Red mask
Photographer Kelsey Sasser in Atlanta, wears a sold-out, red warrior-type mask by Pheren Couture for a photoshoot. (Courtesy Kelsey Sasser)

WASHINGTON - When designer Pheren Soepadhi introduced her autumn-winter collection at New York Fashion Week in February of last year, her Pheren Couture label showed intricate masks that were inspired by Soepadhi’s own “introverted tendencies.”

The wire-framed, elaborate Venetian-like masks are adorned with sequins, beads and lace, in a style that the 35-year-old Los Angeles designer describes as “Victorian mixed with the warrior.”

Pheren Soepadhi, designer of Pheren Couture. (Courtesy Pheren Soepadhi)

A year later Soepadhi’s masks are flying off her website’s virtual shelves. Brides and others in search of elegant personal protective equipment (PPE) are snatching up the Indonesian-born designer’s creations to protect against the coronavirus.

Endah Redjeki, who lives in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena, ordered one of Soepadhi’s custom-made masks. She plans to wear it when social gatherings are no longer limited.

“The design was awesome, very detailed, the sequins, very well-made,” said Redjeki. “I was so speechless. It’s very couture.” 

Redjeki, a dance production specialist who organizes shows and other dance events at Santa Monica College, is working from home because the campus is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. She said the designer mask cheers her up.

“We’re stressed out. We don’t go anywhere. We don’t put on makeup. Maybe we even work in our pajamas,” she said. “The mask will look great with good eyeshadow.”

Photographer Kelsey Sasser in Atlanta wears a sold-out 'Moneta' white mask by Pheren Couture for a photoshoot. (Photo courtesy Kelsey Sasser)

Kelsey Sasser, a 25-year-old photographer from Atlanta, Georgia, is also working from home. She owns at least three Pheren Couture masks. She said she wears them “to places that require masks for entry, and also as accessories for photography."

“Even in difficult times, your physical appearance can factor into your mental state,” Sasser said. “So having fun masks that you can coordinate with your outfit and makeup can really brighten your day, especially if you feel confident in what you are wearing.”

The masks have two layers of cotton cloth and elastic ear loops.

“[They] really give protection. I use cotton, lace, sequins, but not wires anymore,” Soepadhi told VOA Indonesian.

Wires originally allowed for fantasy shaping, but now Soepadhi wants her masks to provide as much protection as possible, while also being comfortable, so that her clients will wear them.

A Flower Face couture mask by Pheren Soepadhi. (Courtesy Pheren Soepadhi)

Priced from $20 to $149, depending on complexity, each mask is unique. Soepadhi launches a new mask collection twice a week. They sell out in the twinkle of a sequin.

Soepadhi was barely able to keep up with demand even before May 14, when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti mandated that masks or face coverings be worn by all people when they leave their homes.

Soepadhi said most of her customers prefer her fancy masks to the simple ones without sequins or beads. They want the details and flourishes, the more the better. That poses a challenge for Soepadhi, who finds that creating one couture mask requires three to five hours of handwork.

“I cannot make a lot,” she said. “I make eight or nine couture masks in a week, and I still receive…pre-order[s] from customers for the simple masks, but not a lot.” 

She also contends with customers who want her to recreate a mask that’s sold out.

A black couture mask by Pheren Soepadhi. (Photo courtesy Pheren Soepadhi)

“It’s hard to remake the masks,” she said. “That’s challenging because ideas don’t always come just like that.”

Soepadhi also designs accessories, such as necklaces, earrings and brooches, as well as neck pieces and rosaries. But sales of the couture masks have helped financially during this pandemic.

“Other couture accessories, like couture neck pieces, are selling, too,” and are almost sold out, Soepadhi said.

Soepadhi said she is donating a percentage of the profits from mask sales.

“To give back to the community,” she said, “and hoping it helps during this hard situation.”