New beauty brand challenges our perceptions of reality

The Unseen, an innovative material science company, is launching its beauty brand with an eyeshadow that looks different in physical and digital realities

The Unseen launches its beauty brand with Spectra, a 'dual reality' eyeshadow. 
The Unseen launches its beauty brand with Spectra, a 'dual reality' eyeshadow.
(Image credit:

From a studio in east London ‘material alchemist’ Lauren Bowker has been working to change the way the world uses colour.

That might sound mysterious now but chances are it won’t in a few years’ time, because Bowker and her company The Unseen have, like most great innovators, been steadily producing objects that are so ingenious they will no doubt be readily absorbed into the culture once they make their debut.

The Unseen x Swarovski headpiece that reveals the wearer's brain activity

(Image credit:

Take, for instance, The Unseen’s environmentally responsive hair dye, which morphs from black to red depending on the surrounding temperature; or the company’s chameleon-like headpiece made in collaboration with Swarovski and a team of neuroscientists, which uses gemstones coated in temperature-sensitive, colour-changing ink that responds to the wearer’s brain activity. Like a scientifically accurate mood ring, the headpiece reflects changes in emotion, from happiness and excitement to fear and anger, through a shifting range of colours. 

The Unseen beauty brand

While these projects have only been produced on a small scale for a limited audience, The Unseen is finally about to branch into the consumer market with the debut of its direct-to-consumer beauty brand. Launched this week, the brand’s first product is Spectra, a reflective cream eye that transforms under a phone camera’s flash so that what looks like a subtle grey in real life appears as a glittery black in photographs. 

Like all creation’s from The Unseen, Spectra’s dazzling appearance belies its examination of larger philosophical questions. Bowker came up with the idea for Spectra when she was at a gig five years ago and noticed that most people in the audience were watching the performance through their phone rather than looking at what was right in front of them. 

‘I realised that there's a whole generation that lives and consumes through a screen,’ says Bowker. ‘That is their reality. And it’s even more enhanced now because of lockdowns.’ 

‘I just thought, wouldn't it be funny if you created a colour that physically existed, but was only ever seen in the digital space? So it became a kind of interesting question of that digital [versus] physical reality. What is real? How can I create something that exists in both worlds?’ 

The Unseen x Selfridges accessories that change colour according to changes in heat, air pressure, light and other environmental factors. 

(Image credit:

Innovating the industry

Once Bowker and her team had established that this was the question they wanted to address, they then faced the challenge of transforming that idea into a functional beauty product. 

‘What we do,’ explains Bowker, ‘is we find all these cool interactive things out in the world, bring them into our lab, study them, and work to get them across the cosmetic toxicology space. Then we build a formula around that molecule, or pigment, or compound that works best with that particular colour.

‘In the case of Spectra, it's a tiny little black bead that reflects light in a very specific frequency. Now, that's not a new technology. It's basically existed in road signs for the past 50 or 60 years,’ she continues.

'Right now the majority of beauty companies are using the same ingredients over and over again, the same soup ingredients; we wanted to make our own soup. There’s a community out there not being served true newness in beauty and cosmetics.' 

Up next for The Unseen is a commercial version of the colour-changing hair dye, which will be available to purchase in 2022 along with other innovations that Bowker is keeping quiet about for now. Overall, she hopes that The Unseen beauty brand will be an active force of change in the industry. 

‘We all have an interest in the stuff we put onto our bodies,’ says Bowker. '[That stuff] could be better and I think it's our responsibility to slowly change the dial on that through product.

‘But you've got to have some sort of skin in the game, it's no good just being an art bum. I’ve been an artist/designer for many years and I quickly realised that true change comes from education and business. The government isn't doing a very good job, I don't think, of investing in true innovation. They'll invest a lot in the beginning, but not in the journey to [turn something] into a commercial reality. That's the hard part, taking an idea and putting it into someone's hands that they can use every day.

‘When you do that then, to me, that's true innovation.’


Writer and Wallpaper* Contributing Editor

Mary Cleary is a writer based in London and New York. Previously beauty & grooming editor at Wallpaper*, she is now a contributing editor, alongside writing for various publications on all aspects of culture.