From actors to designers to tech titans, how The Golden State’s finest are offering critical support
Words by ELIZABETH VARNELL
A cohort of California-based trailblazers are stepping up efforts to aid those affected by the Covid-19 virus less than a week after Governor Gavin Newsom issued a shelter-in-place order for the entire state. By pledging to slow its spread, they’re following the lead of others, such as the LVMH Group (which includes Louis Vuitton, Dior, Bulgari and Givenchy), whose European production facilities are switching from fragrances to virus-killing hand sanitizer; the Kering Group (including Balenciaga and YSL), who will start manufacturing masks in their workshops; and the Armani Group, which has announced that all of its Italian production plants have now switched to manufacturing single-use medical overalls. Last week, Prada began production of 80,000 medical overalls and 110,000 face masks to protect Italian healthcare workers, and Gucci has pledged €2 million to relief efforts. As the pandemic worsens across the world, these thought leaders and tastemakers are making the case for action even as they stay in their homes.
Silicon Valley, where international supply chains are sustaining forces, is quickly mobilizing. Apple CEO Tim Cook took to Twitter to announce that his company will actively source scarce safety gear for healthcare workers and donate millions of masks to those on the frontlines both stateside and abroad. Mark Zuckerberg says he’ll give 720,000 masks from Facebook’s emergency wildfire reserves. Tesla’s Elon Musk reversed initial statements made in his Fremont assembly plant downplaying the virus’ impact by speedily acquiring over 1,000 additional ventilators from China for Californians who become hospitalized. He’s also pledging to repurpose his factories to produce more of the much-needed breathing machines.
Masks were also on L.A.-based red carpet gown designer Michael Costello’s mind as he prepped to work from home. He quickly found himself pouring through mask patterns rather than dreaming up looks for clients such as Beyonce or Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. “I collected recommendations published by medical mask manufacturers before going back and forth on prototypes with other L.A. designers Ashton Michael, Michael Ngo, Bryan Hearns, Karla Franco, and stylist Christina Pacelli,” Costello says. “Finding the right material that fit with our available inventory was a challenge at first, but we ultimately learned that a cotton-nylon blend could filter out most small particles.”
It turns out that 99 percent of medical face masks are crafted from nonwoven fabric-like material made from fibers bonded together through heat, chemical or solvent treatments. They’re single-use by design. With supplies of N95 masks (which filter about 95 percent of particles) quickly dwindling worldwide, Costello is aiming to create about 20,000 cotton-nylon blend masks with a 70-percent air-filtration rate to distribute to L.A. government agencies. “We’re making masks to give them out to people who need them the most, so they can do their jobs. We need to do ours and stay home. Whatever protection these masks can give, we’re happy to donate them so they can serve that purpose,” says Costello, explaining that his extra masks designed for less crucial situations may also free up N95s for more technical tasks.
Painter and fashion designer Greg Lauren, who is also L.A.-based, is enlisting his brother-in-law, Dr. Jason Berkley, a neurologist who specializes in pain management and the spine, to help devise what he’s calling an “upgraded DIY filter mask.” Rather than resorting to tying on a bandanna, Berkley suggested building a mask that incorporates the same material used in air-conditioner filters. After a trip to Home Depot, the designer’s been at work cutting up filters to slide into masks built from overstock army twill with a panel of softer plaid flannel that sits against the face. His latest Instagram post includes version 2.0 with new tweaks for improved efficacy. Lauren is posting his pattern as a clarion call to makers worldwide. He plans to craft 1,000 masks per week and donate them through Relief Crafters of America. Additionally, his uncle, Ralph Lauren, is pledging $10 million to virus relief efforts alongside 25,000 isolation gowns produced with his U.S. manufacturing partners.
Other innovators are directing help to children facing state-wide school closures. L.A.-based shoe craftsman George Esquivel is donating a portion of his Esquivel X line of canvas totes and weekender shoes to Giving Children Hope, an area nonprofit that’s feeding families while also delivering isolation suits and N95 masks to community clinics. Actor Julia Roberts also had kids in mind when she took to Instagram clad in a design benefiting Together Rising, a national nonprofit helping children facing hunger due to mass closures of educational facilities. The shirt, from Topanga’s Be Love, a sustainable apparel line founded by Kyle and KamGi Finch, is emblazoned with the words “I Choose Love.”
In addition to launching a podcast (Jessica Alba is the first featured guest) to aid self-isolating Californians who are upping their wellness routines, Sakara founders Danielle Duboise and Whitney Tingle are pledging to donate their plant-based meals to in-need healthcare professionals. Similarly, shoe brand Mia Becar, founded by Betzabe Gonzalez, is partnering with the California Community Foundation to assist the region’s most vulnerable residents with healthcare, housing, education and immigration needs. APL shoes and St. John are both donating a portion of proceeds through the end of the month to the Meals on Wheels Covid-19 Response Fund to feed elderly and disabled residents.
Oscar de la Renta and visual artist Alexandra Grant are joining forces through her ongoing grantLove project with Project Angel Food’s Covid-19 Emergency Food Fund to create kits containing three weeks of frozen and shelf-stable meals. Proceeds from Grant’s Love prints, inspired by the vibrant colors of Oscar de la Renta’s spring collection, go entirely to the nonprofit. The artist (and partner of Keanu Reeves) even discovered a synergy between her work and the deeply philanthropic fashion house’s spring designs. “It might be because of my childhood spent in Mexico and Mr. de la Renta’s Dominican roots, but many of my pieces for the Love exhibition are works that I had in the studio,” Grant says. “Our color palettes were already in sync.”
As each local maker crafts a unique response to the global pandemic, Costello sums up the inspiration behind their life-affirming decisions to give back: “We’re giving people hope, something to do in this time of isolation. And we can help people save lives.
Feature image: Prints from ALEXANDRA GRANT’s grantLove project with OSCAR DE LA RENTA.
March 26, 2020
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