If we have to live with a face mask in the foreseeable future, let it be a designer one. Luxury brands to corporate fashion, artisanal communities to even turban designers are redefining the face mask into a fashion accessory, albeit one that follows all the norms of WHO safety protocols.
The bizarre situation arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked an amazing amount of creativity among designers and artisans. Glamorous to the artistic, the range of masks flooding the market is exhilarating.
While the initial intention of designers and brands was to create masks for a more altruistic purpose — to rush supplies to frontline workers as a contribution to the fight against the pandemic, it is turning into another vertical of their business. For artisans, on the other hand, it is a means to survive the financial constraints imposed by the lockdown and tide over these uncertain times.
Globally, fashion brands such as Dior, Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton recalibrated their manufacturing units to make masks, protective gear and sanitizers. Their masks initiative has moved from public-spirited to a fashion offering. Indian designers and savvy artisans are fast catching up. Face masks are a canvas for self-expression and a means of survival at a time when most business has come to a halt. According to the book History of Surgical Face Masks by John L. Spooner, masks first made an appearance as protective gear for medical practitioners in the 19th century. They were adapted in China in 1910 to prevent spread of pneumonic plague.
Fashion in Asian countries such as China, Korea and Japan included designer face masks as a shield to deal with rising pollution. The rest of the world is waking up to the fact that your mask does not have to be boring or surgical if you aren’t a frontline healthcare worker or afflicted by COVID-19.
The Savile Row mask
Established tailors on this iconic London street are handcrafting and retailing face masks, which is now an essential accessory in our fight against the coronavirus. Huntsman, a big name on Savile Row, handcrafts soft masks made using 100 percent Egyptian cotton. The double-layered masks are embroidered with their signature alphabet ‘H’ and are sold in a classic box pleat design with elasticated straps.
The luxury monogrammed masks
LVMH, owner of brands such as Louis Vuitton, Dior, Givenchy and Fendi, has employed 300 additional artisans to make non-surgical face masks. The LV masks feature the classic brown monogram pattern in tan suede with gold rivets reinforcement and costs up to $1800. Pretty much like LV, Fendi has put out a logo-monogrammed mask in deep tan/brown shade that has been designed and hand-stitched by artisans in their Paris atelier.
The signature pattern face masks
Most designers have signature prints that they are known for. Priyanka Modi, creative Director of AMPM, an edgy fashion brand has dovetailed their prints with some colour “added keeping in mind the universal dreariness, to lift up the spirits of the people who end up wearing them”. The result is a collection of snug textured, patterned masks with contemporary aesthetics and angular lines. Functional to the tee, these masks can be bought online as well as at AMPM stores, and retail between Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000.
The quilted ones
Leconet Hemant’s dreamy signature patterns and prints make way on to their 3-and-5 ply face masks. “We have used cotton poplin with polyester interlining, which feature prints and light quilting with fabric. Each mask undergoes UV-ray sterilisation before being packed in a fabric pouch made from the off cuts,” says designer and co-founder Hemant Sagar. The prices of the masks range from Rs 999 and Rs 1499 and they are being sold via the brand’s stores.
The Rajput-style masks
Rajputs are famous for their swag and their style, on display even in the most stressful of situations. Udaipur-based safa and turban designer Harendra Jodha, who studied the Rajput lifestyle at Chopasin School (they teach you how to live a life of leisure like a Rajput!) created a range of beautiful handloom cotton 3-ply masks to match the safas that the men wear, particularly at weddings or important ceremonies.