covid core pandemic core



by Stella Hughes
5 min
pandemic core
@tobia_zambotti ©

We made it to 2022 and to mark this fresh start, we’re actually taking a look backwards – discussing the little-known phenomenon we’d like to call Pandemic Core. As much as we may not want to talk about it anymore, the pandemic’s influence on fashion can’t be understated. Whilst the stay-at-home orders saw many turn to DIY and nostalgia, (hello 2010s revival), some creatives took the pandemic’s influence that much more literally – making careers from mandated mask-wearing or repurposing the hazmat suit.

One example is the COAT-19 – the passion-project of designers Tobia Zambotti and Aleksi Saastamoinen that saw Tobia collect 1500 discarded masks from the streets of Reykjavik and ship them over to Aleksi in Finland, a fashion student who assembled the puffer coat. The outer layer is a semi-transparent, breathable and waterproof laminate based on bio-sources that let the disposable masks be visible – all of which are made from the same thermoplastic that normally makes the most common acrylic stuffing for cheap down jackets.

The coat has been described by Tobia as “an icy puffer jacket filled with single-use masks collected from the streets of the northernmost capital of the world” and aims to “highlight this absurd pandemic-related environmental issue”. Turns out pandemic core can save the planet too.

Back in Summer and upon our return to nightlife, trendsetting creative Junior debuted his lateral flow earrings at a day event in London. Attaching 2 used lateral flows to earring hooks (negative, of course), Junior figured out a way to make ‘No LFT No Entry’ a fashion statement. As always, Depop wasn’t far behind, with many emulating the viral pandemic core accessory for themselves and their customers. If it speeds up the queue to get into the club, we’re here for it.

@jrznd ©

Rewind to 2020, in the earlier days of the pandemic, and artists Adrian Wilson and Heidi Hankaniemi took PPE to the next level in designing mask wear couture. Designed and worn by the pair around New York as part of a performance art piece, they crafted a suit and dress out of the disposable blue masks that took over 60 hours to complete. Far from a simple exercise in creativity, the project was conceptualised in the hopes of encouraging mask-wearing throughout NYC, in the age when many still had something to say about it.

Speaking to Art Net, the artists said that the project in New York was largely successful, but that “We definitely would not get the same reception in many other American cities. This [Presidential] administration, and others around the world, have created the idea that not wearing a mask is an act of political defiance and allegiance.” It seemed to be the perfect antidote to the conspiracy theorist propaganda circulating at the time, and while they don’t want to over-promise that the looks will change people’s minds, they do hope there’s another opportunity to wear their ‘face mask finery’.

Celebrities have even taken it upon themselves to incorporate pandemic core into their new routine. We’ve all seen how Naomi Campbell flies, accessorising a hazmat suit with a Burberry scarf in what Vogue dubbed ‘one of the most symbolic looks of 2020’. Erykah Badu took note too, deciding to upgrade a regular white hazmat suit with Louis Vuitton’s monogram, spray-painted on to what she called ‘E.Badu Social Distancing Couture’. Back to the current day, and many online are forecasting the return of the catsuit, which we can’t help but think bears a certain, if not tighter, resemblance to the humble hazmat. Pandemic core is evolving beyond the basics.

What these all have in common though, is the ability to think beyond the creative constraints of the pandemic – fashion has repeatedly adapted to varying social and global events throughout history, and this hellish time period was no different. In the midst of the doom and gloom, people were able to draw attention to important movements, recycle the environmental disaster of disposable masks, and spark joy through innovation – something that will always be valued, pandemic or not.

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