Lithuanian capital holds 'Mask Fashion Week' amid coronavirus pandemic

VILNIUS, May 5 (Reuters) - Lithuania’s capital Vilnius is holding a special kind of fashion week suited to this time of coronavirus - no catwalks, just billboards and no fancy costumes on display, just face-masks.

Twenty-one billboards dotted around the UNESCO World Heritage city feature photographs of men, women and children wearing masks as part of a so-called “Mask Fashion Week”.

All Lithuanians are required to wear masks outside as a preventative measure against the spread of COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The designs were selected by members of local Facebook group ‘Mask Your Fashion’, launched by designer Julija Janus to share novel designs for masks and tips on how to make them at home.

“A mask is a good way to display your creativity, to express yourself. And it’s a good activity to do when you’re sitting at home with the kids”, said the 50-year-old designer.

The billboards display both custom-sewn masks from scratch and surgical masks with designs painted on them, she said.

Those depicted in the photos include local artists, musicians, people chosen randomly from the street and even the mayor of Vilnius, Remigijus Simasius.

One of the models is Sandra Bruzaite, 23, who goes outside in a full costume dressed as a mediaeval plague doctor, which includes a leather beak believed to protect from disease.

“When this current plague started, I was wondering if anyone would try walking around in the mediaeval mask. Then a photographer offered me one, and that person turned out to be me”, Bruzaite told Reuters.

“Some people like it, some don’t. Some approach me to give a compliment or take a selfie”, she added.

Lithuania shut most shops, restaurants and customer-facing businesses on March 16 in a lockdown imposed to help curb the spread of the virus. It began easing some of the restrictions late last month as the number of infections fell.

The Baltic nation of 2.9 million people has so far reported 1,423 coronavirus cases, including 46 deaths. (Reporting By Andrius Sytas Editing by Gareth Jones)