Hollywood celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow may be 'gramming’ posts of themselves in chic futuristic face masks but don’t expect to see actress Deepika Padukone flashing a mask with designer flourishes provided by Sabyasachi any time soon.
The surgical mask is undoubtedly the symbol of our times but most Indian design houses are either in lockdown or don't see the product avenue as one that is aligned with their sensibilities.
Anita Dongre, for one, sees it as outside her expertise. "Producing safe masks needs expertise and certification which cannot be developed overnight. Also, some things are best left simple and effective. Not everything needs a designer element."
Rohit Bal says that right now his primary focus is wearing a mask. "All our factories are shut so even if I wanted to make designer masks, I would have to wait for 21 days," he said. Bal added: "I'm hoping we don't need masks after that time period. Right now the mantra is survival but once the crisis is over, we can think about designer masks."
Abroad, a niche business vertical of designer masks is emerging, ranging from products costing hundreds of dollars and made by specialists Vogmask to those being created by luxury brand Balenciaga.
But in India, fashionistas longing for something funky and avant-garde will have to content themselves for now with bog standard models we are all familiar with – the paper-thin surgical masks to the particle-filtering industrial-grade models by industrial giant 3M.
Manish Malhotra and Ritu Kumar echoed Bal's sentiment, saying safety was their primary concern right now. "They have to be done clinically, as this is not a fashion statement," said Kumar.
Talk to medical professionals and they say that if nothing else is available, any sort of mask or cloth wrapped around the face helps. Dr Sudeshna Ray, a surgeon at Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai, says that the key to understanding mask-efficacy is to know the variety.
They range from 3-ply to 5-ply for surgical use and go all the way up to particulate filtering which medical professionals normally use only during very invasive procedures that involve very close contact with body parts that are in an open state. "Every day cloth masks don't do much beyond covering your mouth," said Dr Ray.
Reliance Industries has said it plans to manufacture masks and other personal protective equipment with the target of boosting production capacity to 100,000 masks a day to help meet the shortage.
Last week, the government banned the export of all surgical/disposable masks and the raw material used for making them to ensure adequate supplies for medical staff to fight the battle with Covid-19.