Sies Marjan’s “Multicolor Iridescent Tote and Shirt”
Jenna Wortham Discovers the Healing Powers of Holograms
To fall in love with color is to fall in love with light. Our retinal cells are the original alchemists; they spin light into information that our neurons understand as color. Colors, which are a vehicle for consent, a way to be an active participant in your growth. Studying color healing with Inna Segal’s handbook The Secret Language of Color has taught me that, draping yourself in layers of gold will attract abundance; incorporating dark greens conjures vitality. The pretty pink of rose cultivates love.
And yet. Colors are the antitheses of our modern times. It is not advisable to stand out in a culture that constantly surveils—to be recognizable in the background of a candid Instagram, via a live stream, or even in the panning b-roll in some random YouTube video, as happened to a friend recently. The revival of simple denim, linen and cotton pieces in “natural” palettes is perhaps born of an interest in “basics” (distinguishable from what we call “basic,” mind you).
As in, the notion that in addition to eating local and carrying around a bamboo straw, you also participate in a morality that includes sustainable, single-stream fashion, compelled perhaps from a deeper survival instinct to blend in. To go off the grid, to be incognito in one of the few remaining ways we know how.
The holographic garments swimming upstream in Sies Marjan’s winter collection—trench coats, tote bags, tunics—defy all modern survival instincts. Notes from the collection described these fabrics as a “rainbow scatter…a holographic cocktail of ice blue, light peach and lemon-lime.” Much like how James Turrell’s light sculptures demonstrate how much more there is to see, perceive, and understand, the holographic pieces by Sies Marjan have much to teach us about the power of conspicuous spatial occupation.
Sander Lak, the creative director of Sies Marjan, said in a recent interview that wearing color is “like speaking a language. I love that you can play with color to reflect or shift the mood you want to be in—and the mood of other people.” Iridescent hues are not like their kindred, they are the result of a scientific phenomenon known as “structural coloration,” the presence of nanostructures that interact with visible light, and the occasional pigments, giving the impression of a shimmering mirage (imagine a peacock’s feather). To wear a hologram, then, is not necessarily to project a mood, but to reflect one. To become a chromatic sleight of hand. At a molecular level, it is the closest thing one can come to wearing a Harry Potter (in)visibility cloak: a shift made of shifting colors that are the result of interference with light. I cannot overstate the thrill and terror implicit in opting-in to visibility, to deny yourself the possibility of invisibility. It took several tries to wear the garments in public, but once I did, I willingly surrendered to vulnerability, to tenderness, to the invitation leaving the house drenched in iridescent and holographic fabric will invoke in a place like New York City. There’s power in being able to dazzle, to simply walk down the street and perform without performing.
I took the holographic tote on a hike in the deserts of New Mexico. It had a language all its own that I was not privy to, a level of communication that was only revealed to me by others' interpretations of its presence. It took on the pinks and greens of the Southwest and made them its own; its hyper-visibility functioned as unintentional GPS when I wandered off the trail. Other hikers marveled at the sheen, how it played with the unvarnished midday sun. I loved leaving it next to organic flora, large palms or prickly pear cactus plants, and gray rock formations. The contrast of natural and unnatural is so beautiful it is almost violent. Its own state of matter.
Holograms are the children of mirrors, the original looking-glass. They are the descendants of a long lineage of technology adapted for revelation and introspection. As humans, we are hopelessly dependent on technology for viewing ourselves. We are desperate to understand how others see us, and yet we have never been able to truly manifest tools that show us an unmediated truth. As a half-moving image, a hologram is a permanent record of what something looks like seen from any angle. It is, maybe, the closest thing we have to photographic truth. So is translating holography into clothing a rewriting of language? Of seeing? Of taking a reflection and making it an object? Holography is its own category of philosophy. A photo depicts what light reveals, and a hologram is the concentration of light in space. It can turn you into a walking display of light. And what is light, if not for seeing? If not for that dark art of alchemy, spinning photons into understanding?
The reemergence of the hologram in fashion (Balmain, Margiela, Calvin Klein) mirrors a moment in time tired of concealment, of ignorance, of no longer knowing what is at stake in this moment of excess and anthrobscenity. "I don’t directly consider the political climate when designing but, like everyone else, I’m in the center of it all,” Lak has said. “Sometimes, I want to crawl in a corner or hide under a blanket. Other times, though, I want to just burst into color."
Hold this in your mind: The word hologram comes from the compounded Greek words of ‘holos’ (whole) and “gramma” (message). Together, they form an entirely new language, Morse code, but visual instead of aural. Remember our eyes, those original photomancers? Since they translate light into electrical impulses for our brains to process as images, and holograms interfere with how light works, meaning, as wearers, we are, in effect, manipulating how others see us. Holography as fashion allows us to create new realities, singular experiences that we can invite others to participate in. We routinely manipulate images and colors using primitive photographic technology, building our complex displays of reflective surfaces in the hopes that they might give off an accurate impression of who we think and hope we are.
The hologram was a metaphor for personhood in 2018: pulses of light made by interference. They are not the entire truth, but as close as we can get with the technology that we have available to us. Software already curates our closeness with friends, writes our emails, selects and mediates our entertainment—we are basically welded to our technology, cyborgs in the making. Wearing holograms completes the translation into a cyborg, half person, half projection, created in real time by both us and those interacting with us. Holographic fabric is the natural outcome of that reality, and wearing it feels exactly as futuristic as it should. And yet, its real power comes from new insights into the nature of light, into the nature of what it means to truly reveal yourself at the mercy of others.
Jenna Wortham, staff writer at The New York Times Magazine, co-host of the podcast "Still Processing".