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How fashion designers are adapting to the age of masks

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Say whatever you want about face masks and people have said a lot about them, but there’s one fact that maybe seems inevitable: getting used to them.

Much like seat belts, bike helmets, and movie ratings, what initially seemed odd or overdone now feels routine. Of course, there are people who have refused to wear them because it feels un-American and weak to them. And there are others, in parts of the country where wearing a mask in public is not yet compulsory, who find the custom awkward.

An Eugenia Kim mask.

Eugenia Kim

But in states where masks have been mandatory for months, this item has become a staple of her wardrobe. Mask culture is going to become the new normal, says designer Jason Wu. There is certainly a period of adaptation, which is right now, but in the future I think I have a new awareness of [the need for] masks, washing your hands, all that.

Consumers are adapting. The same goes for the fashion industry. As Wu and other designers have discovered, the new era of face masks has lessons to be learned about brand flexibility. The lessons learned now will be invaluable as businesses attempt to rebuild themselves and tackle even bigger struggles to come.

No more blues with a blue mask

In April, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans to wear masks in public spaces, consumers had little choice other than the blue paper clinical mask. Notable brands Louis Vuitton, Brooks Brothers, Christian Siriano, and Eileen Fisher, among others, had reconfigured factories and workshops to make masks (plain, no logos) and personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers. . Masks as a fashion statement? Too risky.

That changed quickly as an army of DIY enthusiasts took to Etsy with countless home-sewn designs. The pros quickly followed.

If you have to wear a mask, why not have fun with it? says designer Nicole Miller, who created masks with patterns of camouflage, cheetah, fruit, lipstick, and evil eyes. His message: make a statement.

Masks from The Gap.

Courtesy of The Gap

A fun and luxurious mask that reflects her personality is an expression of individuality, tells star milliner Eugenia Kim, whose glitter masks are sold at Neiman Marcus and other retailers (between $ 20 and $ 22). Conveying individuality seems necessary, she suggests, in an age when masks cover half of your face and most of your expression.

Levi s and Mavi designed bandana prints to go with their denim. Under Armor launched its Sportsmask in June (a one-of-a-kind antimicrobial mask designed for exercise).

Even EC Knox, a maker of luxury diaper bags for sophisticated dads, has come up with a stylish herringbone version that transforms into a childish retro paisley. Its Madison Avenue on the outside, a bit flashy on the inside, says founder Gavin Lodge.

Today there are masks for any wearer, any mood, any political persuasion. When Wu designed a logo for the Distance Yourself From Hate campaign for the gay men’s health crisis, he skipped the standard t-shirt and put the slogan on the masks instead. The effect was haunting.

The way we express our hate is through our voices, so putting the message where we speak seemed the strongest, Wu says.

Lessons learned

The backbone of mask making has been a struggle for Lafayette 148, a brand that specializes in high-end workwear for women, not masks, admits artistic director Emily Smith. But soon after closing their offices and stores in mid-March, they were studying the shapes and fabrics of the masks and testing prototypes. The drill reminded Smith how fast the brand can move when in a hurry: these days you really have to be nimble.

Courtesy of Mavi

Eileen Fisher first worked with the office of New York Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney to identify local hospitals and police and fire departments in need of masks and PPE, and then produced masks for customers . The experience has shown the compassion and tenacity of our employees, as well as their desire to use our business to do good for the world, says Fisher.

For Nicole Miller, the masks have generated an increase in online traffic. No one is looking to buy the next cocktail dress right now, but they need masks, and that has brought us a lot of new customers, she says.

Being agile, tenacious and aware of customer needs are the lessons brands must learn now, so that they are better equipped to face the next big battle that looms on the horizon: sustainability.

Lafayette 148 plans to use recycled fabrics for around 75% of its spring 2021 collection. Anna Sui is also considering recycled fabrics like never before. Have been streamlined, and that’s where the fashion needs to go right now, Sui says.

Courtesy of Nicole Miller

I feel like it was back in 2007 when I started, Wu said. I have more restrictions, less resources if I can take a package to someone’s house and drop it off at their door, I will.

Of course, this attitude is ingrained in Wus’ DNA. When Michelle Obama asked her to make her inauguration dress in 2009, the dress that had put him on the map, she was so worried that she would get lost in the expedition that he bought the dress her own ticket. plane.

As we grew as a business and I grew as a designer, things got more practical, he admits. But this is the opportunity to go back to my roots. It’s really super. I suddenly feel invigorated.

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