The colourful papier-mâché hats are modelled on headgear from the Song dynasty, which ruled China between 960 and 1279, with extensions just long enough to keep wearers the one metre (three feet) apart stipulated in France’s COVID-19 regulations.
The first Song emperor is said to have ordered his officials to wear winged hats so that they could not gossip without being heard.
“Back in the day, these were worn to prevent public officials from whispering,” Dominique Pouzol, who designed the hats for the 59 Rivoli gallery, told Reuters. “And so, there was already then this notion of social distancing.”
Some of Pouzol’s creations carry a political message too, painted in the colours of the rainbow is a nod to gay rights.
“The hats are to protect us from COVID-19,” Pouzol said. “But I said to myself perhaps they can also shield us from …human viciousness, from small-minded people.”