As 2012 rolls out, retailers are looking for every edge to build a successful year, especially if the holiday season was less than spectacular. One often-overlooked market that has more sales potential than imagined is masks. I’m sure that will raise some eyebrows of doubt, but this market has been growing quietly under radar for the last few years.
You have seen them in movies and in reality shows, but probably had little idea how popularity was growing. Today schools are doing masquerade proms; couples are having Mardi Gras or Venetian weddings; fundraisers are using masks to raise money; and masked balls are growing in popularity.
When your customers need large quantities, they usually turn to masquerade masks because they get a reasonably good look at very inexpensive price. One-step up is feather masks—still inexpensive, but exceptional in appearance.
However, the surprising big winner in today’s market is Venetian style masks. They have a history that dates back to the Renaissance where the art had its own Guild in Venice. Masking was common in Venice and eventually got out of hand, causing the Church to step in and limit the time to Carnival, from the Feast of the Epiphany until Mardi Gras Day.
Some designs were popular among the public and others found inspiration in the Commedia dell’arte, the Venetian theatre. From popular designs comes the Bauta mask and no one can visit Carnival in Venice without seeing this style that was a favorite disguise by the populace of the City. Accompanied with a cape or hood, the mask not only covered the face, but also muffled the voice to avoid identification of the wearer.
Mask inspiration also comes from the Commedia dell’arte. Actually, the original masks used during the Renaissance were made of leather, but his revival of the art in the early 1970s took the characters as inspiration and brought the art to a new level.
The long nose mask is an example. The servant characters of the Commedia dell’arte were called Zanni. This form of theatre is the origin of slapstick. (The name actually comes from Arlecchino’s sword that had two pieces of wood separated so when he smacked someone with it the wood slapped together making a noise.) The raw humor associated the length of a Zanni’s nose with how dumb the character was—the longer the nose, the dumber the character. From this comes the Zanni mask with exaggerated nose, so popular today.
The leading servant character was Arlecchino often represented by patchwork patterns reflecting his patched clothes. Arlecchino masks are a favorite for men for masquerade.
It the US Carnival is most commonly referred to as Mardi Gras. The full-face jester mask in Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold, and green is a spectacular piece of art that is Venetian inspired and can be worn or used as a wall mask. The jester hat and collar are shapeable.
Venetian style masks can also be very elegant. Venetian style weddings today use masks, often masks on a stick. The most popular style has ostrich plumes in color combinations of white and silver or white and gold. This is growing in popularity faster than most people realize. So if you are a bridal shop, don’t overlook the possibilities here.
Fundraisers and masquerade balls often call for more elaborate Venetian style masks. The butterfly Venetian style mask is exceptional. A mesh screen above the top provides the appearance of butterfly wings. This style is pricier so quantities aren’t large, but the engaging beauty of the design keeps it selling.
The newest Venetian style mask in the upper end comes individually boxed with dimensionally shaped maple leaves surrounding the eye mask. Two-tone colors shade for a spectacular effect. The inspiration of the maple leaves is a mystery, but the beauty sells this work of art.
Mardi Gras is a month away and it is it huge for mask sales. Beyond that interest continues all the way to summer with proms, weddings, balls, and fundraisers. Surprise yourself by trying some masks in your shop. There is a bigger market than most retailers realize.