Plenty of fashion designers send models down the runway in garb so dramatic no sane person would ever really wear it. Lauren Bowker turns those theatrics (and the heat) up a notch, by lighting her pieces on fire.
A self-described alchemist, Bowker cares more about chemistry and atmosphere than silhouettes or patterns, which isn't to say they her pieces aren't gorgeous in their own right. More specifically, she’s interested in using her designs as a vehicle for sensing our otherwise invisible environments. "My alchemy is searching to reveal what we don't see, feel, hear, or know around us and making it seen," Bowker says. For her most recent collection, called Air, this is manifested through color-changing ink that reacts to temperatures.
Bowker and her London studio, The Unseen, have spent 10 years working on the chemical compound she injected into a huge tiered leather jacket that engulfed the wearer like a mascot costume, and then ignited: "We tailored the ink to change color very quickly upon contact with the fire, to reveal the atmosphere around the flame through color change to our witnesses," she tells Co.Design. "The rest was magic."
The point of the jackets is to sync certain colors with seasonal cues, like brighter colors in the spring-like climates and blacks during frostier, winter temperatures. But heat is also just one stimulus that can set off her bespoke inks—UV rays, friction, sound, moisture, and pollution can also spark changes in material colors.
We've seen some other temporal-sensitive clothing projects, like this dress that humiliatingly goes invisible when the wearer gets turned on. But Bowker's work is a more radical idea that could have heavy-hitting scientific applications later. Bowker’s first successful ink from eight years ago changes from yellow to black based on the pollution particles in the air; these days, she’s fielding inquiries from the health care and auto industries. For the temperature-sensitive inks in particular, Bowker suggests the possibility of creating T-shirts that could communicate the severity of an asthma attack, or a jacket that can acclimatize, lizard-like, to the weather.