A/rchive Study by Federico Nessi – Words by Olivier Saillard

Illusions by Paolo Roversi, 2006.

In the first of a series of A Magazine A/rchive studies, the Paris-based creative director Federico Nessi unearths the 2005 essay Masks Do Have A Face by fashion curator Olivier Saillard – a text that originally appeared in English and French inside A Magazine N°4 Curated By Jun Takahashi.

Laced with audiovisual cues pulled directly from Saillard’s text and enhanced by a slew of masked imagery from within the disciplines of contemporary art, fashion and music, Nessi reflects on a long history of image-making that resonates with life in the time of Covid-19 around the world today.


L-R: Undercover AW06, Walter Van Beirendonck SS08, Martin Margiela AW95

Olivier Saillard, 2005


The history of fashion covers and uncovers a body whose natural nudity has been shifting over the 19th and 20th centuries. When it is not a foot, an ankle or a calf revealed by the varying length of a skirt, then it is the bosom exposed blatantly, tempting pneumonia, that causes a stir. The low necklines become the basis for the expression of the thousands of artifices that make a whole era blush.

Liberating but physically constraining, the accessories shape an elastic figure, moulding a woman as if she was made of modelling clay. At times, the buttocks expand generously with a bustle or a hooped skirt, at other times, a corset outlines the waist and defines the bust. The hair also plays this game of distorting mirrors, indulging in the same excesses, creating from modest styles (boyish hairstyles of the 20’s) to flamboyant designs certain to feed the pen of the caricaturists (the 60s beehive hairdo)…

The face, also under the influence and scrutiny of cosmetology, has remained for decades a blank canvas that designers and hairdressers try to master with strange creations. The black lace veil that caresses the face like a delicate shadow is barely worth mentioning for it belongs to history.

The emergence of masked, made-up and covered models on Undercover’s catwalks is so unique in fashion that it provokes debate. Like chameleon-like faces with dress-coloured make-up, the fashion’s masks do not survive beyond the fashion show, the window dressing or the shooting to which they are destined and they do not share any of the functionality nor the sacredness of their ethnic counterparts. But what they do share is ornamental and decorative, embroidery or tint areas on wood, papier-mâché or fabric, thus presenting an astounding make-up. Jun Takahashi is probably one of the only designers showing an interest in the subject of concealment that is the mask.”

“Walter Van Beirendonck managed to renew the concept by introducing numerous balaclavas, helmets and hair styles trapped under thick lycra stockings, hiding the faces of his models with strong and new facial accessories, giving the finishing line of a daring figure.

Martin Margiela drowns his models in anonymity by covering their head with a coloured veil that follows faithfully their features (ready-to-wear Autumn-Winter 1995/96)…

In a more sporadic way, Jean-Paul Gaultier has experimented with masks. One of his masks (ready-to-wear Autumn-Winter 1991/92), in shepherd’s check, was an extension of the academic body, a veil on a mute face, a suffocating addition to the empire of patterns and fashion. Many collections later, he offered a second version of this supple and mysterious mask – a scarf adorned with the realistic painting of a woman’s face (haute-couture Autumn-Winter 2001/02).

L-R: Christian Lacroix Haute Couture AW02, Maison Margiela Artisanal AW12, Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture AW02

Christian Lacroix is without a shadow of a doubt the designer who has communicated and expressed most vehemently his love and fascination for this ornamental accessory long forgotten by the catwalks and the fashion photographers. He has even introduced it in the haute-couture collections, causing surprise and emotion.

Indeed, since 2000, every haute-couture show is astutely accessorized with hair styles whose imaginary and plastic excrescences conceal totally or partially the models’ faces. Extreme finery that verges on the amazing and the forbidden, glorifies the woman and transports her into a secret world, Christian Lacroix’s masks are neither a religious veil nor a pastiche of fancy dresses and theatrical masks. Make-up of glitters and fabric, they play an active role in the realization of the disjointed and reassembled figures that are the trademark of the designer.

Since his first Parisian shows, Jun Takahashi has procured a faithful base of admirers, specially by revisiting from one show to the next the iconographic themes of the mask. Either adorned with make-up using patterns of tweed, tartan or flowers, or squee- zing the model’s face by giving her the look of a rag doll with piercings and scarification (ready-to-wear Autumn-Winter 2006/07), the masks of Undercover share with those of Christian Lacroix a love of adornment and ornamentation that can even devour the face. Jun Takahashi does not hesitate to stretch their expression to the grimace and the improper, provoking above all a feeling of isolation and forced mutism.

Devoid of any theatrics or religious connotations, his fabric constructions hide the model’s faces exposed by others for their fame. They awaken the curiosity of the audience, exhibiting some new and obscure identities.

What is totally masked in his creations is only partially masked by other designers, as if suddenly, these life-sized, almost artificial dolls, like fabric toys with button-eyes, were the standard-bearers of a fashion going against the fashion, a fashion envelopping, covering and reassuring, encouraging society to recover its long lost restrain and decency. Frightening for some, fascinating for others, the masks and balaclavas of Undercover amaze us as much as the unanimous masks of botox and silicone of our times should bewilder us.

Words by Olivier Saillard,
A Magazine N°4 Curated By Jun Takahashi, 2006

“Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face” by Gillian Wearing, 2012.

“Contrary to popular belief, most people who are bitten suffer no serious damage” by Hernan Bas, 2017.

“The Host & The Cloud” by Pierre Huyghe, 2011.

Portrait of Leigh Bowery by Nick Knight, 1992.

“Self portrait” by Claude Cahun, 1928. Courtesy the Estate of Claude Cahun

“Nurse Elsa” by Richard Prince, 2002. Courtesy of the artist & Barbara Gladstone Gallery, NY

“Les Yeux Sans Visage”, 1960, directed by Georges Franju

“Untitled (3)” by Diane Arbus, 1970-1971. Courtesy of the artist’s estate

“Between mask and mirror” by Gillian Wearing, 2017. Courtesy of the artist & Maureen Paley, London

“Jim, Sausalito” by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1977. Courtesy of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Jonathan Bree, 2017, from the album ‘Sleepwalking’

“MASK XXVI” by John Stezaker, 2006. Photo courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Modern Art, NY

“Untitled” by Ralph Eugene Meatyard, 1962. The Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

“Les Yeux Sans Visage” by Georges Franjus, 1960

“Peripheral” by Eartheater, 2018

“Say You Love Me Too” by Jonathan Bree, 2017

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