If a singular item could describe 2020 in a nutshell, it would undoubtedly have to be the face mask. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on an unprecedented global scale, face masks have been hailed both as a hero in preventing the spread of the virus and also loathed by those who fail to see the importance of wearing one in public.
As such, when architect and designer Tosin Oshinowo and textiles and furniture designer Chrissa Amuah were given the opportunity to partner with Lexus to create conceptual designs for this year’s Design Miami/, which just wrapped up on December 6, the duo chose face/head coverings as the focal point.
The collection, entitled “Freedom to Move,” features three variations of face coverings that “explore the idea of protection and celebration, as well as functionality and ornamentation,” says the press release. The headpieces, titled Egaro, Pioneer Futures, and Ògún boast unique designs composed of multiple materials like acrylic, brass, bronze, leather, hand beading, laser etching, and embroidery using the West African tinko method.
“Freedom to Move” aims to explore materials and different styles of craftsmanship from a multitude of cultures, while also delving into historical contexts where the head is the focal point, be it for protection or adornment. The three uniquely designed headpieces all feature transparent panels, as to preserve full facial expressions when communicating, and each come in two distinct iterations that exhibit slight alterations.
“When Lexus first approached us to work on a conceptual project to explore the potential for design in the summer of 2020, we were immediately drawn to the unique changes this year has brought, and how the global pandemic has prompted everyone around the world to consider and evaluate notions of protection, movement, comfort, and communication,” says Oshinowo and Amuah in a statement.
“In the midst of a global pandemic, we all are acutely aware of the head as both hostage to and host of an invisible adversary. Thinking about the masks that we all now wear for daily protection, we wanted to take a step further and consider how we can not only protect ourselves, but use this opportunity to celebrate our joint humanity.”
Oshinowo–who is based in Lagos, Nigeria– and Amuah–a London-based designer with Ghanaian roots– were able to briefly collaborate on the project in Lagos and drew inspiration from African cultures along with Japanese principles of “Omotenashi” (exceptional hospitality) and “Takumi” (expert craftsmanship), the latter which are also the core principles of Lexus.
“In our early research, we began to make connections between the focus on the human head as a universal focal point in times of war and celebration--for protection during war or adornment in times of peace.”
The duo also relied on virtual design sessions along with sculptors, bronze casters, and 3D modelers to bring their vision to life.
Egaro gets its name from a site in eastern Niger where archaeologists confirmed that Africa had independently invented its own iron technology some 5,000 years ago, states the press release. Amuah and Oshinowo’s design is a celebration of that advancement and its brass finishes and reflective bronze aim to make a bold statement.
Pioneer Future pairs technological advancements and futurism with traditional African sequencing designs, like those found in cornrow hair designs. The iterations include hand-beading, colored leather and suede, and are moulded from acrylic.
As for Ògún, its name hails from the traditional Yorùbá god of war, metal and technology. This design proved to be the most difficult of the three to manifest since the designers opted to employ traditional but challenging techniques of bronze casting. Inspirations for this particular headpiece come from the history of the Benin kingdom and its influence on Yoruba people. Ògún required 3D printing in order to “find the right cast that could then be sent to Benin to be hand sculpted in bronze and brass.” Its materials include brass, bronze, suede, and rhinestone detailing.
Lexus, along with Spark Creative, has created a three-part docuseries that follows Oshinowo and Amuah’s design process from sketch all the way through final production. It can be viewed online at discoverlexus.com.
Tosin Oshinowo is the principal architect at her firm Lagos-based CmDesign Atelier (CmD+A) and founder of furniture line Ilé-Ilà. Chriss Amuah is the Creative Director and Founder of AMWA Designs, specializing in handmade textiles and print designs for the home, as well as the founder of Africa by Design, an online platform that highlights designers from Sub-Saharan countries.