The online exhibition Undercover. From necessity to luxury: The evolution of face coverings during COVID-19 opened on 11 May 2021, one year on from when the United Kingdom government first advised people to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces.
The exhibition, which drew exclusively from the Westminster Menswear Archive, featured 52 unique face covers arranged chronologically to demonstrate how these everyday objects evolved from a utilitarian PPE item in scarce supply, to an everyday item worn by millions, to finally become a highly desirable fashion accessory manufactured by companies ranging from Burberry, Balenciaga, and Louis Vuitton.
This presentation discusses some of the challenges experienced by the curators while conducting rapid reaction collection in a commercial setting and presenting fashion items that were still available for purchase but exhibited within a distinctly different contextual narrative.
The curators will also reflect on how, over the course of the 12-month research period, facemasks went from being viewed as a symbol of the fashion industry's rapid response to assist in times of crisis to becoming a highly contested object that could result in contamination of the environment in which luxury fashion operates.