The streets of Vilnius are currently dotted with giant photos of people wearing protective masks made in creative way. The images are part of a new project called Mask Fashion Week, which drew its inspiration from members of a Facebook group known as Mask Your Fashion.
Unlike a traditional fashion week, this project is open to everyone: the city streets have become a runway. While still adhering to safety recommendations, audiences are invited to travel the Mask Fashion Week route through the city by foot or in their cars and reflect on the role and look of the new accessory that has unexpectedly become part of our day-to-day lives. The city’s outdoor advertising stands now feature photos of masked project participants with a slogan that reads, ‘Creativity Cannot be Masked’.
Lithuanian designer Julia Janus, one of the organisers of Mask Fashion Week in Vilnius, says that new times call for new measures and new outlets for expression. “While quarantine brings isolation, which often exhausts people, creativity can be a balancing force that allows people to focus on something positive while bringing creative people closer through new bonds. We hope this project inspires even more people to be positive and creative,” says Janus, who puts a lot of emphasis on sustainability in her own designs.
When the Government of Lithuania announced that protective face masks would become a mandatory accessory in public during the pandemic, local designers and other creative people mobilised and started making all kinds of masks. For many, this process has served as an inspiration to experiment and have fun with different mask designs.
The Mask Your Fashion Facebook group created by Janus during quarantine in Vilnius has drawn hundreds of people interested in improvising masks into beautiful accessories or expressive costumes. Even the Mayor of Vilnius Remigijus Šimašius joined the initiative, sharing a photo of himself wearing a mask with a symbol of Vilnius – the iron wolf. According to legend the iron wolf inspired the founding of Vilnius some 700 years ago.
“I thought it was a great idea to get creative with this new fashion accessory and encourage people to use their imagination while connecting them in a new way, which society needs now more than ever. It was nice to see fashion contribute to social impact too,” says singer and project participant Erica Jennings. “Other people’s faces are a reflection of us. When we smile, people smile back – we connect. So, our masks can also help us connect and communicate, either in a positive or negative way,” she added.
Creative ideas vary from floral designs to theatrical costumes. “I have been waiting for a long time for someone to embody the plague doctor during these turbulent times. Circumstances were in my favour to do this. Also, once everyone started wearing protective masks, wearing a simple mask quickly became boring and uninteresting,” says artist and project participant Severija Bružaitė.
“The creative gene is in each of us,” says entrepreneur and Mask Fashion Week project participant Mantas Juraška. “I’m sure we will soon have high-tech masks with access to the Internet, a microphone, a thermometer and maybe even tests for all kinds of viruses.”
Mask Fashion Week is taking place on the streets of Vilnius until 10 May. More information, including the exhibition map, can be found at www.govilnius.lt/maskweek.
Vilnius has been looking for ways to turn the challenges that came along with lockdown-imposed restrictions into new opportunities, while following safety requirements. Last week, the city offered the free use of its public spaces to cafes in a bid to help them cope with the downturn caused by quarantine while allowing them to follow strict physical distancing regulations. A new drive-in cinema was launched in Vilnius International Airport.