Opening on 11th May 2021 (one year on from when the UK government first advised people to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces), the exhibition will explore how masks have evolved from being a functional PPE object in short supply, to becoming an everyday object worn by millions. The simple cloth face covering, which appears to be an unassuming and uncomplicated object, has quickly become a symbolic and contentious artefact.

The exhibition will present 52 unique face covers arranged in chronological order. It will examine how rapidly the fashion industry adapted production, manufacturing, and online marketing to meet changing consumer demands. Brands responded quickly to support the global effort to produce PPE for medical personnel. As masks became mandatory, this shifted to labels developing and manufacturing face coverings for their own customers.

It will explore how these ordinary objects have been transformed from their medical origins to become a highly desirable fashion accessory produced by companies ranging from BoohooMAN to Louis Vuitton. While these masks appear to be non-gendered, their design, marketing, and wearing reveal long-running narratives within menswear concerned with ideas of protection, risk, and masculinity.

The exhibition features examples from Adidas, Balenciaga, BoohooMAN, Burberry, C.P. Company, Fakescum, Ahluwalia, Liam Hodges, Mulberry, Raeburn, Christopher Kane, Master-piece, Huntsman, JW Anderson, Levi’s, Liberty, Louis Vuitton, Manchester City FC, New & Lingwood, Off-White, Paul & Shark, Paul Smith, Sunspel, Turnbull & Asser, Vivienne Westwood, and WAWWA.

Curated by: Prof Andrew Groves, Dr Danielle Sprecher