TOKYO -- Stretching beneath Tokyo Station is one of the capital's biggest shopping malls, with around 180 shops ranging from the toniest fashion outlets to gourmet restaurants. One boutique that opened in September -- a sign of the times -- is getting a lot of attention: Mask.com.
As you might guess from the name, it sells face masks intended to protect wearers from the COVID-19 virus. But these face masks are different from other types of personal protective equipment seen on the faces of most other Tokyo citizens. At Mask.com, the focus is on how people can wear face masks as an everyday fashion accessory.
With a collection of over 5,000 masks, made from a wide variety of materials including silk, lace, and even Japanese traditional paper -- known as washi -- the store even stocks antibacterial masks made of copper, as well as washable masks that are cool to touch and can provide relief from Tokyo's stifling summer heat.
But one mask, in particular, is getting more attention than all the others. Spotlighted inside a transparent display case as if it were a set of Mikimoto pearls, is a black box containing Mask.com's most expensive item: a face mask costing 110,000 yen ($1,050) including tax.
Studded with up to 700 Swarovski crystals in different star and leaf patterns, the mask glitters like any piece of costly jewelry, promising to add a touch of sparkle to the wearer's life.
"The response has been beyond our imagination," said Saya Takahata, Mask.com's store manager, already notching up 10 individual sales. "Especially older women have been interested in the mask," said Takahata, noting that some customers even mentioned buying the mask as a gift.
While it's the Swarovski crystals that give the mask a lavish touch, there is considerable craftsmanship involved. Made in Japan, each Swarovski design is attached by hand in a process that requires precision and detailed work to maintain high-quality production standards. It takes weeks to complete each mask.
Owned and operated by Japanese apparel company Cox, which began selling face masks this year following the coronavirus outbreak, the huge surge in demand for face masks led Cox to open Mask.com as a specialty store featuring face masks with a stylish flair.
As the company began procuring various face masks to build up its range, one ornaments manufacturer in Tokyo sold Cox on the idea of a $1,000 face mask.
Cox's procurement buyer, Ryota Chiba, was initially surprised by the proposal. "I didn't think making such a mask was possible," he said. "Although I wasn't sure about the demand, as a store that specializes in face masks, I thought we should have a wide selection of items," Chiba added.
The company plans to expand the lineup with more designs and colors in the future. Whether for everyday use, normal use, or for special occasions like ballroom dancing, Cox expects demand for fashionable face masks to keep rising.
Compared to the U.S. or Europe, Chiba points out that Japan is a special market. "Many people in Japan have no issue wearing face masks and therefore are more willing to accept them as a part of fashion too," says Chiba.
"The demand for valuable products will always be there," Chiba adds, noting that consumers are buying the masks "not just because it is expensive but because it is unique and one of a kind."