We all know how much fashion influences society and culture, but wouldn’t it be a far superior phenomenon if this effect was turned around? What if our environment dictated fashion, or even ourselves? It’s not a myth that colours stimulate the human eye, and bring sense, meaning and intrigue to the world. In a bold fusion of technology, chemistry and biology, a group of fashion-bound innovators are using electronics, chemical pigments and microorganisms as a platform to visualise the environmental scene of the wearer.

Pioneering the term “textile alchemists”, these talented individuals have devoted years of effort into mastering and manipulating the science behind their visions.


Lauren Bowker | Article collection 2016

Refusing to articulate her work in the usual scientific medium, Lauren Bowker is a designer who has placed big wheels on the fashion industry to bring it up to speed with today’s technology. With a philosophy and purpose that aims to incorporate scientific study with creativity, Bowker’s fashion house ‘The Unseen‘ was established to accommodate well-informed inventions sensitive to both technology and design (Dezeen, 2013).


Lauren Bowker | Air 2014

Studying the unorthodox combination of textiles and chemistry in university, Lauren concocted a special ink (PdCl2) that changes colour from yellow to black in relation to the pollution it absorbs. This ink also changes into the full spectrum of colours in reaction to UV, heat, air friction and moisture, and can be painted, sprayed or dyed on fabric. These special inks have been made accessible in their ‘Article’ debut accessory collection featuring bags, wallets, bracelets, cuffs and iPhone cases.

Lauren Bowker | Valediction 2014

Depicting the invisible turbulence that surrounds our bodies as we go about our daily lives, ‘The Unseen’s Air’ couture collection is a fascinating display of wind-reactive ink that changes colour upon contact with the encircling air to mimic a hypnotic chameleon effect of iridescent metallics. Collaborating with photographer Ryan Hopkinson, Valediction is a dramatic visualisation of a sculpture made from leaves painted in “thermochromic, heat tracking pigments” (Bowker, 2013) which turn blue as they are set on fire.


Lauren Bowker | The Unseen Swarovski 2014 | Eighthsense 2015

One of the most refreshing aspects about Lauren Bowker is that her scientific endeavours are aimed at achieving clinically diagnostic material able to detect the health of the wearer, making her a revolutionary guiding light in the medical field (Wired, 2015). Reflecting inner thought processes, ‘The Unseen Swarovski’ project is a headpiece made from chameolonic Swarovski stone that absorbs energy loss from the head, fluctuating in colour throughout the day to visualise hypothetical brain activity. A cousin project, ‘Eighthsense’  is a fabric sculpture that translates the brain’s electromagnetic energy via EEG signals into a visual presentation of ink changing colours and patterns. This technology could be brought forward in the future to help treat psychological disorders such as depression, or as a measure of emotional states.


Blond and Bieber | Algaemy

Essie Glomb and Rasa Weber of design studio ‘Blond and Bieber’ have created a technique called ‘Algaemy‘ which uses a multitude of algae species to dye fabric. A weed that pollutes ponds and lakes, the designer duo has provided an attractive eco-friendly function for algae which is much safer than the poisonous chemicals used to colour many garments today. Lots of biology and science goes behind the simple ‘manufacture’ of this living colour palette: microalgae is grown in glass flasks with water, CO2 and sunlight, then filtered and mixed with printing paste. A large analogue textile printer is used to roll the microalgae into fabrics. Blond and Bieber’s final product, ‘Algaemy fabric’, showcases a simple abstract aesthetic of fresh and bright pigments.


Rainbow Winters | Flower Dress | Petal Dress | Rainforest S/S11

In the midst of technology-fashion experimentation, Amy Winter’s brand Rainbow Winters has built up collection-after-collection of garments that react to dominant environmental qualities. In order to capture the emotional and aesthetic potential of emerging technologies, the brand’s signature colour-changing ink elements in the Rainforest capsule collection react to sunlight and water, allowing the garments to morph from a monochrome palette into rainbow hues.


Rainbow Winters | Structural Colour A/W12

The Petal Dress is screen-printed with sun-reactive ink so that it remains baby pink indoors, and transcends into an electric, vibrant purple when outdoors. Meanwhile, the collection’s water-activated Flower Dress exudes spring-time vibes when in contact with water. Likewise, the ‘Structural Colour ‘collection features a range of hand and digitally-printed metallic dresses and garments that react to sunlight or when stretched, embodying the surrealist “liquid iridescence and depths of the aquatic underworld” (Winters, 2012).


Judit Eszter Karpati | Chromosonic 2013

Stepping into the realms of e-textiles, Budapest-based designer Judit Eszter Karpati experiments with a combination of interactive technologies to enhance the interaction between humans and textiles. Her ‘Chromosonic’ research project is an electronic interface where woven, flexible textile displays react to “environmental impulses with an animated change in pattern” (Karpati, 2013). These ambient, coloured patterns are generated from sound files which respond in a dynamic fashion to heat and touch.

“Stepping beyond sensory experience and taking knowledge out of research and into material, we fuse scientific study with creativity to enhance matter at the hidden level. The world is full of unseen magic.” (Bowker, 2015)

Written by Alice Pearce

Edited by Christina Wright

 Bowker (2013) Valediction. [Online] Available at: http://seetheunseen.co.uk/valediction/ (Accessed 24/04/16)

Dezeen (2013) Clothes that change colour according to climate by Lauren Bowker. [Online] Available at: http://www.dezeen.com/2013/12/12/clothes-that-change-colour-according-to-climate-by-lauren-bowker/ (Accessed 24/04/16)

Karpati (2013) Chromosonic: About. [Online] Available at: http://chromosonic.tumblr.com/post/53698775672/chromosonic-research-project-investigates-how-the (Accessed 24/04/16)

Rainbow Winters (2012) Structural Colour. [Online] Available at: http://www.rainbowwinters.com/autumnwinter2012.html (Accessed 24/04/16)

Wired (2015) The Unseen uses chemistry to create reactive fashion. [Online] Available at: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2015-10/17/lauren-bowker-the-unseen (Accessed 24/04/16)