Perhaps the oldest practice of artistic fashion, the use of masks is ubiquitous across the world. Very ancient cultures independently developed masks for use in rituals and ceremonies. Considering the deep connection between the face and identity, this comes as no surprise. By covering up one’s face, a mask deceives, conceals an identity. By this same token, it gives its wearer (and viewer) otherwise inaccessible creative freedom, allowing them to abstract from the body and take on a new identity. A mask may even help someone become a more true version of their own self.
Today, of course, the use of masks is ubiquitous across the world as a defense against the coronavirus’s spread. At first blush, this doesn’t seem connected to fashion, but we’ve seen some designers turn this challenge into unique opportunities to explore identity. Fashion has always developed in conversation with social and historical developments. So it’s fascinating to consider and begin to see how this moment of crisis will change our collective consciousness of identity and expression.
Always concerned with the future, designers Marine Serre and Rick Owens have been consistently incorporating masks into their collections for at least the last few seasons. Marine Serre especially has used it to warn of climate catastrophe and investigate the ways humanity and its culture will have to respond to a rapidly changing planet. Maison Margiela used a translucent cloth to create an elegant and mysterious image of romance reminiscent of Magritte’s famous painting “The Lovers II.”
We haven’t seen too many other designers incorporate masks into their runway shows, perhaps thinking it was too early to capitalize on the pandemic. Still, those who did responded more directly to it by using straightforward shapes that echoed surgical or N95 masks. Anna Sui, Atushi Nakashima, Collina Strada, and more created masks with patterns that cohered with their entire springtime looks.
Of course, the street is where we’ve seen the most frequent use of masks. The most obvious choice is black – it doesn’t draw too much attention, and it goes with everything – but there are some opportunities to get colorful and creative as well. We hope the world can use this moment of collective concealment to reflect on both our common identity as humans and our uniqueness as individuals and emerge ready to love each other and our Earth. Be safe, and keep wearing your mask!