Face Mask Chic and the new Flirting Normal

In Hungary

David Holzer securers himself a Hungarian designer face mask, and is transported back to a memory of devastating Islamic eye flirting.

A couple of nights ago, my Hungarian partner and I ordered face masks from Laoni Design, a Budapest-based store that, before COVID-19, specialized in leather bags, luxury leather and special items.

Lilla Pápai, the daughter of Ilona, who founded Laoni Design, told me that the company began making masks around a month ago.

“After the pharmacies started running out, we made masks for family members and to donate to medical institutions and it went from there,” Lilla said. “Although we’re selling them online now, we’re continuing to give masks free to people who really need them.”

Now, in the new normal, the company offers a range of face masks for men and women, from rather menacing western movie outlaw black to a delicate rose pink. Sadly, they have no plans to make a leather mask.

“We experimented a lot before we launched the masks online,” Lilla explained. “These are the best designs.”

Lilla and Ilona will be making masks for the foreseeable future. Not least because the Laoni store, which offers other Hungarian brands including Lilla’s own organic WYHOYS clothing, is in the center of Budapest and was dependent on tourists.

“We’ve seen an increase in online sales, not just of masks,” Lilla said, “so we’ll build up that side of our business.”

A couple of months ago, if you’d told any of us we’d be shopping online for face masks that fit with our personal brand or at least go with our shoes we’d have raised our eyebrows.

Before COVID-19 (I’ll refrain from calling it BC), the only time I saw masks outside a medical establishment was on the faces of Asian people.

This includes being served by a waitress wearing an olive-green mask that matched her skirt in the fantastic HeHe restaurant at the Monori Center out in Kőbánya, Budapest’s Chinatown. A somewhat unnerving experience but not enough to put me off the delicious dish I’d pointed at on the menu.

Fashion Statement

I told this story to a Chinese friend of mine. She explained that, apart from protecting against pollution, masks were sometimes a kind of fashion statement.

Now, a page at Vogue.com currently lists 92 cloth masks to choose from and the number’s going up all the time.

Luxury brand Gucci, somewhat surprisingly, doesn’t appear to have capitalized on the publicity it received when teen pop sensation Billie Eilish wore a face mask emblazoned with their logo to the Grammys back in late January.

Eilish was quick off the mark, as you’d expect from such a singular artiste. But now the dinosaurs of rock are getting in on the act.

Over at wegotyoucoverednow.com, the rockers among us can pick up face masks sporting the logos of the Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath and the Sex Pistols among others.

Somewhat bizarrely, you can also go for a Frank Sinatra mask or one featuring the likeness of 87-year-old country legend Willie Nelson.

The website promises that 100% of net proceeds will be donated to the non-profit Musicares, which provides for music people in times of need, something these most certainly are.

As I was writing this, our doorbell rang. Thinking our face masks had arrived, my partner hurried to open the door.

Above his official issue mask, the postman, she reported somewhat breathlessly afterwards, had the most amazing eyes.

This reminded me of an extraordinary experience I had walking down the street in Wedding, the Turkish part of Berlin.

Laser Beam

Schlepping past a group of teenage girls, I was smitten by a laser beam glance fired my way by a girl whose face was mostly hidden behind a plain black burka.

The girl didn’t just have the most astonishing green eyes I’d ever seen. She used them to devastating effect. I almost fell headfirst into a trash can. By the time I’d hauled myself upright, the girl had vanished.

When I told the friend I was staying with what had happened, he laughed and said “They do that all the time for practice.”

Unable to show her made up face or wear figure-emphasizing clothes, that young girl had learned to flirt in the only way open to her.

Presumably, the art of eye-flirting is passed down from generation to generation of women obliged to wear the burka. I picture teenage girls sitting at the feet of a wizened old crone whose eyes, according to legend, no man is powerless to resist.

I have to admit that, at the time, I entertained the idea that the girl was interested in me. How could I not? It was the effect she was after. I’m sure that, when she aimed it in the direction of the guy she was really interested in, he fell at her feet and followed her around like a puppy.

Eye Candy

In our new normal, how we decorate those windows to our soul will become more and more of a statement.

Female eye makeup will become wildly expressive and outrageous, incorporating ornate eye jewelry. Men will start wearing eyeliner in subtle, masculine colors and statement-dyeing their eyebrows.

Eye tattooing will become more prevalent and the bravest among us will ink their irises.

Teenage Muslim girls will make fortunes teaching grizzled old businessmen how to use their eyes to clinch that mega-deal. Us yogic types will master the ancient Indian arts of eye yoga, as revealed in the Chakshushopnishad-Upanishad of the eyes.

Those of you reading this and rolling your eyes are already way ahead of the rest of us.

•    Go to www.laoni.hu for Hungarian-made face masks.
•    Check out Lilla Pápai’s sustainable organic fashion brand WYHOYS at www.wyhoys.com.

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