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How a costume designer for ‘Batman’ and ‘Black Panther’ created the ultimate COVID-19 mask

After three decades designing and building masks and costumes for superhero movies, Jose I. Fernandez was uncommonly prepared for the sartorial demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

From the cyberspace helmets of 2010’s Tron: Legacy to the cat-eared mask of 2018’s Black Panther, Fernandez has specialized in creating the wearable elements that bring movie heroes to the big screen while letting the actors inside them stay comfortable.

Last year, musician Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas called on Fernandez, a frequent collaborator, to think about a more wearable, multifunctional mask for the COVID-19 era. The design brief was straightforward: It would need to have filters, it would need to play music, and it would need to look cool.

It’s not the first time Will.i.am has ventured into high-tech wearables. In a previous project, the rapper devised a product called PULS, a questionably useful donut-shaped smart phone meant to be worn around the wrist. The COVID-19 pandemic inspired a slightly more relevant concept. If wearing masks was a new public health imperative, the thinking went, those masks may as well combine with some of the other tech people commonly wear, like Bluetooth headphones for music and phone calls.

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