At first glance, a new, hot-selling line of U.S. sportswear appears to stain easily. A casual brush of a hand on the fabric leaves a pink imprint,
while a blast of cold air turns the fabric blue. Then, a simple change in body heat or the weather can change the colors again. The unusual hue swings are not an accident.
Hailed—and sometimes dismissed—as the “mood rings of the Nineties,” thermochromie fashions containing special liquid crystals are becoming a popular item throughout the United States and abroad. “In two days, we were totally sold out,” said Joni Chambers, assistant manager of Maurices clothing store in Paducah,
Ky., about 320 km southwest of Louisville. “We have never had these kind of sales.”
The heat-sensitive garments are scientists’ latest contribution to the world of fashion—but people are buying them simply for the fun of it.
Britain’s Royal Society of Chemistry recently marked its 150th anniversary with a London fashion show featuring shimmering thermochromie evening dresses screenprinted with a special ink produced by Merck Ltd. in Dorset, England. At 28° C, the black material becomes red and adopts other colors before turning blue at 33°. Meanwhile, the Generra Sportswear Co. Inc. of Se-
attle is using a thermochromie fabric dye, made by Kyoto, Japan-based Matsui Shikiso Chemical Co. Ltd., to produce its 1960s-style line of T-shirts, shorts, socks, sweatshirts and jeans. Generra chairman Steven Miska says that the company’s exclusive rights to the dye outside Japan led to U.S. sales of more than $75 million since Generra introduced the line in January. But the backlog of orders has forced the company to delay plans to sell the line through Toronto-based Jaytex of Canada until next
January. Said Miska: “We just can’t keep up.” Despite the publicity surrounding their newest applications, thermochromie materials have been used for years in the scientific community. Doctors can use temperature-sensitive liquid crystals that change color to identify circulation problems or tumors, which are warmer than healthy tissue. Others use the
crystals to identify temperature changes or assist in laboratory testing. Still, some chemists say that the fashion appeal of the chemicals may outweigh some of the scientific benefits. Said Leon Loucks, a chemistry professor at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown: “There are less flashy but more precise ways to assess temperature.”
But fashion experts say that the crude showiness of thermochromie material has added a new dimension to the current revival of tie-dyed, so-called psychedelic wear among teenagers. To cash in on the craze, Generra is now planning a more colorsensitive line that will change at 21° C instead of the current 26°. Meanwhile, British chemical executives say they prefer using regular clothes with thermochromie images. Said Merck spokesman Keith Archer: “It’s a more subtle effect than the crude 100-per-cent color.” But fashion buyers remain skeptical that the fabric will keep its golden
hue. They say that despite company claims that embarrassing spots are avoided through “gradual coloration,” there is still the risk that body heat will inadvertently accent groin lines, armpits or unwanted bulges. As well, they say that the novelty may soon wear off. Said Chambers: “It’s too trendy to be around next year.” In the meantime, young consumers are ensuring that this is one fad that stays hot.
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