The Unicorn Effect: Why Is Iridescence So Hot Right Now?

The Unicorn Effect: Why Is Iridescence So Hot Right Now?

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Tara Bellucci
Mar 14, 2017
(Image credit: ABC Carpet & Home)

Everywhere you look, more and more products look like a cross between a soap bubble and an oil slick. From fashion to decor to architecture, iridescence is in. Co.Design took an in-depth look into why.

(Image credit: sakhorn/Shutterstock)

It all started back when we were babies. A child's vision begins first to incorporate colors, then textures and finishes. Being intrigued by shimmering, shiny objects is "intrinsic to human development," according to Leatrice Eiseman, the executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.

Eiseman pins the most recent wave of translucent fascination to the introduction of Philippe Starck's Louis Ghost chair for Kartell in 2002. The clear piece sparked more experimentation with glass and acrylic, giving way to the films and coatings that give that shimmery sheen we're seeing these days.

Of course, now isn't the first instance where we've seen light and color interact in this way; LA designer Nobel Truong sites the Light and Space movement that was happening in California in the '60s and '70s as the inspiration for how her pieces play with light. "[James] Turrell, John McCracken, and Larry Bell, and their works with plastics, translucency, and lighting installations spoke to this theme of finding motion in the motionless," Truong tells Co.Design. In fact, those big players have had recent exhibitions and retrospectives; Turrell's Light Reignfall is on view at LACMA through May 2017.

If it appeals to our infant brain, and it's been a trend before, why is it so big right now? Well, "technology is the great enabler," says Eiseman. And while different designers have different ways of creating that color-shifting effect, it only recently became easier to mass produce that rainbow sheen, and it comes from 3M (yep, the makers of Scotch Tape and Post-Its).

Aesop store in Miami
(Image credit: Aesop)

In 2000, 3M created a dichroic finish that, when sandwiched between two layers of glass, gives the piece that soap bubble sheen. In 2013, they produced a film that can be applied to the surface, like cellophane, that gives the same effect without the involved manufacturing process, thus reducing the cost drastically. 3M says the sales of the film have been on the rise since its introduction, and you can see it in action in everything from furniture to architecture.

The rise can also point to the current economic climate. The Federal Reserve announced that they'll be raising interest rates for the first time since the 2008 recession. Eiseman mentioned the a similar thing happening during the dotcom boom: "When that kind of economic freedom takes hold, there's much more experimentation of color." Pair that with the tempestuous political climate, and there's good reason to cling to anything that brings joy, even if it's just shiny rainbows.

Read more over on Co.Design.

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