A-listers such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Kim Kardashian recently posted pictures of themselves wearing fashionable masks on social media. Germaphobic supermodel Naomi Campbell jumped on the chic-contagion bandwagon, posting pictures of herself arriving at Los Angeles International Airport clad in a full hazmat suit.
With Covid-19 coronavirus raging across the world, how to look good at the peak of a pandemic has occupied the minds of social influencers and the beauty-conscious of late. Britain's Tatler - a society publication - recently ran a story headlined "How to style an epidemic."
Luxury fashion brands have started selling face masks and wraparound eyewear for the fashion-conscious to look good.
Fashion designers in China, where the first cases of infected patients were reported in the city of Wuhan, also saw big demand for stylish protective clothing. Chinese clothing brand JBNY saw streams of customers buying one of its old designs, a padded coat with a full head covering that leaves only the eyes showing.
In response to the demand for protective clothing, Beijing-based designer Liu Wei, who has a workshop in the 798 Art District and is the chief design director of the Kefang Professional Wear Research Institute, has designed a new line of windbreakers that are germ-resistant and breathable.
"We had the idea for the design at the peak of the contagion in China when people had not yet resumed working," she says. "At the start of the outbreak in China, I saw multifarious makeshift items of clothing people were using to protect themselves.
"I saw medical personnel in Wuhan wearing extremely thin non-woven fabric clothing, which isn't much of a safeguard. They were drenched in sweat after removing the non-breathable clothing. The scene was quite disastrous. Our designs have since been sent to Wuhan for medical personnel and relatives of the sick who have to take care of their ill family members."
Liu says: "One of our clients is the (state-owned) Poly Group, which distributed the clothes to their staff so that they can resume working wearing protective clothing. Other target customers include transport staff working on planes and trains, and the general public who have to venture into crowded spaces."
Coming in red, white and blue, the new line of clothing comprises three pieces: a windbreaker, a sleeveless piece covering the head and shoulders and another piece for the upper torso with sleeves.
"They combine fashion and function. They are made with waterproof, anti-static and dust-resistant fabric with a germ-resistant layer underneath which meets the standards required for the protective clothing of medical personnel. With good ventilation, they can release sweat," Liu says.
There are adjustable straps behind the neck and on the front of the windbreaker so the whole head and mouth can be wrapped tight inside the clothing. "After wearing that and a pair of goggles and masks, no bare skin in the face will be exposed," the designer says.
"For the two non-windbreaker versions, people can wear their usual top underneath. The clothing can be washed easily for repeated use. The set also comes with a pair of gloves. It costs 200 yuan (US$14) for the windbreaker, with the other two versions less than 100 yuan. Light and rolled up when not in use, they are easy to carry."
The Kefang Professional Wear Research Institute is the leading maker of protective clothing for the fire services, military and disease prevention teams in China.
In 2016, the institute presented protective clothing designs in collaboration with Chinese protective clothing brand Swoto. Liu says Swoto's products had until recently targeted such professionals, but the coronavirus outbreak had made them popular among ordinary people.
(Our products) combine fashion and function. They are made with waterproof, anti-static and dust-resistant fabric with a germ-resistant layer underneath, which passes standards required for the protective clothing of medical personnelLiu Wei, Beijing-based designer
Liu adds: "I designed 150 sets of clothing covering eight professions for the 2016 presentation, which were displayed during China Fashion Week (in Beijing). The institute does national-level research and development projects, including for the People's Liberation Army and the Olympics.
"Based on the new line of coronavirus-inspired windbreakers, we will create more such designs as the global virus outbreak changes people clothing's needs … As the summer is coming when pollination and pollution will make people want pollen- and smog-resistant clothing, there will be big demand for our products."
Another Beijing-based designer who has made virus-inspired fashion items is Kathrin Von Rechenberg from Germany. She has a shop in the city's Dongcheng district, and made a new line of masks at the peak of the pandemic in China. Her shop's designs are made from silk soaked with the juice of a yam leaf.
"The natural and pollution-free dyeing process is done in Guangdong. I met Taiwanese designer Sophie Hong in Paris who introduced me to this special fabric (more than two decades ago). She was (among the) first designers to use the sustainably produced material. I made the masks from fabric scraps. They are minimalist in style. The masks come with (one-off disposable) filters."
Rechenberg had the idea to make the masks when Beijing experienced a severe mask shortage.
"At the beginning, I just wanted to give the masks to my clients and friends as gifts. But later, people asked me where they could buy them, so I designed to produce more and sell them in the store. Masks have become the new normal (to be worn at all times). My friends are happy they can wear masks with style.
"Western people don't have the culture to wear marks, as they think only the sick wear them. If governments say everybody needs to wear a mask, they will be more willing to wear them if they are stylish (fashion items)."
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