Paris. February 2020. On the Fashion Week’s catwalk, masks are already exhibited as part of the fall-winter collection by the creator Marine Serre. And it is not a first in the world of fashion. Some already announced that it would be the “must have” of the season. Well… it’s a done deal. Confronted with the coronavirus pandemic, the mask is now worn on every face.
Marie-Laure Gutton is managing the accessories department of the Palais Galliera, the city of Paris’ Fashion Museum. To her, history is the same for all the pieces we wear proudly. “The sanitary function exists in most accessories”, she points out. Shoes, gloves, hats, bags. By definition, each piece has a primary function, eventually excluded to turn it into a social brand then into a purely fashionable object. Just like the shoe, now perched on high heels.
“We’ll have to think of a way to combine functionality and aesthetics”
To Marie-Laure Gutton, history could repeat itself with the mask’s arrival: “If it remains a part of our everyday lives, we’ll have to think of a way to combine functionality and aesthetics. There are so many things to imagine.” She adds: “With the mask, there are real constraints. First because it can be quite hard to stand. Then because of the identity question. “Behind the piece of fabric, the smile and the cheekbones are hidden, therefore preventing the identification of any facial expression. “Some societies have embraced the wearing of a mask. So why could we not do the same in Occident? But many interrogations are subsisting”, admits the specialist.
Photo by Christian Vicq
Naïké Louchart has not really asked herself this question. The 35 years old seamstress is crumbling under “nice masks” orders since the lockdown began. “At first, I had not planned to craft any, she explains. But on the same Friday I received three requests.” She then started, posted a picture of her first mask on social media and the comments started pouring in. “It became a real fashion accessory, so why would we not wear nice ones?”
When beauty and quality go hand in hand
In her workshop, Naïké Louchard thinks, measures, tries. She recovers fabric scraps from her previous creations and jiggles her needles. “I recycle fabric that has never been used”, claims the stylist. To her, using old sheets or cloths is out of the question: “When I do something, I make sure it is of quality.” An important point for the seamstress. The chosen fabrics are quite thick, so no particles can escape. But not too thick so it won’t trap breath moisture. To ensure that the mask is sealed, Naïké Louchard places a clip above the nose. “The mask really fits the face shape of the person wearing it. It will last as long as any of [her] other creations”, she guarantees.
Photo by Margot Pyckaert
Between the beak mask and the surgical mask, hers are mostly design. For the comfortable aspect, the seamstress has traded the elastic for a satin strap for women, or cotton for men and children. No detail is left to chance. “These masks are as nice on the inside as they are on the outside!”, claims the stylist. Naïké Louchart warns the buyers: “They may not receive the exact same mask they ordered on the website, because each model is unique.” And uniqueness has a price. A Sainte Naïké mask costs 8 euros, for an average of 30 minutes of work for each piece and for the used materials.
Beauty to counter anxiety
Aged 50, after health issues and a CVA, Christine has decided to look on the bright side of things. To wear a surgical mask all day long? No way. “I like to look nice. The aesthetic aspect is important to me. I want something that protects me of course, but also something that will make me feel pretty.” Something that doesn’t look like “a coffee filter with elastics.” This mom has already bought four Sainte Naïké masks and she won’t stop there. She is sure of it: “the mask could become a real fashion accessory, just like a nice pair of glasses.”
If wearing a mask is becoming a thing in France because of the sanitary crisis, the Asian continent has already adopted it for a while. In 2011, a survey conducted by News Post Seven illustrated the fact that almost 30% of Japanese people wore the mask for aesthetic reasons. Spotted, striped, flowered or colored, who knows, the mask could well impose itself as the Kawaii accessory for the most fashionable Europeans.