LUXURY

MAR 12, 2014

Designer Masha Ma features high-fashion pollution masks as “Airpocalypse” hits China

By Privy Editor

mash ma

Beijing-born “it” designer, Masha Ma said she was fed up with the demands of the fashion industry. As Ma put it bluntly, “I’m going to do whatever the hell I want,” said the designer who has dressed Lady Gaga and Zhang Ziyi. “I don’t care if it sells. My sales manager is going to go insane on me, but...I just need to say ‘the hell with the bullshit.’”

 masha ma

That she did. The designer who studied at the famous Central St. Martins in London and apprenticed under Alexander McQueen, closed out Paris Fashion week last Wednesday with a show that that caught an audience of haute-couture queens and fashionistas off-guard when she used the catwalk to send out a statement on the toxic air levels currently plaguing China-- dubbed “airpocalypse”.

The designer’s environmental missive came down the runway in a collection inspired by the a special flower called the epiphyllum, which apparently exudes a scent so strong it could go head to head with the famed Durian fruit. Textured capes, oversized sweaters, and her own take on the classic white button came down the runway--all accompanied by delicate lace pollution masks shaped like flowers, presumably the epiphyllum. With petals resembling a spreading virus, the flowered masks seemed more sinister than sweet, blossoms that weren’t blooming, but decaying--a prophetic metaphor on the hazards of China’s relentless pollution in a country where face masks could be a critical accessory to our lifestyle.

 masha ma

They may already well be. A nonprofit organization devoted to the “greening of China,” and a Privy Causes partner, JUCCCE sells lace pollution masks reminscent to the ones in Ma’s collection, although JUCCCE masks are not only aesthetic--these are made for air warfare, defending lungs against the most toxic emissions. According to Peggy Liu, the chairperson of JUCCCE, their lace masks are “N95” certified, which blocks the most poisonous pollutants, PM. 2.5 particles that are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream. Liu says such measures are necessary when China is now the “biggest producer of emissions in the world, and 40% of deaths worldwide are caused by toxic pollution.” The country's pollution is now so bad, according to news reports, that it resembles a nuclear winter, slowing photosynthesis in plants – and potentially wreaking havoc on the country's food supply. Liu says she hopes her organization and their environmental campaign, “I Can Breathe,” which has resources for the public, including tips on “How to Survive an Airpocalypse”, can protect China’s citizens, especially the most vulnerable populations: the sick, young and elderly.

 peggy liu

Until now, the biggest controversy on the runways has been relegated to whether models are wearing real leather or faux, and Ma’s fashion statement in Paris was a rare moment of haute couture meeting social consciousness. While the Chinese designer’s collection was most likely a general message for the public, the pollution masks may have also been a warning aimed at the fashion industry itself, a global, billion-dollar market where the environment can be an afterthought to beauty. Specifically, China’s garment production facilities and waste methods, which are reportedly not as "green" as the mainstream fashion industry practices used in the United States, may contribute to the worsening problem. Industry analysts believe that whether the toxic air crisis in China improves depends, in part, on how the country’s negotiates the relationship between consumption and environmental impact.

 masha ma

The best solution, according to Abigail Doan, a commentator for WILD Magazine, a publication that merges fashion with social issues, is redefining luxury itself. “The real issue moving forward will be how luxury is used to communicate not only value, but reflects a cultural and environmental awareness,” says Doan. “An awareness that transcends a climate-controlled, trend-dr

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