Raeburn's face covering design

NECESSITY TO LUXURY: The University of Westminster in London and the Westminster Men’s Wear Archive will be staging an exhibition exploring the evolution of face coverings and the ways they invaded day-to-day life, ever since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Opening on May 11 — exactly a year after the U.K. government advised Britons to start wearing masks in enclosed public spaces — the show is titled “From Necessity to Luxury: The Evolution of Face Coverings During COVID-19,” the idea behind it being to highlight how the pandemic transformed face coverings from functional objects available in short supplies and limited to health care professionals, to the most commonly used everyday item.

Face coverings from 52 labels across the fashion spectrum will be on display, including designs from the likes of fast-fashion retailer Boohoo Man — one of the first fashion firms to design and sell masks as early as April 2020 — to up-and-coming names like Liam Hodges and Ahluwalia, and mega brands like Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga and Off-White.

By displaying the different designs in chronological order, the exhibition’s curators, professor Andrew Groves and Dr. Danielle Sprecher, also wanted to showcase how quickly fashion brands responded to the demand for face coverings, first helping to provide them for front-line workers and then transforming them into a luxury accessory used for self-expression or to communicate one’s status.

A series of photographs will be showcased alongside the masks, featuring pictures of discarded face coverings taken on the street. These will be available on the online marketplace OpenSea as NFTs or non-fungible tokens, feeding on the current appetite for digital goods. 

“The rapidly evolving response by designers, as well as the ephemeral nature of the face covers produced, made this an exciting and challenging exhibition to curate. The objects only tell part of the story, as companies unable to rely on their usual supply chains pivoted their production to meet the unprecedented demand for this new product,” said Groves. “While a year ago, most masks might have seemed to be similar, over the last 12 months we have seen a divergence as consumers and brands have used their mask as a means of differentiating themselves from the masses. As is often the case with fashion, wealth, status and access have resulted in this simple object rapidly evolving in terms of materiality, functionality and marketing.”

See Also: The Journey of the Mask

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