Will Fashion Eventually Embrace Masks?

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The pandemic has transformed fashion as we know it. While this unwarranted reprieve from routine life has brought obstacles for an industry reliant on tangible experiences and seasonal trends, it has also sparked innovation and generated novel outlets of expression. One unanticipated accessory, the face mask, has gained traction on catwalks worldwide, replacing the formerly clinical face covering with a myriad of fashion-forward alternatives.

While the mandated face coverings are seemingly a sign of the times, the protective gear was artfully reinterpreted by young designers for the Spring/Summer 2021 season. However, it’s a question if the fashion world will continue to embrace masks in future collections beyond the current cultural milieu.

New York Fashion Week was abundant with facial ornamentation, with adaptations offered by Collina Strada, Anna Sui, Eckhaus Latta, Libertine, Zero + Maria Cornejo, and others. Bi-coastal brand Eckhaus Latta celebrated walking, one of few small joys to be found in quarantine, in a low-profile outdoor collection debut underneath FDR Drive. The casualness of hand-dyed denim and nylon were elevated by crochet pairings and patchwork, with masks adding contemporary context.

Perhaps there is something to be said about masks, or lack thereof, during the lot of Spring/Summer 2021 shows. In America, the mask has become somewhat of a political statement, globally, it is a sign of respect and solidarity. Fashion weeks in London, Milan, and Paris were surprisingly devout of the essential accessory. Given the circumstances, a slight dent in creative vision would have been well warranted.

Nonetheless, Pariah Farzaneh, Marni, and Atsushi Nakashima showcased a handful of mask-embellished ensembles. Turkish designer Bora Aksu incorporated a questionably functional, but nonetheless fashionable, face mesh for his collection, which referenced World War I and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. The translucent netting, which topped each look, linked past and present while complementing vibrant lipstick and matching caps.

Face coverings also acted as extensions of avant garde designs as collections were unveiled in Paris. Balenciaga, Takahiromiyashita The Soloist, Xuly Bët, and Schiaparelli each presented distinct renditions of the trend, although the accessory acted more as a complementary design rather than an obligation. Striking a balance between surrealism and reality, Schiaparelli’s Artistic Director Daniel Roseberry converted the menial face mask into an ornate work of art for a few looks from the Maison’s most recent collection.

A fierce collection from Rick Owens, titled Phlegethon, introduced clothing for today’s turmoil through a futuristic lens. Black leather cutoffs, tops with exaggerated shoulders, and thigh-high platform boots were softened by layers of flowing fabrics. But the collection’s mythological inspiration did not denounce its underlying message. To Owens, a mask, like all forms of clothing, should be used to send a message. Owens certainly embodied this belief—each look was polished with a face covering.

Foreshadowing the near-future of formalwear, every look on Christian Siriano’s Spring/Summer 2021 catwalk was adorned with corresponding face coverings. The American designer’s nostalgia-channeling collection unfurled in a socially-distanced backyard presentation. Billowing ruffles, tiered tulle skirts, and gingham print dominated the dynamic and escapism-driven assortment. Nods to recent fashion history were repackaged for the modern woman—one who no longer views the face mask as merely necessity, but a contemporary addition to her wardrobe.

On the sporty side of the fashion spectrum, Marine Serre championed cultural relevance for her Spring/Summer 2021 collection, Amor Fati. Bike usage in her home city, Paris, inspired the lineup of sleek and utilitarian pieces, some of which were made using recycled and upcycled materials. Several looks with face masks, mouth-enveloping bodysuits, and visors and caps with attached face shields epitomized the designer’s goal for functional fashions that tested new dimensions of luxury.

Fashion month has proved that the face covering is ever-evolving. According to designers, established and emerging, the simultaneously incognito and statement-making accessory is worth adopting, and making your own. Both as a considerate outfit contribution and a form of self-expression, the high-fashion face mask seems as though it’s here to stay working its way to being an essential accessory the fashion world.

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