Maverick Life


Beyond protection: The rise of the designer mask

Left: SiSi co-founders Yasmin Furmie and Cynthia Ali modelling their mask collection. Right: A model wears the Rich Mnisi Swarovski crystal mask

Accessorising has long been one of the simplest ways to complete an outfit, and now, with masks being mandatory, enterprising designers have elevated them from strictly utilitarian items to expressive fashion accessories.

“Styles of wearing influenza masks today are many and weird. Just as there are masks made of many sorts of material, so are the masks worn in many kinds of styles.” Those were the opening lines of a 1918 article from a Seattle newspaper, shared by USA TODAY national correspondent Elizabeth Weise. Bar the language and a slightly mocking tone, the rest of the century old article about mask-wearing in the era of the Spanish Flu reads, in parts, like it could have been written today. It reveals something of that familiar human inclination to go beyond the utilitarian and be creative and expressive with the items we don on our bodies.

A 1918 clipping from a Seattle newspaper. Image: Elizabeth Weise via USA Today

Although Americans eventually stopped wearing masks after the end of the Spanish Flu, China has continued to wear masks at different moments in the 20th century, like the mid-century cholera outbreak. More recently, with outbreaks such as Sars in 2002 and Mers in 2012, there was once again a noted increase in the use of masks. Then, of course, there is the problem of the country’s industrial air pollution.

However, beyond the practical use of masks for health reasons, a key moment in the resurgence of the mask as a fashion accessory was back in October 2014 during China Fashion Week in Beijing, when the QIAODAN Yin Peng Sports Wear Collection put masks on the models. Earlier that same month, another Chinese designer, Masha Ma, had also sent out models wearing embellished and outfit-matching masks onto the runway as part of his Spring/Summer 2015 collection at Paris Fashion Week. And back in June 2014, Respro, a UK-based pollution mask company, collaborated with Italian designer Marcelo Burlon on a range of masks that were shown as part of his Spring/Summer 2015 collection fashion show in Florence, Italy.

With the exception of countries like China, which has a pollution problem, and athletes who wear styled training masks, the fashion mask didn’t exactly take off, although they have popped up on the faces of rappers, such as at the BET Awards in 2017, when rapper Future and his daughter wore matching Swarovski crystal-encrusted masks.

Fast-forward to 2020. At first, health officials, experts, and governments recommended that the general public not wear masks; confusion followed until finally, as more information became available and the understanding of the pandemic improved, that changed: masks became mandatory or strongly recommended in public places. Designers around the globe started to offer variations on what has now become 2020’s most ubiquitous accessory, in a variety of designs, materials and prints.

“I think literally every single designer and even non-designers are selling masks. We were a bit late with ours because our CMT [factory] was inundated with people doing masks that ours came out a bit later than we actually wanted,” says Yasmin Furmie, co-founder of SiSi, a shirt brand that makes various silhouettes, styles and lengths. “For the last few years, SiSi has been doing black and white shirts, so we wanted to find fabric for the masks that was indicative of our brand,” says Furmie.

Left: SiSi co-founders Yasmin Furmie and Cynthia Ali modelling the SiSi mask collection. Image: @sisi.the.collection on Instagram

The SiSi Mask comes in three reversible styles, each made with three layers, 100% cotton outer layers, a polycotton inner layer, as well as a filter. The masks have geometric patterns, declined in black and white. They currently retail for R200, 00 for a pack of four made up of three adult size masks and one kid’s mask, through their Instagram page.

A selection of masks from the Loincloth and Ashes collection. Image via

Designer Anissa Mpungwe’s fashion brand Loincloth and Ashes is well known for – among other things – their use of print as well an imaginative take of familiar silhouettes. Most of their original offering of masks have been sold out, which is unsurprising considering the style as well as the price (they retail for R49). “The demand has been crazy, we have not been sleeping much. I even temporarily moved my tailor into my home studio for safety reasons and to lower his travel costs,” says Mpungwe. “I allow only 3 people to touch the product, myself, my tailor, and the presser. There is a station for everything: outer and inner fabrics, filters and packaging. Each area has a sanitizer and everyone wears masks.” The masks come in a variety of patterns, which you can view here.

Rufftung design duo modeling their sequined masks. Image via

If a bit of bling is what you’re after, Ruff Tung’s mask comes with sequined 100% cotton layers, as well as Spunbond, a non-woven 100% polypropylene that is medically approved for use as a filter in masks. Theirs retails for R95,00.

The Lulasclan mask in bold graphic prints. Image via @lulasclan Instagram page

Should bold graphic patterns be your thing, and should you be looking for a mask with enough colours to match a variety of outfits, the mask created by pattern and textile designer and family business Lulasclan (R60), might be it for you.

A selection of masks from the Rich Mnisi mask collection. Image via

When popular designer Rich Mnisi launched his mask collection, he shot to the top Twitter trends list, nationally. Partly because of the R1,999 price tag of his Swarovski mask. However, the five-piece collection of highly fashionable masks certainly stand out, and should please fans of the brand. All the masks are 100% polyester and triple-layered, with PM2.5 filters. DM/ML



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