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Among his souvenirs: masks from Filipino designers and the author (right) wearing a made-to-order Kelvin Morales mask.

These Filipino-made masks put a bright twist to a dark symbol of our times

They are not medical grade masks but they still serve a protective purpose. Some of them will even do the smiling for you. An inveterate collector writes about one of the moment's most relevant gear. By MONCHET OLIVES 
ANCX | May 30 2020

A week into our quarantined life, I snuck out to get “necessities’’ and spotted a familiar influencer at our local deli wearing an Hermes stitched face mask. Even with social distancing, I discerned the all-too-familiar H on her protective gear, tied tightly behind her with the Hermes box ribbons. I found it quite innovative and amusing, this effort to make a rudimentary accessory into a designer item—and she wasn’t too far from what’s happening in the larger fashion industry. 

Big name houses are repurposing their production materials to make masks and PPEs for frontliners. This most likely gave stylistas and enterprising fashion minds a light bulb moment: With the fashion industry in a tailspin, what will be the fast-moving item to keep business going? The face mask, no doubt. You can no longer leave home without it. 

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These are not medical grade masks although Zarah Juan's (bottom) for example, which has inabel fabric as top layer, comes with six non-woven filters when you buy it, and have a nose "pinch wire" for a snug fit. From top: masks from Everydaypnay, Rhett Eala, Jor-el Espina, Zarah Juan, Darlene Accessories, Rosanna Ocampo, Fino Leather and EC.MNL (stripe).

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The author in his usual ensemble for venturing outside of his home. Photo from @monchetthefanman on Instagram

I always found an excuse for making style necessary. I collect scarves and ascots because at one moment in time, at 360 lbs, neckties were tough. Pocket squares were another weakness: I craved a burst of color in my then look-at-me peacock ensembles when I finally lost all the weight. Did I mention canes? I have a weak ankle and as such picked up the diversion of collecting canes and staffs along the way. I am a voracious collector of panama hats, scarves and bespoke eyewear. And in this pandemic, I found I can put them all together as a sort of dandified everyday protective wear. A hat, a shield for the eyes, and a mask have all become part of the new norm. There are face shields, like Nopeet’s, but its a bit too millennial for this tito. So I zeroed in on the masks. 

In a matter of 70 days (has it been 70? Only my grizzly beard serves to remind me of the passing of time these days), we have seen a wealth of offerings on IG for non-surgical grade masks—designed for necessary protection but also with the goal of giving this symbol of these unprecedented times a little bright, positive twist. 

I took the plunge and ordered a set from Italian artisan Serafine Silk. The masks use the same silk-lined material for their prized scarves and pocket squares. It set me back 27 euros but I imagine it would be ideal for when I reunite with my blazers for the imminent return to the office. 

Meanwhile, making its way to me via courier is a selection from Rowing Blazers. It’s a brand founded by former US national rower Jack Carlson. The group has also donated over 3,000 face masks made in New York to a an initiative called @foodbanknyc, a hunger relief organization in the Big Apple. 

The challenge for a guy is two-fold: finding the right size for your face and finding a design with some sort of restraint. The first salvo of fashion masks, after all, were made for women—in floral prints, or something that came with a matching blouse or caftan. As for size, my first few picks had ear loops so tight they were folding my ears. 

Two designers that grasp the nuances of a man’s face (or at least hefty faces like mine) are Kelvin Morales and Ec.Manila. Kelvin’s mask features an embroidered moth but he agreed to make me a bespoke one: using my Frenchies as the image and some callado from the fans that we make. 

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Made-to-order. Photo from @monchetthefanman on Instagram

Carlos de Prado on the other hand at EC.MNL uses “deadstock” fabric to create an upcycled pouch with three masks. My set has a plain blue mask, a nautical stripe one, and an orange and green camo—these came with a sanitizing bottle and filters. What I like the most about Carlos’s masks is that they are equipped with 2 loops in colored garters with two sizes. 

With “no mask, no entry” de rigeur, local fashion creatives have also stepped up to the challenge of making the ordinary-looking light blue surgical mask an object of both desire and purpose. 

The sequined masks from are discreet but fun. Allena, a sweater maker, makes use of spacer fabrics that are very muted in design. Here’s why the company thought spacer fabrics make for a smart choice. 

And if Zarah Juan, the darling of the artisan world didn’t join the fray, then we are missing out on her take, which is always inventive and uplifting. Thankfully, she’s making her own masks, working with indigenous fabrics, outfitting them with filters. They are both classic and functional. 


#NInΜƒOFRANCO Masks Available soon πŸ’™ #Prototype #DigitalPrint

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NiΓ±o Franco, one of our best performers at last year’s The Barracks at ArteFino, has a selection of masks in Mindanao tribal weaves that should blend easily into a guy’s wardrobe

For the more conservative, a cottage industry reached out to offer me some masks, and I purchased a basic set. 

They’re from Darlene Accessories and made of chambray fabric. They look very classic and actually fit well. 

For the more daring, consider Rosanna Ocampo and Rhett Eala which will have prints that are more dude-appropriate. As I write this, I am awaiting my orders from both to arrive. 

Meanwhile, Fino Leather is marketing a Mad Max/Thanos like leather mask in an assortment of colors. IHere’s actor Raymart Santiago trying them on for size.

And here’s me.

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Wearing La Mascherina from Fino. Photo from @monchetthefanman on Instagram

The choice of masks in this growing collection is a personal statement. But the mask itself, in whatever design, is now a necessary part of what we wear. It signifies not only our need to keep ourselves protected but our concern for others, especially those most susceptible to the disease. 

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The creation of these masks also signify that our designers continue to support their artisans and staff.

I still see the lady in the H mask who got me into this idea of collecting this new protective accessory. On her posts, she’s moved on to Chanel and Dior. As for me, I will allow myself this diversion for the moment—we need a dose or two of escape on some days. Hopefully along the way, it also helps support the efforts of our local designers who are in turn supporting local artisans and making sure their staff are kept earning and employed. Yet I do pray my need for a mask will come to an end in the near future, and I do look forward to a time when these masks are nothing but beautiful reminders of an ugly time. 


Photos courtesy of Monchet Olives