Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down designers’ studios and fashion weeks, Los Angeles–based designer Merlin Castell had unveiled his latest collection in New York during the February edition of Art Hearts Fashion. His work included fantastic elements, which are now common staples for living stylishly yet safely.
Taking notes from his childhood love of Marvel Comics’ “The Eternals,” Castell created his Autumn 2020 collection based on villains and superheroes whose stories were told in the books. The designer begins developing his collections two years in advance, often relying on inspiration from his dreams. Staying true to his vision and not competing with others has proven successful to predict trends.
“I have to showcase my DNA,” he said. “I always step back and say, ‘I have to stay myself.’ I cannot blend. This is my moment. I have to give 150 percent of myself.”
A film based on “The Eternals” comics is scheduled to be released in 2021 with a cast that includes Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Ridloff, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Lia McHugh, Don Lee and Kit Harrington. While Castell understood the reasons the books’ characters covered their faces with masks to hide their identities—similar to his own interpretation for his collection—he didn’t foresee the real necessity that was on the horizon due to COVID-19.
“[In the stories], they always covered their faces to protect their families. That is what is happening right now. I have my family and if I catch something I can give it to them and they can get sick,” he explained. “I never thought everyone would be walking around wearing masks. I just did it to protect my heroes and my villains.”
For New York Fashion Week, Castell chose to showcase the half of his collection dedicated to the villains from “The Eternals.” Shown in terlenka fabric and vinyl in a palette primarily comprising bright yellow contrasted with black, Castell’s collection included form-fitting tapered pants; puckered dresses; strong-shouldered jackets; long, flowing capes; waist-shaping corsets; and fresh takes on long-sleeved bodysuits. The designer planned to unveil the second half of his collection—representing the superheroes of “The Eternals”—during fashion week in Los Angeles, but the event was canceled once COVID-19 shelter-in-place measures were enacted.
As a way to contribute to the local community, Castell, who also is also a licensed practical nurse, is providing non-medical masks to officers from the Los Angeles Police Department. Using upcycled police uniforms he receives from the department, Castell creates masks that complement the clothing worn by the LAPD. Whenever Castell sees an officer, he simply offers a box that contains a mask.
“They are very pleased after they find what is inside and where it came from,” he said. “The reason I ask them for uniforms is because I can’t find the fabric in the marketplace.”
Now that masks have become a necessity rather than a fashion statement, Castell and his production team of two women, whom he considers family, are creating new designs for non-medical fashionable pieces that will also protect the wearer with a lot of coverage and room for a filter. Using silk with iridescent vinyl, quilted lace and canvas, in addition to shimmery overlays and shining crystals, Castell’s masks are made to be noticed. True to his ideals, he took a different approach to the structure of the mask by using a shape that relies on the nose for most of its support and offers a lot of room to avoid contact with the mouth. Available through merlincastell.com, retail pricing for the masks range from $45 to $95.
“My mask goes under the chin. It doesn’t touch your lips, and you can breathe. The support is more in the nose. You can use your sunglasses. You can read with them. Those are the technical things I think about,” he said. “We have to face it. My mother said, ‘You face the sun with your face up. Close your eyes and feel the heat.’ You learn how to survive and transform.”