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Undercover

 
 

From necessity to luxury: The evolution of face coverings during COVID-19 

Before COVID-19 

 
 
 
A-COLD-WALL* protective face mask, 2018.

Dust-resistant face mask, A-COLD-WALL*, 2018.

 

Over the last 20 years, masks have increasingly been adopted as a motif of modern menswear. Designers, including Vexed Generation, Walter Van Beirendonck, C.P. Company, Rick Owens, Matthew Williams, A-COLD-WALL* and Off-White, have all deliberately referenced masks within their collections. 


Masks that were originally intended for manufacturing, military, or industrial use have been reinterpreted by a wide range of designers who referenced them for their ability to generate powerful emotional reactions. Masks can be seen as both conforming or transgressive, anonymous yet threatening, implying calmness or confrontation, and hinting at vulnerability and illness.


Vexed Generation, whose work refers to the functionality of technical military and police uniforms, used face coverings to explore social issues such as surveillance, privacy, and the environment, with an emphasis on urban spaces.


While for C.P. Company, their use of face coverings stemmed from research into protective hoods leading to the Explorer jacket's development in 1987 and the Mille Miglia Jacket in 1988. Both featured lenses inserted into the hood or collar to allow the wearer to see through the garment and cover the lower or upper part of the face. 


Face coverings produced by Virgil Abloh as part of his Off-White brand from 2017 onwards can be read as an example of his Duchampian copy and paste approach to cultural artefacts as a means of 'ironic detachment.' While in 2018, Samuel Ross, the designer of the British menswear label A-COLD-WALL*, released a capsule collection of pre-existing industrial protective equipment, including earplugs, protective acetate glasses, and a dust-resistant face mask overprinted and rebranded.

Nikelab x MMW

 
 
 
Nikelab x MMW Balaclava

BLACK BALACLAVA 
Nikelab x MMW 
2018

This balaclava was released on 7 July 2018 as part of a collaboration between Nikelab and designer Matthew M. Williams. The collection focused on athletic streetwear. The launch coincided with an ongoing moral panic surrounding drill music in the United Kingdom and as a result of an intense social media backlash, Nike withdrew the balaclava on 21 August 2018.

Polyester, Elastane

Off-White

 
 
 
Off-White brushed diags mask, 2017

CAMO BRUSHED DIAGS MASK
Off-White 
2017

Face masks first appeared in the Off-White collection in 2017. They were widely interpreted at the time as a reference to countries like Japan and South Korea, where the use of face masks had become more common in the aftermath of the SARS epidemic in 2002-2004.

Cotton
Archive no. 2020.100.61

 

Vexed Generation

 
 
 
jVexed Generation jacket with Ninja hood

JACKET WITH NINJA HOOD
Vexed Generation 
2000

The Ninja hood jacket, named after feudal Japan's covert agents, has a high collar that conceals the wearer's identity and provides space for a respiratory filter mask. The jacket has an extended Velcro tab down the left upper sleeve that is designed to hold a face mask.
 

Polyamide, Polyurethane, Polyester
Archive no. 2020.44
 
 

C.P. Company

 
 
 

METROPOLIS JACKET
C.P. Company
2000

The Metropolis jacket, which was first released in 1997, has a removable anti-smog mask that is adjustable through hood openings and is insulated with a high-density double fleece lining. Between 1997 and 2001, different versions of the jacket were released on a seasonal basis. The jacket was reissued by C.P. Company for AW2020.

Nylon, polyester
Archive no. 2016.181

C.P. Company Metropolis Mask
Metropolis Jacket, C.P. Company. 1997

Vexed Generation

 
 
Vexed Generation Crime and Disorder Hood
Vexed Generation Crime and disorder top, 1998

CRIME AND DISORDER HOODED TOP
Vexed Generation
1998

A jersey face mask is attached to the back neck of this top, allowing the wearer to cover their face if needed. It is printed with a section of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which confers on any constable in uniform power – (a) to require any person to remove any item which the constable reasonably believes that person is wearing wholly or mainly for the purpose of concealing his identity. 

Cotton
Archive No. 2020.44

Royal Navy

 
 
 
Royal Navy MKIII Foul Weather Jacket

MKIII FOUL WEATHER JACKET

Royal Navy

1975-1990

 

This jacket’s hood features a large foam-padded mask that goes around the face and across the mouth to keep out the wind and rain. It also has a large peak and two crossing adjustment straps at the back that can be tightened to form a tight seal against the top of the head.

 

Nylon  

Archive no. 2018.68

Swiss Army

 
 
 
Swiss Military Alpenflage Camouflage M70

ALPENFLAGE CAMOUFLAGE M70 UNIFORM
Maker unknown
1975-1985

First issued in 1957, the M70 jacket has an adjustable hood with a concealed opening along the front edge that unbuttons to allow a camouflage net to be released to cover the face. The jacket served as the inspiration for one of C.P. Company's most popular Mille Miglia jackets.

Cotton
Archive No. 2015.22

U.S Army

 
 
 
Extreme Cold Weather Face Mask

EXTREME COLD WEATHER FACE MASK

Crown Purse Inc.

1970-1996

 

This face mask was first issued by the United States Army in the 1960s to troops stationed in Norway and the Arctic. It is designed to be worn with the M65 cold weather uniform. It is made of padded olive drab vinyl and can be adjusted with a series of head straps.

Vinyl 
Archive no. 2021.10
 
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