How has fashion changed the face mask?

It is the accessory at the heart of the news … Like everything that is worn, the face mask has not escaped the hijacking of fashion and is making its way on the red carpets as the catwalks. Study of a prudent and eloquent accessory.

It is often forgotten in the era of influence and the supremacy of brands, but changes in fashion are sometimes caused by a need, a new use. Perfect illustration, the face mask which covers the nose and mouth spreads slowly but surely in the trends.

Question of perception

In the West, take off the masks. Law n ° 2010-1192 of October 11, 2010 prohibits concealing the face in public. Even in times of health crisis, the mask is very badly perceived. A note circulated within the police revealed in particular by Le Parisien stipulates “It is absolutely forbidden to wear the mask on public roads or at public reception”. A question of shortage, of course, but also of perception. Yet on the other side of the globe, the mask conveys an entirely different meaning.

Marine Serre fall-winter 2019-2020 © PIXELFORMULA / SIPA

In China, its port would have spread in the years 1910 to stem an epidemic of pneumonia. As anthropologist Christos Lynteris demonstrates in his recent article on the New York Times, the mask would have a medical but also a social function: it is the witness of responsible behavior. In Asia, its use, linked to over-polluted environments as well as to other individual health disorders, has developed, facilitated by a culture that promotes the collective interest. Masking yourself to protect others is encouraged and valued. This is how many brands have seized on the facial accessory, which can be found adorned with patterns on market stalls across Asia.

But it is not just a product for mass consumption. Luxury brands were quick to seize the trend to attract this clientele. Fendi marketed a monogram silk mask and Off-white a more refined logo version. If its effectiveness (zero) is not put forward, its aesthetics, it hits the mark. Nicki Minaj, Beyonce or the rapper Future make the mask a style asset. We even saw her in the front row of the last Chanel show, where, at a time when the Coronavirus seemed to be slowly approaching, a guest decorated her mask with camellias for the occasion. The protective instrument has become a fashion accessory.

Appearance protection

Trendy by necessity, the face mask suddenly has a lot more to say. Its dual function, both protection and concealment, makes it a powerful accessory. The young pop singer Billie Eilish makes it a signature on the red carpet. It accompanies the message of the artist who advocates fashion as a way to hide his body from view. Like the baggy pants and other XXL overlays it sports, the mask is a form of cross-dressing. A paradoxically conspicuous concealment, which blurs the lines and allows him to keep control of his appearance.

Billie Eilish at the 2020 Grammy Awards © Arroyo-OConnor / AFF / ABACA

With its symbolism and also its growing use, the face mask has become a playground for certain designers who accessorize with the silhouettes of their parades. Strass at The Blonds fall-winter 2020, in a punk lace version for Alexander Wang in spring-summer 2019, bondage at Gareth Pugh the same season … But more than anyone, the designer Marine Serre explores it in depth in its collections. It is the only one to have collaborated with a manufacturer of anti-pollution masks (R-PUR). His fashion “from the future” as stated on his Instagram account, questions the concerns of our time with the themes of climatic disasters, exodus. In this register, the dystopian potential of the mask reveals all its charm. All the more so when it becomes as rare as it is precious in the “true” life. The brands of the Kering group (Balenciaga, Saint Laurent) have announced that they are launching into the surgical mask, this time in a version approved to supply hospitals.

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