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“It was an urge to design something iconic and lasting… something that would represent this period and evoke reflection on our present realities. It was a positive challenge during a difficult time," says designer Gaurav Gupta about being asked to design a unique face mask during the covid-19 lockdown. A couple of months ago, Gupta and four other top Indian designers—Tarun Tahiliani, Manish Malhotra, Anita Dongre, and Rahul Mishra—got a call asking if they wanted to be part of a multi-media project called ‘Behind the Mask’, which would involve the designers creating original face masks that would not only be true to their own design aesthetic and fulfil both the form and function criteria of good design, but would have to be created using the materials they had at hand.

“They all immediately said yes," recalls Alex Kuruvilla, managing director of Conde Nast India, on a Zoom call this week, talking about the inception of the project three months ago, when he started brainstorming with his video team about the possibility of doing something to bring India’s design industry back into focus while supporting artisans who form the backbone of the industry. One of the aims was also to get a sense of the real people behind the A-list designers and their carefully curated personas—this aspect of the project has been captured through behind-the scenes videos that show the designers in their own homes, working on the project while being shot by members of their family.


The original prototypes—the couture masks, so to speak—created by the five designers have been interpreted into a set of 20 masks that riff off them, designed in-house by Conde Nast, and will be available to buy on e-commerce platform Myntra for 500 each. Profits from the sales will go to karigars through seven NGOs working with crafts clusters across the country via the Give India platform. “Promote wearing of masks and raise money for charity—these are the two main objectives of the project," says Kuruvillla, adding that the target is to sell at least 100,000 masks in order to raise a substantial amount for the artisans.

Each designer has created a set of unique mask prototypes using techniques and motifs that are associated with them. Tarun Tahiliani’s masks, for instance, are made out of rich fabrics with metallic embellishments, while his craftsmanship shows in the way he has created a clever zippered mask that a wearer can occasionally unzip to sip a cocktail. Gupta’s designs use khadi fabric and graphic imagery typical of him, while he also took inspiration from the form and symmetry of pattachitra paintings he purchased in Odisha last year.

Masks by Gaurav Gupta
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Masks by Gaurav Gupta

Dongre’s masks were inspired by a pichvai artwork that she owns, while Rahul Mishra’s masks are finely structured and use block printing on chanderi to create graphical and symmetrical prints. Malhotra’s are gold and glamorous and scream ‘Bollywood.’

Masks by Anita Dongre
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Masks by Anita Dongre

“Masks are both an accessory and a metaphor for our times, and we knew that these designers would be inspired to use them to reveal something about themselves and their work. At the same time, we wanted to support artisans who are suffering from a loss of their livelihoods, and masks just tied everything together," says Kuruvilla.




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