couture fashion and custom bridal house who incorporated masks into their collections long before Covid-19 took hold, and who have revived some of the previous designs in their recent social media. I adore the orange!

From our Trade Fayre Family

The above are just a handful of creative designs from across the world that serve to show how Coronavirus doesn’t have to put a stopper on our creativity and self expression. Humans may be turning to masks to protect themselves and their communities, but we certainly are not muzzling our creative freedom - on the contrary, we're now wearing it loud and proud on our faces! Artists and designers have been responding creatively and valiantly even as the pandemic has injected their work and livelihoods with insecurity, and we’re proud to shout about two of our friends from our regular Trade Fayres and our current Virtual Makers Market who have responded similarly!

Sheilla Mandeya is the visionary designer and creator behind Afrocentric 805, a bespoke clothing and textiles company with pop-ups around the country. Afrocentric designs feature Ankara/African prints that always lift Sheila’s spirits whatever the situation, and are guaranteed to inject a bit of fun back into your Covid-19 lives. And with air travel unlikely to lift any time soon, I think we deserve to transport ourselves with our every day wear to better climes! As masks become part of our every day sartorial choices, you can also match them with other accessories from Afrocentric 805 - definitely a look to outlive Coronavirus. 

Lidia Russo is the woman behind the environmentally and ethically conscious business of the same name, designing and creating bags and accessories from reclaimed fabrics and organic cotton. During this crisis, she has been making face masks for family and friends in her local area, and neighbours and staff at local independent businesses that are still running: "I have been making them out of fabric remnants that I have at hand in my studio - I ran out of elastic pretty quickly so have been using ribbons or making my own ties. I’m really glad that I’ve been able do my bit while I’ve felt a little helpless during this time." 

Whilst these examples focus on creativity and couture, there are organisations and designers who are using the growing trend in face masks to make strong statements supporting positive change in other ways. Just as Lidia is repurposing excess material into creating something beautiful and useful, Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) is turning ocean waste into face masks. This woman outside parliament in Warsaw used hers to protest the tightening of abortion laws in Poland:

April 15 2020 REUTERS | Kacper Pempel

There are, no doubt, thousands more examples of unique designs that spin creativity out of Corona, each shouting that no, a global pandemic will not dull our sense of creative expression. Whilst our invaluable care workers work tirelessly to keep coronavirus at bay, and the rest of us are cooped up at home, the arts have emerged as the means of providing much needed relief from the stress and mental toil of the pandemic. The creatives amongst us play an integral role as emotional lifelines in this time. Whilst couture masks may at first seem like a silly distraction in these strange times, they do credit to our ability to find light in dark situations. They stand as a blazon of the fortuity of human spirit and creativity. And, perhaps most compellingly, they look cool enough to spark joy in a crisis in which that particular currency is in short supply. 

Let us know of any cool masks you’ve come across online or in person!

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