Beauty

Beyond the Interface: Lauren Bowker, Founder of THE UNSEEN, on Opening Beauty's Pandora Box

A conversation on intelligent beauty and why the industry deserves to embrace a more raw, honest and bold approach.

2,386 Hypes

Beyond the Interface is a fashion-tech series that explores the vibrant spectrum of next-gen designers and artists. The series provides an inside look into the industry’s most promising names and explores the radical shifts challenging all creative practices.

For the seventh installment, Hypebae spoke with Lauren Bowker, Founder and Creative Director of THE UNSEEN, a London-based material science company that is revolutionizing how we perceive and express beauty. In a captivating conversation, Bowker spoke about intelligent beauty and its potential to ignite a revolution.


Ever since its inception as a pioneering material science laboratory back in 2014, THE UNSEEN, along with its direct-to-consumer beauty label, THE UNSEEN Beauty, born in 2021, has fearlessly spearheaded the revolution in the beauty industry. Guided by the visionary leadership of founder and modern alchemist, Lauren Bowker, an exceptional collective of scientists, creatives and designers has united to create a realm where science merges seamlessly with artistry, innovation defies all conventions and beauty undergoes a stunning metamorphosis.

At the very core of THE UNSEEN’s philosophy lies an audacious mission–to blur the lines between the familiar realities and the hidden realms of possibility. Their groundbreaking concepts, including SPECTRA Eye Colour–a cream product that transforms into a reflective silver when exposed to a phone camera’s flash–and COLOUR ALCHEMY–a temporary hair color that bewitches with its enchanting holographic effects, shifting shades in response to temperature and sunlight–have seized the attention of the world, igniting phygital sensations.

Bowker’s relentless passion for reshaping beauty originates from her background in material science and design. Frustrated by the lack of innovation within the beauty industry and captivated by the way younger generations experience life through their screens, she embarked on a remarkable journey to create products that resonate harmoniously with the intelligence and adaptability of our bodies, as well as the natural world that surrounds us. Within THE UNSEEN, they perceive the world through an entirely different prism, firmly embracing the belief that beauty should be an embodiment of intelligence, deeply attuned to our individuality and capable of unveiling an unprecedented facet of beauty–raw, authentic and daring.

In celebration of the recently introduced COLOUR ALCHEMY Eye System, which showcases a one-of-a-kind iridescent gradient of color, we had the pleasure of conversing with both Bowker and the newly bestowed art director of the brand, as well as the visionary behind the conceptual art project Makeup Brutalism, Eszter Magyar. Keep scrolling to immerse yourself in our exclusive interview.

the unseen beauty lauren bowker colour alchemy interviews london beyond the interface

The Unseen Beauty

This is the very first interview we are doing about THE UNSEEN for Hypebae, so I would really appreciate it if you could introduce yourself and provide a glimpse about what inspired THE UNSEEN Beauty to our audience.

LB: Absolutely. My name is Lauren Bowker, and I am the founder of THE UNSEEN. Our business is rooted in material science, with the ultimate goal of visualizing the unseen and bringing new realities to people. THE UNSEEN Beauty, in particular, envisions itself as the frontier of intelligent beauty. The driving force behind our work was the urge to harness the knowledge and expertise we have gained as material scientists and artists over the past decade. We have been actively visualizing data and exploring its possibilities. We wanted to channel this wealth of experience into the realm of cosmetics, by creating intimate and innovative products that empower individuals to express themselves in fresh and transformative ways. Our mission is to make a lasting impact on the industry.

the unseen beauty lauren bowker colour alchemy interviews london beyond the interface

The Unseen Beauty

I love that. How did this love for modern alchemy materialize?

LB: I never had any plans to start a business, but I’ve always been an incredibly curious person. I find immense joy in exploring the unknown, whether it’s the depths of pain, the uncharted territories in nature or the ethereal realms of energies. During my studies at the RCA (Royal College of Art), my passion for the unseen continued to grow. I embarked on a journey of exploration through textiles, sculpture and formula development, utilizing scientific formulas and techniques to bring these hidden realities to life and make them tangible.

As my work evolved, I began to realize the potential to create something more significant. This realization inspired me to assemble teams of brilliant minds–scientists, engineers and designers–who shared my vision. Together, we ventured into the realm of visualizing data, catering to diverse industries and clientele. For instance, we worked with Formula 1 teams seeking insights into the aerodynamics of their cars. However, amidst this success, I remained rooted in my true motivation. The essence of my drive was not solely focused on the business aspect or creating formulas for others; it was fueled by my passion for offering people the opportunity to experience the unseen and discover new dimensions of themselves and the world. It was a calling I couldn’t ignore.

This renewed sense of purpose reignited my creative spark, leading me to embark on new ventures. One such project involved the creation of color-changing hair dye dubbed Fire, and when a video showcasing this innovation was shared online, the response was overwhelming, captivating millions of people worldwide. This prompted profound reflection–why were these phenomena, so frequently depicted in science fiction, still elusive in real life? In my quest for answers, I delved deeper into the beauty industry, uncovering its toxic underpinnings, from harmful ingredients to manipulative marketing practices and stagnant norms. The need for change became unmistakable.

the unseen beauty lauren bowker colour alchemy interviews london beyond the interface

The Unseen Beauty

That’s beautiful, thank you. On that note, in not a long time, you’ve unveiled three products that have completely disrupted the way we perceive and even think about beauty. This obviously comes from a much longer journey, what would you say have been the highlights?

LB: THE UNSEEN Beauty has only been around for about a year and a half, a little bit longer, since its launch in October 2021. So, yeah, it’s been about a year and a half-ish. There have been numerous highlights, although I’m not very good at acknowledging them because I tend to be a critical person and always think things could have been done better or improved for the next time. However, if I set aside my self-impostor syndrome, the fact that we were able to bring a product into the world is incredible. The journey from having an idea to actually executing it takes a lot of time, energy and support from a team of people.

There were challenges and naysayers along the way, but with the help of my team, we overcame them. I couldn’t have done it alone. Each product’s journey is unique, as we don’t simply create mass-produced items in collaboration with manufacturers. We make everything in our lab in Dalston and handle every aspect of the process. So, each product has its own complexities and victories. One memorable moment was when FKA Twigs wore our product at the British Fashion Awards without even asking us. It was a significant moment for me because she is known for their individuality and self-expression, and for her to identify with our product was truly special. Seeing the product being recognized and worn by someone from the world of fashion was a testament to its impact. We also recently had pop-ups, and witnessing people’s reactions and the reality of everything we had imagined was truly amazing.

And actually, building on that, what I love about the brand is the perfect balance it strikes between innovation and accessibility. It’s evident in the way you portray it on social media by inviting people to try the products, come in and test them, and even take photos. This inclusiveness and interaction with the community seem to be integral to your approach. Could you share why this aspect is so important to you?

LB: Because, you know, it’s all about learning and collaboration. We don’t claim to be beauty experts, nor do we want to dictate how people should look or what they should wear. Our goal is to create tools and products that excite us as a company and offer something that individuals can explore and embrace. That’s where the power of the community comes in. They provide valuable insights and feedback, telling us what they want and need. As a small business, we have the luxury of working closely with our community. We value their opinions and experiences because they are the ones who truly love and use the products. We want them to guide us in determining what works and what doesn’t, what textures feel good, and what formulations are effective. It’s a collaborative process that keeps us connected and grounded.

Unlike larger influencer-led brands that work directly with manufacturers and dictate what should be produced, we prefer a more intimate approach. We invite people into our lab, into our space, so they can be a part of the formulation process. We can have discussions, make adjustments on the spot and create small batches to test and refine. It’s a hands-on approach that allows us to stay true to our vision and ensure that our products meet the needs and desires of our community. We never want to lose this connection and involvement with the people who inspire us. It’s what sets us apart and keeps our brand authentic. Our lab is a place of constant experimentation and improvement, where we bring in individuals who are passionate about the products to share their insights. Together, we create something special, and we cherish the opportunity to maintain this collaborative spirit.

Undeniably, color has played a significant role in your recent releases, captivating the attention of many. I’m curious to delve deeper into your fascination with color. What is it about color that enthralls you?

LB: Color is a powerful language, a unique form of communication. Even though I personally prefer to wear black, which is often considered the absence of color, I recognize the significance of color in our lives. When working with colors that represent data, they become meaningful and can convey vital information. Sometimes, this data can be highly sensitive, such as indicating an infected wound or the need to use an asthma inhaler. In these cases, color becomes a crucial part of the message, conveying detailed information without the need for complex sentences. Wearing black allows me to create a space for the colors to speak. It provides a neutral backdrop, allowing the colors to shine and communicate their message effectively. For me, color is like a language, one that is constantly expressed and communicated. It’s truly fascinating.

EM: However, let us not overlook the fact that black itself is a color. In fact, it encompasses an extensive range of shades, just as every other color does. Moreover, color is akin to a two-way street. While it holds personal significance and serves as a means of expression for individuals, its interpretation may vary among different observers. How can we be certain that we perceive colors in the same manner?

the unseen beauty lauren bowker colour alchemy interviews london beyond the interface

The Unseen Beauty

What are the challenges when it comes to color in cosmetics?

LB: In the realm of color cosmetics, innovation can be an incredibly challenging endeavor. The legal regulations and legislation surrounding colorants make it a daunting area to navigate. Unlike skincare or haircare, where innovation is relatively easier, color cosmetics face stringent restrictions. It may seem like an insurmountable task, but I believe there’s an opportunity for disruption in this space. Perhaps one could label those who venture into this challenging territory as “Psychopaths” or “Narcissists,” driven by the desire to conquer the hardest face of innovation. It’s true that formulating color cosmetics is not an easy feat, and I wouldn’t dare undermine the complexity of creating high-quality formulas. However, it is not impossible.

the unseen beauty lauren bowker colour alchemy interviews london beyond the interface

The Unseen Beauty

What are you most excited about COLOUR ALCHEMY Eye System?

EM: To me, this product stands out as the most exhilarating I have ever come across in my entire career as a makeup artist. What sets it apart is its revolutionary approach, one that defies conventional beauty standards and embraces a rare combination of bravery and honesty. In an industry where lofty claims about redefining beauty are often just empty marketing tactics, this product dares to be different. To fully appreciate its essence, one must possess the courage and audacity to recognize its novelty and importance. It represents an experiment–an exploration into uncharted territory. It’s an embodiment of excitement and boldness, surpassing the superficial claims that many individuals make about themselves. This is not a mere cosmetic accessory; it delves deeper into the realm of uniqueness, and confronting that uniqueness can be both thrilling and intimidating.

The uniqueness of this product is truly fascinating and what makes it so exciting. In particular, I find the textured nature of the eyelid to be absolutely amazing. It challenges conventional beauty standards that emphasize flawlessness and perfection. People have a genuine appreciation for texture, yet when it comes to the relationship between human skin and texture, there is often a sense of unease. Many strive to achieve the smoothest and most flawless surfaces on themselves. However, this product celebrates and embraces texture, which is what makes it incredibly beautiful and distinctive.

LB: During the shoot, we didn’t select the models based on their specific thermal profiles; however, they turned out to have incredibly diverse characteristics. Just by observing the numerous images we’ve captured throughout months, which amount to thousands, we can identify certain trends and patterns. One notable trend is the captivating shift towards an iridescent or holographic effect that gracefully encompasses the eyes, evoking a blend of peacock hues. Additionally, there’s a distinct camouflage-like tapering effect and another style reminiscent of a vignette. While some similarities may exist, no two instances have been identical. Each model possesses a unique allure. For instance, Eszter showcased an extraordinary bright lime green shade that I had never seen before.

the unseen beauty lauren bowker colour alchemy interviews london beyond the interface

The Unseen Beauty

You’re clearly looking towards the future while also embracing the past. What are your aspirations for the next five to ten years?

LB: The ultimate vision for Unseen Beauty is to establish itself as a global beauty brand that revolutionizes the industry and transforms individuals’ perception of beauty. Our goal is to redefine beauty by introducing complete novelty, from incorporating sustainable ingredients to developing interactive and intelligent formulations. Why should there be an abundance of foundation options when a single foundation can adapt to suit anyone’s needs? Why not create eyeshadow palettes that offer endless possibilities or consist of entirely new and environmentally-friendly ingredients that biodegrade?

We aim to infuse our scientific knowledge into every aspect, shaping a new frontier in beauty. While the success of the brand is undoubtedly important, my personal journey revolves more around the ability to unveil unseen realities to people. Over the past 12 years, Unseen Beauty has continually reinvented itself, driven by the presence of materials all around us. What motivates me is the transformative power to reveal hidden possibilities that individuals never knew existed. My intention is to embrace an artistic approach and introduce an abundance of novelty over the next few years, expanding our reach to different countries and cultures.

the unseen beauty lauren bowker colour alchemy interviews london beyond the interface

The Unseen Beauty

Finally, I ought to ask, is there anything you’d like to see that you haven’t seen yet?

LB: My personal quest, which has been a source of frustration and longing, is to find a remedy that allows me to visualize my pain. Dealing with a debilitating back condition, I often find it challenging to effectively convey the level of discomfort I experience to my doctors or even to myself. It’s a perplexing situation where I am present in my body, yet unable to fully comprehend the extent of my pain. This realization sparked a question in my mind: Can I utilize certain tools or techniques to communicate and understand my pain better? It became my primary goal, driven by the desire for individual relief. Moreover, in the current moment, I find myself yearning for a deeper connection with nature. It’s a longing to immerse myself in natural surroundings and witness its innate beauty and tranquility. This inclination aligns with my overall quest for understanding and finding solace in my physical and emotional experiences.

EM: I have a strong desire to witness a significant shift in the beauty industry. It’s a complex and somewhat contradictory longing, as I find myself more aware of what I don’t want to see. The immense toxicity that permeates the industry is deeply troubling to me. Brands often prioritize harmful beauty standards, leading to detrimental effects on individuals. This issue affects everyone, particularly with the pervasive influence of social media from a young age. It is disheartening that this global pandemic of beauty standards remains largely unaddressed.

What excites me the most about this brand is the potential to redefine beauty products. We have the opportunity to create alternatives that focus on something beyond mere beautification. Placing excessive importance on physical beauty should no longer be the norm. There are countless other fascinating aspects of being human that deserve attention. Makeup should serve as a form of self-expression and adornment, rather than a means to hide flaws or enhance and mask one’s true self. It should be embraced as a playful tool for self-expression rather than a crutch to feel complete or worthy.

the unseen beauty lauren bowker colour alchemy interviews london beyond the interface

The Unseen Beauty

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