06 August 2019
Our Blue Morpho Jacket recreated one of nature’s most brilliant solutions to high visibility – the iridescent wings of the Blue Morpho butterfly. And the surface of our Solar Charged Jacket can be charged by the sun to glow in the dark like a firefly. The Black Squid Jacket was the next step in our journey. Originally launched in March 2019 it sold out in 3 days, before returning for a second run in August. Based on 500 million years of evolution in the deep sea, it’s a colour-shifting jacket that mimics one of the most advanced biological materials on earth: squid skin.
A complex network of nerves on the surface of every squid acts like an electrical skin to help it change colour and appearance at high speed. It can make itself highly visible by creating astonishing optical illusions in fractions of a second. Or make itself practically invisible by camouflaging to precisely match its surroundings.
Because of its transformational properties, squid skin is currently the subject of serious scientific study. The goal is to create an equivalent synthetic material that can rapidly camouflage itself by mimicking its surrounding environment. And with the military looking for solutions that would enable soldiers and machines to seemingly disappear, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes reality. The challenge is what timescale that’s on. While nature solved the problem of adaptive camouflage over millions of years, scientists only started trying to replicate these biological systems in the last decade.
This first iteration of the Black Squid Jacket focuses on replicating the elements of squid skin that make it hyper-visible not invisible. Because the same nerve network in the squid’s skin that allows it to change its colour and markings also lets it appear to be emitting stunningly bright light. With a special layer of cells in its skin acting like a mirror, it can turn iridescent and radiantly bright by reflecting and scattering all visible light, creating mesmerising patterns across its skin.
Most colours we see are caused by pigments absorbing and reflecting certain wavelengths of light, but iridescence is caused by structures on the surface of the object interfering with how the light is reflected off it. The interference means that light isn’t simply reflected but scattered. The result is that iridescent colour appears different whatever angle you look at it from. It isn’t constant, and it can’t be. So squid skin can appear to be every possible colour at once, and different from every angle.
While the squid uses microscopic plate-like structures on the surface of its skin to change colour, our jacket uses disruptively-structured microscopic glass spheres. With over two billion of them embedded in resin on the jacket’s surface, and over 40,000 in every single square centimetre, they’re invisible to the naked eye. When light hits the jacket, it travels through the curved surface of these black glass spheres and strikes the back of them, before being reflected back at the original light source and scattered away from it simultaneously, so that the fabric looks like it’s emitting light.
As the jacket develops colour through structural colouration, it acts like a mirror for whatever light conditions you expose it to. When you’re inside or in subdued light conditions during the day, the jacket is a dull metallic black. As you move around, you’ll see flashes of colour in the surface just like you’d find in a pool of oil or sheet of metal.
When exposed to bright light the jacket instantly reflects every colour in the visible spectrum, creating pools of vivid colour that make it look liquid. If you’re out on the slopes in the sun, as colour shifts rapidly across the jacket the entire surface appears to warp, creating patterns that mess with your head. So if you’re trying to be seen on the mountain rather than avoiding detection on the battlefield, then this is your jacket.
Shooting with the flash on it looks like it’s from another planet. The end result is so otherworldly because of how close the flash and lens are. As the jacket reflects light straight back at the flash, it also directly strikes the lens – making the jacket look like it’s emitting light. At the same time the surface of the jacket scatters the rest of the light to give it its mind-bending colour.
And just like squid skin itself the Black Squid Jacket can appear to be every possible colour all at once. Because of the way the disruptively-structured microscopic glass spheres on the surface of the jacket scatter light, two people can be looking at the jacket from two different angles and will see entirely different patterns and colours. Even if you’re holding a camera up to the jacket, what you see through the lens and what you see in real life, will be two different images.