The first user response clothing line has just reached the market at British department store, Selfridges. Bags, wallets, phone cases and jewelry are made with special touch response ink so the product changes colour as we touch it. Upcoming designer, Lauren Bowker, is the mastermind behind this capsule.
Bowker is a self-titled material alchemist and creator of The Unseen Capsule wardrobe. As a young girl, Bowker had a big interest in the unseen, particularly “x-rays and ghosts” she says. Her curiosity about how the world works has led her to study sciences in her post-secondary education. She studied chemistry at the Manchester Metropolitan University and continued to get her master’s in textiles at the Royal College of Art in Paris. Bowker created her patented Unseen Ink during her study. Initially, her technology was being used in the aeronautics and automotive industries before she made her way to fashion. Soon after the success of her Unseen Ink, she created The Unseen Studio, a platform to showcase her vast array of work. Since that launch, her work has shown with London Fashion Week, at the Royal Academy of Engineering, The Science Museum and the Barbican.
Bowker’s early work intersected sculptural art with cognitive science. Using brain sensors to detect emotions, participant’s brain activity would dictate the colours of the fabric sculpture. Shortly after her sculpture work, she adapted the concept to become more wearable and accessible. In a collaboration with Swarovski, she created a bedazzled headpiece, for lack of a better word. The piece is made to reflect the wearer’s mood, similarly to her sculptural work, on a complete colour gradient. Instead of participating in a gallery, one could order the product to their house and use it in their everyday life. That’s not to say wearing a tiara is an everyday accessory for everyone, but it’s evidently more socially acceptable than wearing brain sensors.
Her colour-changing hair dye went viral in 2018 as participants were shocked by its claims. The pigments in the dye are sensitive enough to change colour with a quick touch, or even from standing in front of your air conditioner. Many users had concerns of adverse effects on their hair, but Bowker reassured the public that not only was the hair dye completely safe, it creates even less damage than other semi-permanent hair dyes. This hair dye was inspired by the 90’s classic film The Craft. Early scenes depict witch magic changing the character’s hair with a simple touch. It looks like since it’s release, the product has stopped manufacturing and is now very hard to find, at least online.
Along with a line of colour-changing hair dye, Bowker released a line of makeup products that change according to UV, wind and heat. Her beauty line includes AtmoSpheres, a multifunctional pigment for the eyes, lips skin and cheeks, Soul Shades, a blusher that changes colour with the skin’s temperature fluctuations, and HeliVeil, a freckle product that comes to light when in contact with UV.
Her most recent collaboration with Selfridges has been a great success. Since its debut at the London Fashion Week, her name as a designer has become widely recognized. The line of wallets, shawls and purses all incorporate an element of the colour change tech. Advancements in her ink formula allowed this work to utilize the complete colour spectrum as opposed to one colour gradient. This line adds elements of conceptual art to remind us that fashion is a form of expression.
It’s safe to say Bowker’s work partially relies on the participant. Though her initial art process is in her control, where she can dictate how the work looks, upon completion it’s in the hands of the participant. Her work takes courage as she forfeits her position of control as an artist to the participant. As art is often advertised as a personal mode of expression, leaving her art up to factors beyond her control goes against the norm. This means that every piece of her work will be completely unique as the garment creates an interaction with the participant.
She has said in many interviews that her goal is to “…visualize data through the language of colour — from leather that can change colour (in response) to environmental fluctuations, to a car paint or concrete that can tell you your carbon emission level, to a headpiece that can help you understand more about your brain and the chemical fluxes from it by informing you through a simple colour change”.
The magic behind the infamous colour change happens between the molecular bonds of the chemicals. Extremely weak bonds between carbon atoms undergo a chemical reaction even with a slight temperature change. As a result, we see a colour change. The beauty behind this chemical heat reaction is that it is reversible, allowing us to see many different hues with her ink.
Many brands have created their own version of colour change clothing. Hyper-colour, Julianna Bass and Dr. Jessica Wade are just a few who made their own attempts. Dr. Jessica Wade is using similar technology to create colour-changing t-shirts that alert the wearer when they come in contact with diseases. Although Bowker has not hinted at any future projects, her prolonged silence is an indicator that a big project is coming. Even as her name becomes more and more established in the fashion world, when you google colour-changing clothes, the results are still overwhelmingly about the gold and white/blue and black dress that took over the internet over 6 years ago.
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