Brothers Ayo and Teo are very particular when it comes to their favorite outfits. Teo, 17, will most likely be in a Bathing Ape hoodie, a pair of skinny biker jeans and Adidas Yeezys kicks. Ayo, 20, too, will be in skinny jeans, but with a silk bandana waving from his belt. There will probably be a choker chain around his neck and Air Jordans on his feet.
But go to any of their much-loved Instagram clips — or even watch the video for their single “Rolex” — and you’ll see the two bopping along with only their eyes and noteworthy hairstyles (Teo’s afro and Ayo’s red braids) visible, making the young, viral dance sensations famous for accessorizing with the season’s newest (and oddest) it-item: surgical masks.
“Honestly, sometimes we just have them on [when we’re not performing],” Ayo tells Billboard of the masks. “Teo will wear it in a restaurant and just have it hanging on his ear. The masks are really a part of us, I guess.”
While the mask movement has long existed in eastern countries like China, Korea and Japan for health reasons (over in Asia it’s called “Smog Couture,” a way to fashionably protect oneself from air pollutants and toxins), their original purpose here was to cover the wild faces they’d make while dancing. Early fans used to comment on the brothers’ Insta videos, mentioning their curling lips and grimacing mouths; the masks covered up their mugs while providing a bit of cool and mystery. The pair prefers the Japanese brand A Bathing Ape (BAPE), which makes masks with shark snarls and panda mouths on sale for $52, before they invariably sell out and end up on resale platforms, like eBay, for quadruple the price.
To Ayo and Teo’s surprise, wearing these masks has now become a trend here in the U.S too — notably amongst rappers like 2 Chainz and Travis Scott. “There’s a lot of people wearing the masks now,” Ayo says, noting that the brothers are honored when big names start rocking their signature look. “I don’t understand why people trip off of stuff like that anyway. You’re supposed to love that. As soon as you let it be known that you don’t like people wearing the stuff that you wear, that’s when you lose love.”
Off-White designer Virgil Abloh is banking on the accessory, recently adding a trio of masks to his Fall-Winter 2017 line for $529 a pop, which sold out almost instantly upon release. “[Adding masks] was a natural evolution to relate in a more specific way to a new demographic,” Abloh explains. “It’s the brand’s philosophy to be both global and local at the same time, not just one brand to all people.”
The designer says face masks are “both fashion and function”, and because of their dual purpose is “a standout accessory in that way.” And thanks to demand for the “hot ticket item,” Off-White is currently working on producing for their second drop.
When the boys learn they missed out of the first wave of Abloh’s masks, their response is one of immediate dejection: “For real?” Ayo says, clearly bummed out. “What?” Teo wonders in disbelief. But, quickly recovering, they reveal they’re actually dropping their own independent clothing line in a matter of weeks, with masks being a focal point. “Our masks are about to be as dope as the BAPE masks,” Ayo says confidently.
The brand is called WAY, an acronym for We Are Young, and will feature a range of hoodies, denim, masks and tees to start. They’re working on picking a logo now, favoring one of Teo’s silhouette doing their revered Reverse dance move, comparing it to the NBA’s signature symbol. “It’s about to be lit,” Ayo says.