how 2020’s essential accessory had a rapid fashion makeover

Back in the mists of time – early February – I wandered down Auckland’s main drag where I was on holiday visiting my sister, when we spied a heap of face masks designed by the Kiwi fashion designer Karen Walker in a shop window. How cynical, we scoffed. What crass opportunism. When we passed back six hours later, they’d sold out.

Now I sit surrounded by sample masks that have been sent in by designers for me to trial. There are vintage Liberty prints from Brora, tasteful washed-out blue linens from Plumo, couture French lace backed with cotton, original patterns designed in-house that were originally destined for long dresses from Belgian label Bernadette, and even some silk masks which feel beautiful, but which I fear won’t get worn other than for decoration, because if you can’t wash silk above 30 degrees, the “hygiene” element becomes questionable.

Did I just say decorative? In March, when a woman wore a mask to the Chanel show that she’d customised with three white camelias (Coco Chanel’s favourite flower and an emblem of the famous brand) she was widely mocked on social media, although not by everyone. Some gushed over its loveliness and said they wanted one too.

chanel face mask fashion week paris – Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

It turns out they were the prescient ones: gluing a few fake flowers onto a mask was merely the start.  This week Cindy Crawford posted a picture of herself in a matching blouse and mask set she’d been sent with the caption, “Social Distancing but make it fashion”.

Roll your eyes – and sit tight, because maskmanship has already begun. Simply popping on a common or garden surgical mask as Gwyneth Paltrow, Goldie Hawn, Queen Maxima of the Netherlands and many other celebs have  done, is so ten days ago. Thoughtful co-ordination and mask curation is the current name of the game.  

Nevena couture masks lace – Nevena

Italian swimwear company Elexia has begun making trikinis –bikinis with matching masks (they have to find something to do with all their surplus fabrics). Couturier Nevena, who has a studio in Belgravia, catering for wealthy women looking for Ascot and wedding frocks, now has exquisite, cotton backed, taupe, red and black masks in her trademark  French lace that match her dresses.

Truly there is a mask for all seasons.  In the blingtastic corner, Comedian Steve  Harvey and his wife Marjory posted pictures of themselves in co-ordinating sparkly ones. Meanwhile content with trying to rally support for a three trillion dollar debt bail out, Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, has shown herself a whizz at this – debuting five co-ordinating mask looks in almost as many days.   

Nancy Pelosi blue face mask – Michael Brochstein / Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Is it seemly to  turn a health crisis into a fashion opportunity? If you feel there should be no joy in anything, ever again, then no, it is not. If you’re a pragmatist who believes that anything that creates some work for the millions  around the world who have been laid off in the fashion industry, then the answer becomes more nuanced.

Celebrities preening in anything is tiresome. But if a floral or stripy  face covering makes the uphill task of getting back to business  a bit less menacing, then competitive masking may be a price worth paying.  Also, let’s be honest, some faces could be vastly improved by this 2020 It accessory. Perhaps Melania is shopping masks for her husband even as I write. 

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