One particular runway show at last week's Hong Kong Fashion Week attracted a lot of attention. It wasn't due to outlandish design, but rather for an unusual accessory. At a time when the horrific air pollution in China is repeatedly making headlines abroad and at home, the presence of air filter masks on models seems perhaps inevitable.
Hong Kong-based Nina Griffee, who moved from Beijing recently, showed off her designs (think futuristic streetwear) and each outfit was accessorised with an air filtration mask in matching fabrics. Her creative company FaceSlap, which has its roots in face-painting, collaborated with US company Vogmask and its China branch, for the project.
"I lived in Beijing for five years and moved to Hong Kong about six months ago," says Griffee. "I was looking at how fashion can be useful and inventive. There are only so many types of skirts you can make, so I wanted to look at ways to really make an impact with fashion."
"I decided I wanted to put masks into clothes, I researched online and found Vogmask. When I spoke to the China director Chris, it turned out that he was also in Hong Kong so we met up and talked."
"It happened very organically," she says of the inventive collaboration.
Vogmask, which calls its product "the first stylish, high efficiency, well fitting, comfortable, reusable filtering face mask in the world", sells its rather sleek masks online to customers in the mainland, where demand is growing.
Images on its site show models wearing the masks in fashion-forward colours (pastels for summer, very on trend!) and prints such as tartan, Chinese floral styles and graphic illustrations.
It may look a tad odd on the runway, but since masks are becoming more of a neccessity, especially for cyclists and pedestrians in polluted cities like Beijing, the idea of fashionable masks might not be as wacky as it sounds.
I was amazed by the varied assortment of designs that appeared during the Sars outbreak, including fake monogram Louis Vuitton and Hello Kitty.
Of course this is more about function than form. Vogmask has N99 filter protection against "PM 2.5 particles, dust, germs, pollen, and other airborne contaminants" and is designed with an active carbon layer, and exhale valve in microfibre or organic cotton outer and inner layers. The technical specs and test results are shown on the company website, which is also now selling Griffee's new designs.
Will the fashionable air filter mask catch on? Who knows? The need for these masks might be a depressing thought, but also a growing reality in the megacities of Asia. If so, we might as well make them look stylish.