Masks: Is privacy a fundamental right or luxury item?

Is privacy a fundamental right or luxury item?

In the A/W 19 Catwalks, the answer seems to be the latter. From Gucci to Area, Richard Quinn to Bora Aksu, Izzue to Xu Zhi, models were sent down the runway with faces either completely or partially obscured by masks.

Most prolific in the mask-force was Gucci, wielding villainous golden eye-patches, Halloween inspired masks in emerald velvets and latex spiked masks. Richard Quinn showed a softer obscurity, wrapping his models faces in the same floral fabrics he uses for the dresses. Meanwhile, Bora Aksu and Area showed a more commercial sensibility, with Aksu’s whimsical butterfly sunglasses, and Area’s Y2K-inspired crystal head pieces.

To understand the rise in facial obscurity in fashion, we investigate what personal privacy means in 2019 and beyond.

Back in 2016, WGSN began to track the rise in digital and physical masks as a reaction to a spike in surveillance. In our Future Consumer 2021 report, we note that this sentiment is only set to gain momentum, with privacy concerns on the rise, and an anti-data backlash taking hold.

We have entered a period of ‘Surveillance Capitalism’, where surveillance has become the internet’s ultimate business model. As increasingly huge data breaches make headlines, consumers have a better understanding of the true cost of the data exchange and a new term has emerged to describe the market. Surveillance capitalism works by providing free services that people willingly use, and then enabling service providers to track and monitor the behavioural attributes of the users.

Increasingly, retailers and other businesses are using facial recognition across the product development and sales process to understand people’s emotional states, and create the optimum emotional conditions to generate maximum profit, as explored in our Facial Recognition: Emerging Business Strategies report.

For an example, look to US retail giant Walmart who, last year, patented facial recognition technology that will link facial expressions to their transaction data, allowing the retailer to detect frustrated or unhappy shoppers. Accord to the patent filing, the tech will help record and explain “significant drops or complete absence of customers spending”.

Fashion provides the ultimate medium for reflecting on and commentating the socio-political climate, and this rise of masks on the runway could be a backlash against the collection and monetisation of data by corporations.

Although – of course – the irony is not lost that a consumer backlash against surveillance capitalism includes purchasing luxury anti-surveillance masks.

For more, subscribers can head to WGSN Insight’s Future Consumer 2021 report.

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