Billie Eilish took home five trophies from the last Grammy Awards, but she arrived wearing a fashion accessory that clearly looked toward the future: a Gucci face mask. While the 18-year-old singer may or may not have been making a statement about global health, she highlighted a new fashion trend that COVID-19 just helped supercharge.

Last month, designer face masks made appearances at the fashion weeks in Milan and Paris, with Marine Serre debuting a new collection on the runways. Fendi, Off-White, Palm Angels, Bathing Ape, Airinum, Heron Preston, Gareth Pugh and Maison Margiela have all gotten into the mask game, as have emerging utilitarian brands like AusAir and O2Today. Pop surrealist artist Ron English even released a face mask collaboration with DPLS.

These “pollution-control masks” (as some designers call them) will do little to protect against COVID-19, but shops are selling out like crazy, and the resale value is high, even for older products like Supreme’s neoprene mask from 2014.

As a fashion choice, Esquire notes that “the appetite for dressing like a surgeon from Mad Max was born in Japanese street culture, in which teens of Tokyo’s Harajuku and Shinjuku districts lifted the costumes of apocalyptic anime into real life.” The widespread adoption of face masks in Chinese culture, however, dates back to the outbreak of SARS, an earlier coronavirus that hit Asia hard in 2002 and 2003, followed by H1N1 (swine flu), MERS and others. In the past decade, Chinese designers like Masha Maand Yin Peng, Qiu Hao, Xander Zhou and Sankuanz helped grow the designer mask market in Asia, as have music artists like Ariana Grande and BTS with their own branded masks.  

With high demand comes fake bootlegs. Last year, Miley Cyrus rocked a seemingly fake Louis Vuitton mask in Instagram Stories, and we recently came across several fake designer masks in a market in Vietnam. The global COVID-19 epidemic accelerated the demand for masks in general, and designers/imitators are ramping up production for those who prefer style over (or equal to) substance.

Trends aside, Project Runway winner Christian Siriano deserves a special shout out. The designer contacted Gov. Andrew Cuomo about helping, and now his production team is making free face masks for the frontline responders in New York. Siriano, more than anyone, deserves a successful haute mask line when this crisis is over.

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