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In Singapore, the Makers of Alternative Face Masks

By Marisa Xin

From top: Closet Children’s ‘Lilac Roses’ mask, S$39; Meta Miao’s ‘001 Patchwork’, S$45; and Pras The Bandit’s ‘Phase 02’ mask, S$28.
 
Michelle Kok. Styled by Marisa Xin
From top: Closet Children’s ‘Lilac Roses’ mask, S$39; Meta Miao’s ‘001 Patchwork’, S$45; and Pras The Bandit’s ‘Phase 02’ mask, S$28.

As the world continues to grapple with an obstinate pandemic, an unlikely accessory has risen to prominence: the face mask. By now a mundane everyday essential, masks have become integral to one’s wardrobe. Wearing a face mask is an act that teeters between medical necessity and fashion statement, whether conscious or not. And this current surge of demand has led to the birth of alternatives to the common throwaway surgical masks. From high fashion brands and wholesale retailers to local small businesses, iterations of the protective gear run aplenty.

In Singapore, those looking for a departure from the ubiquitous medical-grade masks need not look very far. Here, meet three Singaporean designers who are crafting masks that break away from the norm — and who, in the process, are bringing forward a piece of their art in this new wearable form.

Closet Children

Michelle Kok. Styled by Marisa XinFrom left to right: Closet Children’s ‘Lilac Roses’ mask, S$39; ‘Red Riding Hood’ mask S$33; ‘Granny on Acid’ mask S$30.
From left to right: Closet Children’s ‘Lilac Roses’ mask, S$39; ‘Red Riding Hood’ mask S$33; ‘Granny on Acid’ mask S$30.

For Rachael Cheong, the 26-year-old founder and designer of Closet Children, her face masks are very much like anecdotes of her outfits and the clothes she designs. Aggressively quirky with a dark twist, they seem to hint at a narrative, speculating an air of fairy tales and fantasy. This is brought to life through a flurry of colours, patterns of florals and ginghams, complemented with lace trims, ruffled elastics or ribbons. Cheong’s masks are tailor-made for specific wearers. She handmakes each mask according to a customer’s measurements.

Initially, Cheong was hesitant on hopping on the face mask-selling bandwagon. “But it turned out to be quite a fun thing for me,” she says, noting on the experiments that went into pairing disparate textiles together to create her off-kilter masks. A great influence in her creations is the fabrics and patterns themselves, which are scrutinised against the brand identity of Closet Children. “I always think of how to make it different,” she notes. Jarring patterns and unusual colour schemes — like the mixing together of purple and yellow, or turquoise ribbons and pink floral print — have become the signature look to her masks. 

Cheong, a fashion design graduate of the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, has previously trained under French designer Marine Serre. The budding designer exercises her own design sensibilities in a way that somewhat attests to Serre’s unusual apocalyptic take on fashion. Cheong, however, is dedicated to making her designs more practical and wearable for the tropical climate.

Closet Children is currently halting the intake of orders to prepare for the launch of its website in September 2020. Closet Children’s mask designs will be featured at the upcoming Itto + Lim mask exhibition, along with other local mask designers on 15 September to 31 October 2020 at 325 New Bridge Road, #03-00, Singapore 088760.

Meta Miao

Michelle Kok. Styled by Marisa XinFrom top: Meta Miao’s ‘010 Gravel’ mask, S$30; ‘001 Patchwork’ mask, S$45.
From top: Meta Miao’s ‘010 Gravel’ mask, S$30; ‘001 Patchwork’ mask, S$45.

Simply translated, the name Meta Miao means “about Miao”. Denise Yeo, the 21-year-old who prefers to go by the nickname Miao, previously worked at Native Bar in the culinary field of research and development on reducing food waste. It was during her time there that her creativity and curiosity led her to using natural and traditional methods, such as onion skins and blue pea flowers, to create dyes for fabrics and textiles, starting with the team’s bar aprons. Since then, Yeo has continued exploring the method, in fashion design and now face masks, which eventually gave way to her label. 

Heavily inspired by the Japanese way of crafting, her process concentrates on sustainability and repurposing, using existing materials and her previously learned skills of utilising food waste to create something new. At closer inspection of Yeo’s masks, one is able to better perceive and feel her emphasis on natural materials of cotton and linen. Each step is close to the maker’s hand, whether hand-dyed or hand-stitched and embroidered, fashioning something that is unique by design — a romantic vision of an analogue lifestyle.

“I want to establish an intimate relationship between the goods I’ve made and the receiver,” Miao explains. Due to the nature of her hand-crafting, each piece is one-of-a-kind, almost personal. When asked which design is a personal favourite, she answers, “Definitely the patchwork one.” The design features bleached and distressed denim, and a patchwork design hand-stitched into the mask, with paracords and a toggle to secure around the ears.

Meta Miao’s masks are available to purchase through Instagram DMs.

Pras The Bandit

Michelle Kok. Styled by Marisa XinThe front and back of Pras the Bandit’s ‘Phase 02’ mask, S$28.
The front and back of Pras the Bandit’s ‘Phase 02’ mask, S$28.

“Pras The Bandit is my revenge,” Ivan Prasetya, the co-founder of the Singapore-based label, remarks in jest. The 31-year-old is a graphic designer who regards his label as an outlet in which he can unleash his pure unadulterated creativity.

Not too long ago, when Singapore just entered its second phase of the circuit breaker, the designer released the aptly named Phase 02 mask. This tongue-in-cheek name encompasses a punch of rebelliousness, something that’s not atypical to the brand. The mask, which builds on the framework of its predecessor, the “Phase 01” design, features varying shades of olive green, a military-inspired patchwork. The difference in the latest design is that it’s reversible, the underside uncovering a bold shock of colour, with a pattern of monstera leaves and atypical-looking tigers.

The design idea first came from the scraps of fabrics Prasetya had lying around. He then played around with them on the sewing machine, creating his first prototype on a whim. Afterwards, his designs went through a series of “trial and error” process. The earlier mockups, for instance, were patched too heavily for their wearers to breathe through. Prasetya eventually found a creative solution: washing the fabric with fabric softener and then ironing it, to coax the material into shape. 

In a time when the world has slowed down its pace, Prasetya wants to move beyond the barriers of fashion, to push the limits not of a graphic designer, but “of an artist”. To him, the face mask stands as a reflection of the unlikely turn of events; a time capsule of history.

Pras the Bandit’s mask designs are available on its website. They will also be featured at the upcoming Itto + Lim mask exhibition, along with other local mask designers on 15 September to 31 October 2020 at 325 New Bridge Road, #03-00, Singapore 088760.