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Watching fashion shows now is a weird experience. Seeing unmasked models walk around — and gasp — stand near each other feels wrong in ways that are hard to articulate. Almost a year deep into the pandemic and the combo of social distancing and masking has firmly become a norm, so seeing something that deviates from that is strange.
Sometimes seeing maskless faces is a nice escape and a reminder of what we’ll all be able to return to, but other times it’s frustrating. The illicitness of watching people be close to each other reminds you of what you’re missing out on. Why do they get to be in a crowd of people when we can’t even hug our friends? It’s a rollercoaster.
So, when Reese Cooper debuted his entirely masked FW21 fashion show last week, it felt like a relief. The models weren’t wearing traditional masks, they would be better described as “face coverings,” but not a single mouth or nose was seen. Most of the show was outside, with the models standing far apart, and the brief bits inside were extremely spaced out and ventilated. The CDC would be proud.
This wasn’t accidental for Cooper. “I’m in L.A., the center of the pandemic, in the worst place at worst time,” the designer told Vogue. As well as the face coverings, he also estimated to the magazine that he spent 10 percent of his seasonal budget to have his staff, models, and collaborators tested.
Instead of distracting from the collection, the masks actually made it possible to truly focus on what was being presented and how the clothes would look in the real (masked) world. In fact, for Reese Cooper, the masks actually added to the story he was trying to tell. The collection, called Pyrophyte, was centered around the 2020 Californian wildfires. The devastating wildfires burned nearly 4.2 million acres, as part of the world wildfire season in the state’s history. In cooperation with the US Forest Service, the show took place at the Mt. Wilson Observatory, which was threatened by the wildfires. In this context, masks not only reflect our current reality but serve as a reminder of the damage the wildfires caused — both to air quality in the region and the loss of life and land.
The outdoorsy collection featured clothing we’ve come to expect from Cooper — fleeces, overshirts, and sweatpants — alongside more unexpected pieces like a flowing skirt printed with a “camo” made from images of a burnt forest, a tailored coat, a Vibram sole hiking boot (his first shoe), and a to-the-point varsity jacket that reads “the call of the wild should not be HELP!”
For his part, Cooper is trying to solidify his message with real-world action. For FW21, the designer is continuing his collaboration with One Tree Planted, an initiative where a tree will be planted for every piece sold, and he’s also released a capsule collection with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Mt. Wilson Observatory and the National Forest Foundation, see it below.