If there is a symbol of the current spread of the corona virus, it is the surgical face mask. Those white or baby blue rectangles that hide the mouth and nose, began appearing almost immediately after the infection was identified, first in Asia, where masks have always been common, and then in Europe. These days they are everywhere. (And nowhere — there is a serious face mask shortage).
They represent safety and protection from disease and pollution; solidarity; protest; racism; a fashion trend; and now, pandemic. They have been, said Christos Lynteris, a medical anthropologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, a sign of “something that hides but also communicates.” They were adopted in 1910 by the Chinese authorities to prevent the spread of pneumonic plague and became a staple and emblematic of medical modernity.
Little wonder fashion took note. The Qiaodan Yin Peng Sportswear collection put face masks on the runway during China Fashion Week in 2014. Masha Ma, a Chinese designer showing in Paris, featured a Swarovski-studded look in her spring 2015 show.
Masks were adopted as expressions of creative identity by rappers Ayo & Teo, who started wearing them and soon become their signature accessory. Future and his daughter wore matching elaborate gem-studded looks to the 2017 BET awards as a promo for his performance of “Mask Off.” Zoe Dupree, the stylist for Young Thug, christened the styles “smog couture.”
Over the last three years, brands including Off-White, Palm Angels, Bathing Ape and Fendi have offered designer face masks. Gucci made one for Billie Eilish to wear with her all-Gucci look at the Grammys. Less than a month ago, celebrities and models began to post selfies in their masks on social media from airplanes, but also from the street. Bella Hadid on her flight out of Milan, in fedora, scarf and surgical face mask or Gwyneth Paltrow en route to Paris in a black Nemen x Airinum breathing mask.
But because the masks have become so embedded in Asian culture, they have also become shorthand for racism, especially during a blame game about how the corona virus began. Currently it is an extremely coveted article that has been long sold out almost everywhere, and no longer a fashion accessory or exclusive seen on Asian people.
With many fashion brands, such as the Italian house of Prada recently announcing a commitment to help stop the spread of coronavirus. The label has now revealed that it is set to produce 80,000 medical overalls and 110,000 masks that will then be allocated to healthcare personnel. This move comes after a request for assistance from the Tuscany Region.
The overalls and masks are being delivered daily to healthcare personnel around the region, with the entire number set to be delivered by April 6. All of the items are being produced at Prada’s factory in Montone.
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