MR PORTER

It’s official. Off-White™’s Arrow face mask is the hottest men’s product on earth. That’s right — the same exact same item that could be copped for discount just three months ago is now more coveted than any new sneaker or T-shirt or jacket in existence, at least over the last quarter. In ordinary times, that would be a win in any brand’s book. But these are anything but ordinary times.

A couple of weeks before, Off-White™ attracted heat after its masks appeared on e-commerce behemoth Farfetch, with price tags reaching $1,205. Three hours and a ton of irate Twitter responses later, they had all but vanished. The term “coronawashing” was banded about. Some users went further with their own conspiracies. That these were third party sellers who Off-White™ had nothing to do with was seemingly irrelevant.

Of course, theories like the above are — no pun intended — entirely farfetched. Sure, Off-White™ is owned by New Guards Group, which recently bought out Farfetch, but Marketplace prices are determined by the seller, with the company stepping in should they deem the prices exploitative. I reached out to Farfetch, who asserted their stance in a statement:

“As a marketplace we do not set prices. However, in certain circumstances, particularly where consumers are being disadvantaged, we will intervene. This is one such case. Accordingly, we have blocked sales of the face masks at excessive prices.

No harm is done then, right? Well, in Off-White™’s case, it’s a bit more complicated. Sure, most people will understand it had nothing to do with prices, but others won’t, and it’s inarguable that the brand name suffered some very real reputational damage last week. As The Fashion Law speculates, Off-White™ might even be in a position to seek action against the re-sellers and retailers when it comes to price gouging.

TFL goes on to reference a law in New York that prohibits “the sale of goods and services necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of consumers at unconscionably excessive prices during an abnormal disruption of the market.” In other words, it would be for the lawyers to prove that a luxury mask is an item necessary for public health in the same vein as hand sanitizer. Perhaps fanciful, but not impossible.

We’ve spoken before about masks potentially going the same way as kicks, but these flashpoints indicate that’s some way off, at least while the virus rages on. Topping Lyst’s hottest product category would normally be a cause for celebration, but this time around, it could be read as a grim reflection of the times where said popularity is borne out of necessity than it is aesthetic appreciation. Maybe when luxury brands get back to producing masks properly and the market levels out again, the same uneasiness won’t be applicable. But right now, Off-White™ seems to have found itself in the crossfire. It owns the hottest product in the world, but is probably wishing the circumstances behind its rise were different.

The reality is that face masks will soon be a legitimate category, regardless of whether or not a silver bullet for the coronavirus comes along in the form of a vaccine. As we spoke of before, the legacy of the pandemic will see our habits, and in turn, daily uniforms change irrevocably. If it was a sneaker, it’d be a no brainer to follow it up with new iterations, seed some celebrities, build more publicity, and attempt to repeat the trick a second time. But in the context of a mask that’s become popular because of a deadly illness, hype as a concept has no doubt been discarded by most brands, now seen as pernicious rather than a virtue. Perhaps that kind of clinical thinking is one of the most depressing things of all, at least looking at the industry from the outside.

For now, the powers that be at Off-White™ are no doubt feeling a bit confused, sitting on a Zoom call somewhere, trying to figure out exactly what to do with their regrettable, new hottest product in the world. Fingers crossed they decide on producing enough that kids aren’t in a position to ask for four-figure sums again.