Straight Out of Harry Potter — Color-Shifting Fashion Is Here - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Straight Out of Harry Potter — Color-Shifting Fashion Is Here

Straight Out of Harry Potter — Color-Shifting Fashion Is Here

By Jeanne Martinet


Because 50 shades of fashion can be empowering.

By Jeanne Martinet

A young woman sits in the stylist’s chair, staring intently in the mirror as her newly dyed light purple hair is blow-dried. Within seconds, the targeted hair is transformed into a neon hot pink. As the airstream is directed to another part of her head, the pink patch magically reverts to its original cool violet.

Welcome to the world of color-changing fashion, and to the first-ever heat-reactive hair color, Pravana Vivids Mood Color, which hit salons earlier this month. And it’s just one of the latest innovations in this trend. Not only are there hundreds of new color-changing accessories on the market like jewelry and sunglasses (the frames change color, not just the lenses), there are new nail polishes and cosmetics that spool up or down the spectrum, as well as lines of color-shifting clothing that are more sophisticated than ever — including dresses that light up when you breathe or that pulse to match your heartbeat.

There are many animals that have the ability to change color in response to their environment. Until now, humans — beyond blushing when embarrassed, or suntanning their skin — could only envy this natural world of self-coloring artistry. But thanks to smart textiles that utilize LEDs, cutting-edge color-changing compounds like thermochromic dyes and wind-reactive inks, and recent developments in revolutionary materials like graphene, technology can offer us poor old monochromatic beings a little bit of the power of these wondrous color-flexible organisms.

Eventually, women will be able to have a nice conservative color while they are at work, then when they leave, they can have bright pink hair.

Keiffer Skipper, stylist, Fox and Jane Salon

What’s driving this presto-chango trend, besides our ever-deepening relationship with technology? Some experts claim that in the future, fashion is going to be much more about consumer control. For example, there is a material called Fabrican, which is spray-on clothing from a can. And with 3D printers, soon you’ll be able to design and manufacture your own custom clothing at home. “Everything is moving toward being much more customer driven,” says Helen Raynus, an artist and designer who teaches at Parsons School of Design in New York. “Changing-color technology is part of that.”

It’s already happening on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where Keiffer Skipper, location leader and senior stylist at the Fox and Jane Salon, has begun applying Pravana Vivids’ product on eager clients. Mood Color comes in four palettes: cool violet to warm pink; lime green to sunny yellow; smoky gray to invisible; and tropical peach to invisible. “The only downside is that it is super temporary; it washes out after only one or two shampoos,” says Skipper. “So right now it’s mostly for a festival girl, or someone who’s going to a big party that night.”


And how quickly does the color metamorphosis occur without a blow-dryer aimed at one’s head? “If you were to walk out into the cold air from a heated building, it will change relatively quickly,” says Skipper. “However, the cooler color — for example, the violet — takes a little longer to change to the warmer color, the pink. There’s still a lot of things to work out, but we are really excited to see where this can go. Eventually, women will be able to have a nice conservative color while they are at work, then when they leave, they can have bright pink hair.”

People seem to want the ability to change color for the opposite reason most animals do. Rather than camouflage ourselves, we do it to be noticed, to stand out. It’s the desire to feel that we are somehow magical, miraculous. When so much of modern life is beyond our control, we can — at least as far as our outer appearance goes — acquire superpowers by turning our whole body into a self-revealing, fluctuating, rainbow spectacle. A human mood ring. Nymphadora Tonks and the rest of the gang at Hogwarts would be proud.

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The urge to have fashion reflect our high-tech world may be at work here, but some experts point to an older, simpler motivation. Take the confederate rose, for example. Reacting to temperature, light and other factors, the flowers of the Hibiscus mutabilis “open white but darken during the day to pink, then red,” says Claudio Vazquez, co-owner of Izel Plants, an online store specializing in flora native to the U.S. No one knows exactly why evolution selected this type of morphing for the confederate rose and some species of morning glory. “One theory is that the color change attracts a wider variety of pollinators,” says Vazquez.

Hmm. A wider variety of pollinators. Isn’t that, after all, what we are doing with our transmogrifying hair dyes and flashing clothing? Donning a big, bright sign that says “Come hither”?

However, color-changing wearable tech is not all about the birds and the bees — there’s also a more serious application: health monitoring. New York City–based designer Nikolas Gregory Bentel recently released Aerochromics, a line of long-sleeved shirts that change colors according to the level of air pollution. Researchers at MIT are working on biosensing ink for creating tattoos that vary their colors to reveal medical conditions such as high blood sugar or sodium levels.

Who knows what’s next? Maybe someday soon the expression “I’m turning green with envy” will not just be a metaphor.

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