Masks serve as a story-teller to symbolise iconic eras of human societal change, culture and designers’ personal messages. There is exciting contronymity behind their ability to conceal and create identity.

The world is a stage, and likewise for designer masks on fashion catwalks. Crafted more with symbolic intent and less in terms of practicality, masks exude a mystery, enabling both anonymity and identity at the same time. Concealing what we naturally consider the most important communicative part of the body, the face, designers have exploited our innate sensitivities to effectively project the message behind their designs.

Irene Luft | SS14 Equilibrium Irene Luft | SS14 Equilibrium

Irene Luft’s SS14 collection Equilibrium projects the human necessity and struggle for peace and freedom, a more than relevant reality we are constantly faced with at this moment in time. Luft translates this concept by using the element of air to highlight the desperation behind such needs, in a metaphorical symbolism of our basic need for oxygen to survive. Stripping it right down to the core of the issue, her exceptional designs of gas masks encapsulates the ironic conflict between fighting and staying safe in the quest for stability.   

Irene Luft | SS14 Equilibrium Irene Luft | SS14 Equilibrium

Gold and white colours dominate the colour palette of this collection, reminiscent of godly and heavenly beings; Luft’s clever contrast between colour and material express the fight for peace. The wearing of gas masks by models gives them a aardvark-like form, and projects a chilling historical reminder of past war time events. Charred in appearance, the flaky, ruffled and rough textures that shape the masks and pieces reflect such struggle for peace and freedom. More strongly, the gas masks invoke the feeling of suffocation brought on by the security that binds individuals from fully participating in the fight for their own survival.

Margiela | AW12 Margiela | AW13

Identity-less and incognito, models at Maison Margiela’s AW12 couture collection glimmered behind bejewelled masks that covered their faces. With subsequent ‘Artisanal’ couture collections, the label has successfully managed to mystify their strangeness and creatively disorganised train of thought. ‘Arcane in nature’ is exactly what Maison Margiela pursues in fashion design. Very explorative and with a sense of wild experimentation, designers such as Galliano perfectly lend their alchemist approach to create the fashion house’s adventurous and exciting ensembles.

Margiela | AW13-14 Margiela | SS14

Anonymity is elemental to Margiela’s concept, allowing the audience to view the pieces in their purity. The SS14 collection showcases an experimental splash of regal with tribal: a patchwork of disco sequins, tapestry florals and circus tattoos embossed on a range of dresses, coats and trousers. The AW13-14 collection extends the pieces up to the mask whilst still retaining the ambiguity of identity. A combination of clean, modern colours and lines with elaborate exoticism is accentuated by a variety of masks that complement their corresponding garment.

Masha Ma | FW14 Masha Ma | FT14

Poetic and metaphorical, Masha Ma skillfully pairs delicately chic masks to match the black-white-red elegance of her FW14 collection. As a Shanghai and Paris-based Chinese designer who previously assisted Alexander McQueen, Ma has attracted many with her futuristic and feminine aesthetic. The collection has been described as an “ode to a vespertinal bloom” (Mario Davis, 2014); a brilliant layering of materials where sheer textures achieve a harmonic balance of modern elegance.

Masha Ma | SS15 Masha Ma | SS15

The Sixties retro style dominated Ma’s SS15 collection, with chic sports couture inserting itself into the mellowed mix. However, it was the Japanese style germ masks that really played out this aesthetic. Sharing complimentary features with the rest of the outfits, the masks also presented themselves in an independent manner with bold and futuristic elements.

Qiaodan Yin Peng | SS15

Following on from the theme of health masks, Qiaodan Yin Peng’s Sports Wear Collection SS15 places masks in the limelight. With models on the catwalk in Beijing, it was the perfect place to highlight the environmental and health issue of air pollution. A variety of gas masks stole centre show as models graced down the runway in their stylish futuristic and clean-cut sportswear.

Qiaodan Yin Peng | SS15

Masks ranged from simple, lightweight masks right up to futuristic, almost robotic looking headgear, and all blended seamlessly to match the casual sports gear. The synchrony yet starkness of the masks from the garments send a strong reminder of the impact and severity of human activity on the health and environment.

Written by Alice Pearce

Edited by Christina Wright

References

Mario Davis, Now Fashion (2014) Masha Ma Ready to Wear Fall Winter 2014 Paris. Available at: https://nowfashion.com/masha-ma-ready-to-wear-fall-winter-2014-paris-7493. (Accessed 29th March, 2016)

Nicolle Keogh, 2012. Just Luxe. Exclusive | Abstract Designer Joji Kojima on his bizarre and macabre jewellery. Available at: http://www.justluxe.com/fine-living/jewelry/feature-1821970.php (Accessed 29th March, 2016)