Unmasked: making face masks positive

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One designer is making face masks positive during the Coronavirus Pandemic

All you have to do is click on Sophie Cochevelou’s Instagram page and you’ll immediately know; she is no ordinary artist.
Her unique designs jump off the page at you with their colorful hues, vibrant patterns, and vast array of doll and toy parts that have become Cochevelou’s signature artistic weapon. Her name is Sophie Cochevelou’s. During the Coronavirus pandemic, however, Sophie has had to change her style up and adapt her content to the masses of people being affected by the virus. How has she done this? Well, but creating a line of fashionable and fun face masks, of course.

I sat down with Sophie (virtually, of course) to discuss COVID-19 and her face masks in depth, and to learn a little more about how she’s making them a positive statement during quarantine:

AD:  How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business? How are you combatting this?

SC: I had a lot of commissions that were supposed to be for events, shows, or weddings cancelled, so I switched my production to face masks.

AD: Are you still designing regular pieces during the quarantine, or sticking mostly to masks?

SC: I am mostly making masks since I have access to very limited supplies. The general climate is quite anxious so it is hard to be in the right mindset to create super joyful and ambitious work.

AD:  Do you see your business returning to normal any time soon? Why or why not?

SC: I would like to be optimistic, but I have the feeling that the fashion and entertainment industries have been the first to stop and will be the last allowed to start again. Also the economic crisis might impact my industry, so budgets for costumes and styling might be drastically undercut.  So I guess I have to be prepared for a new normal.  

AD:  How can we as consumers best support you and other artists during the pandemic?

SC: Buy your favourite artists work, maintain your commissions if possible, or give a deposit if it has to be postponed. I know it might be hard as everyone is affected, but if your income also has been reduced you can share their work on social media and give them a shout out.  

AD: What are your mask designs inspired by?

SC: I am trying to apply the same elements and aesthetic of my usual work (colours, humour, toys, objects, pop culture) to the masks. I actually really enjoyed exploring the creative potential of making masks. As it is quite a small surface, it is like a concentrated version of my regular designs. Compared to a dress, the embellishment is more effective as you can easily cover all of the fabric.

AD: What materials are your masks primarily made out of?

SC: For the base of the mask I use a thick cotton fabric which is still breathable (I experimented with synthetic fabrics which did not work as well). The outside component is stiff to give the mask structure and the lining is softer to feel comfortable on the face.

AD: Which mask in your collection takes the longest to craft? Why?

SC: The very intricate ones like my pearl masks can take several hours, seeing as every pearl is hand stitched one by one, and I have to take each pearl’s position into account in order to create a dynamic effect. Putting up the elastic on the side is also quite time consuming, as they have to be hand-stitched and can’t go through the machine with all the ornaments. I actually can’t produce that many masks in day!

AD: Where do you source the materials for your masks? Has it been hard to do so during quarantine?

SC: I am very lucky as the only fabric shop still opened in my area is just across the street. It is more expensive than my usual providers, but I am very grateful they stayed opened. As I am a proper hoarder, I collected through the years an enormous quantity of material, beads, sequins, and other materials, which is now coming in handy!

AD:  You have a lot of Barbie-doll themed designs – do you see yourself making a Barbie inspired face mask?

SC: Yes, that has always been the plan. Unfortunately I ran out of dolls before the lockdown. My Mum who collects dolls from her local charity shop has sent me a huge parcel from France but it has now been stuck for more than a month at the warehouse….

AD:  What has been the best part about introducing a line of masks during the quarantine?

SC: Being able to keep my business afloat, keeping my studio, and helping my partner who is also a freelance photographer and does all the product shot of my masks. To be honest it has been a life saver.

AD: Has the response to your mask line been positive? Do they seem to be in high demand?

SC: Yes, surprisingly people have been very supportive. It seems that people want to invest in a fabric mask. My clients are also very aware of the environmental impact of single use paper or plastic masks. You can hot steam and reuse your fabric mask as many times as you want.

At this point I wanted to switch primarily to discussing her new (and beautiful) masks. It’s important to note that Sophie’s masks are intended to be a fashion statement, and are not medical grade, so they do not protect from the virus – but they can help mitigate the spread of spray during coughing or sneezing. I had a multitude of questions about this, and how masks as a fashion statement can help spread positivity during this time.

AD: Your masks are not medical standard but are more of a fashion statement – can you tell us more about this?

SC: My masks don’t contain a filtering device, so they are not medical grade or FFP1. They won’t protect you from catching the virus, but help to protect others from you (so if everybody wears a mask we will reduce the chance of contamination). But I think they are a positive fashion statement with their fun embellishments, and they help lessen the fear associated with the pandemic. I am convinced that masks will become the new fashion accessory, much like hats or scarves.  

AD: Even though your fabric masks aren’t as functional as medical-grade masks, they can still help prevent spray and coughing into the air – is that correct?

SC: Yes, which is the main goal. They also prevent from touching your face

AD: Could somebody put on a medical-grade mask, and then use one of your masks as a secondary, fashionable cover?

SC: Yes, it is actually an amazing idea!

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AD: Do you have any plans to craft fashionable masks with standard, medical-grade material? Why or why not?

SC: Maybe in the future if I have access to it, but I feel medical grade material should be reserved to medical staff in contact with patients and be kept highly functional.

As an artist and creator who has been in quarantine myself for close to forty days now, I’ve really enjoyed seeing Sophie’s unique masks and content online. As we move forward into this “new normal” that we are all going to be subject to, it will be important to take the aspects of this pandemic that we find scary and paint them in a less frightening light. Sophie’s colorful and fun masks are doing just that.

Credits

Writer: Ashley Dawson @Lapin_studios_
Fashion Designer: Sophie Cochevelou @sophiecochevelou
Photographer: Anthony Lycette @anthonylycettephotography

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