Fashion & Technology seems to be two different logics and rarely are there any good examples of the two disciplines merging into successful alloys and reaches us as true fashion”. It might be because technology usually lacks the Quinta Essentia of fashion – the spirit of myth.

An approach that might turn out fruitful in the quest for combining fashion and technology is by referring to another historical movement trying to combine spirit and science in mythical and mystical ways – alchemy. From being a proto-science blamed for charlatanism it has specific qualities energizing and transmutating dead matter into living metaphors, just like fashion brings garments into a mythical existence as our second skin.

Alchemy like fashion is esoteric manipulations and transformations containing many layers of meanings, allegories and references since none of them have the intention to separate physical (material) aspects from the metaphysical (myth) interpretations. They both engage in bringing the potential inner form out of raw material (or making me a more desired “me” than before) – spiritual teleology and mythical technique. Both are practices of mystical transformations, non-quantifiable and non-scientific but nonetheless bridge our inner and outer life (microcosm and macrocosm) in a highly recognizable way.

But alchemy is also the birthplace of modern cosmetics where distillation and medicine became one, embalming and vitalizing skin as well as purifying scents refining the sap from ethereal matter. But these material manipulations are mere symbols of inner transformations – just like underwear can change our confidence or a peel makes us perform different in social situations.

By combining these practices in an attempt to re-mystify technology and inserting it into mythical structures we hope to further the practical discussions on fashion and technology by bringing it into another generation of thought. It will be a spiritual journey for technology exploring harmonies, magic and asymmetries in how we can see technology in combination to fashion. If we understand fashion and cosmetics as something beyond consumer culture we might reach the mythical strengths of these disciplines to inject them into a mystical alloy of ethereal electronics or digital perfume.

Alchemy as a tool for re-mystifying technology

The word’s etymology is many folded and disputed but one meaning is from the Greek [chumeia] meaning “cast together”, “pour together”, “weld”, “alloy”. Alchemy is protoscientific, combining various cross-over elements from many disciplines (chemistry, astrology, occultism, spiritualism, medicine, metallurgy etc). It should not be read as simply material transformations (lead to gold) but as spiritual change (purifying gold as purifying the soul, combining readings of microcosm and macrocosm as interdependent) – thus material manipulations are mere symbols of spiritual and inner transformations. As esoteric manipulations and transmutations containing many layers of meanings, allegories and references since they never had the intention to separate physical (chemical) aspects from the metaphysical interpretations. It was about bringing the potential clarified/purified inner form out of raw material (a higher spirit/god out of fallen/sinful man) – spiritual teleology.

The common view on alchemy as charlatanism and pseudo-science is mostly an enlightenment myth. From being supported by the church (and most alchemists were clerics) after William of Ockham (God could not be limited by human reason, but has to be accepted by faith alone) the Pope John XXII in the early 1300s issued an edict against alchemy. (already emperor Diocletian ordered the burning of alchemic books in Alexandrian 292 after a revolt.) The fall of alchemy can also be connected to the political ideas of the enlightenment.

Alchemy was in this time not defeated by scientific progress as much as the change of political climate. Alchemy was seen as a subjective and personal process, where both gold and eternal life became symbols of egoistic goals for a scientist. After the 30-year war the enlightenment science was instead regarded as the foundation for a new state and progress for mankind. Knowledge and science were regarded a common treasure and tool for changing everybody’s life, not only the scientist himself. The alchemic practice fell into the shadow with shame.

Most important for this workshop is that alchemy is also the birthplace of modern cosmetics and especially perfume. Through the development of distillation techniques, combined with medicine, using mortar and glass, many of the fathers of modern science spent as much time on alchemy as their now famous enlightment works – Newton, Linnaeus, Brahe among others.

Alchemy saw no difference between subject and object as such (the observer/actor was a definite part of the world). The border between the two was blurry and changes took place in both, corresponding. The borders are fluid and no boundaries exist between the two.

The Prima Materia was the cosmogenic myth (which might be similar to the fashion myth) – it was at the center of the practice to distill the pure essence of matter. A matter that is life itself.
The philosopher’s stone is in fashion the constant search for the “perfect bag” or the transformation to the perfect self-image… (also correlates to the functional, as the bag)

The alchemical process was tantamount to both self-knowledge and to the knowledge of the divine and the alchemic practice required not only purifying materials but also purifying the spirit. The mythical/religious practice was an internal part of the transmutation process. (– very similar to the conscious change of both self-image and knowledge of the fashion world. The “new skin” in the shopping bag is both a material and spiritual experience, both a piece of matter but also a part of the immaterial future of promising expectations)

Alchemy – perfume

Smell has long been marginalized by sight as a sense and has since enlightenment been regarded as a “lower” sense connected to animals and primitive desires, filth and sickness (and long was smell seen as the cause of illness rather than the effect form it – think the masks of plague doctors).
Immanuel Kant decreed that smell was the “lowest” of the senses and not worthy of cultivation. To marginalize it became the “civilized” man’s sign. (Aftel: Essence and Alchemy p20-21)
Alchemy was based on the belief that the Quinta essentia (life and the substance of stars - fifth element) could be found in raw material extracted, purified, and reinserted into matter in transformed shape and become life elixir. (Aftel: p30-31)

The famous perfume maker Charles Lilly made early contributions to a trend of DIY-perfume literature reaching its peak in the end of 19th century making essays on combining recipes with advice on agriculture, medicine, beauty treatments and thoughts on society and woman’s place in it. (Aftel: p40)
In alchemy every scent is two folded – containing sap/juice and mystery. Sap is the physical aspect, the material of the scent itself. Mystery is the perfect/complete part of the combined ingredients, leaven/permeate by the inner nature and ethereal qualities. Natural scents have both sap and mystery, they are the essence of the material from which they originate, but cannot be reduced to just their material shape – they are too many folded, dynamic and complex in their connotative nature (a Moroccan rose contains traces of Egyptian and Roman rose varying in seasons etc). (Aftel: p58)

Alchemy – transmutations

The foremost component of alchemy is the act of transmutation. This term is favored before transformation since it also includes an inner ontological change and not only outer, physical form. A transmutation is a metamorphosis, entailing some form of gnosis – inner change from potency to act. (and like a butterfly – a becoming of a higher being) Transmutations are then forms of esotericism and as such “both a way of life and an exercise of vision” (Antoine Faivre, “Pour une approche figurative de alchemie,” in Mystiques, Théosophes et Illuminés au siécle des luminéres. (Paris, 1971; reprint, Hildesheim and New York, 1976).
“Puffers” was the term for alchemists only interested in the material levels of transformations and as such manitined that the Philosophers stone was material gold and only that.

The process of putting a perfume together in conscious and reflective meditation could be turned into a practice of mindfulness where the act of mirroring oneself in the creation process becomes a dialogue for deeper understanding of oneself in relation to one’s scent and self.
With reflecting the image one wants to create of oneself and where we as consumers usually have had to buy finished solutions and products, the act of making one’s own perfume can turn into a re-newed act of individuation (Simondon talks about the constant reforming of identity in flow as a process of individuation, quite like the “selfing” practices of Giddens).

What is Electronic Etherealism?

A digital perfume of sorts, not producing scents but instead using the inherent qualities of the electronic circuit (not necessarily software) – a revelation of the Quinta Essentia of technology – the life that flows through the circuits, unseen by the enlightened engineer. It is the practice of blending the vocabularies and methods of mystic and science back together into a field that can transmit new qualities between the thinking of perfume to fashion. Communicating the mystic qualities of perfume through electronic devices and fashion jewelry.

When Roland Barthes, in his book The Fashion System, proposes that the magazine is "a machine that produces fashion" it is a perfect example on how academic understanding of fashion is locked up into a semiotic engineering cage of thinking. Here the system is seen as a logical tool, a functional mechanical apparatus that can be taken apart and is the additive sum of its parts. The channel is in itself cold and withdrawn, a scientific tool of power.

Proposing another reading of the diffraction of fashion, the magazine could instead be seen as a messenger, taking the role of Hermes or of Angels. Further the vectors of myth in the fashion system could instead be understood as products of belief and magic, but practiced by professional agents of liturgy, the "priests" of the fashion "cathedral". Fashion is in this sense a mystical practice of summoning and trans-substansiation, hidden for the public behind a screen of religious images (the iconostas).

To bring these mystical aspects of fashion into view we hope alchemic mirrors can reflect the fashion and technology operations in a new light.

How does it relate to the above?

By embracing the connection between alchemy and cosmetics through history and also bypass some of the narrow logics of electronic engineering in the sense of “functionality” to instead introduce critical and mythical qualities into the process we can further the discussion on what wearables and “smart” jewelry can be.

Instead of focusing on what smart and helpful things can be done or what messages that can be communicated the alchemic processes are connected to divinity, belief, worship, inner change, symbolism and mythical celebration.


The forming of this new alloy is an orchestration of flows into a common action field of fashion and technology. Putting things together and remixing subs tans and myth is a turbulent act. The word “harmonia” means in Greek join or combine – creating beauty of combinations (in harmony). The counter-flows in equal proportion in an electrical circuited is a flow in harmony. But unstable relations of turbulence and tension is also a characteristic of electricity.

“The word electricity entered the English tongue in a 1650 translation of a treatise on the healing properties of magnets by Jan Baptist van Helmont, a Flemish physician and Rosicrucian who worked on the borderline between natural magic and modern chemistry. Though Helmont abandoned the hoary doctrines of the four elements, he remained spiritually committed to the alchemy of "pyrotechnia," the Paracelsan labor of the forge. As an incorporeal force coaxed out of matter, the quicksilver spunk of electricity signified for many of Helmont's ilk the spiritual energies pregnant in the physical universe, the elixir of the World Soul, the spark of Creation. Many of the earliest books on electricity described the force in distinctly alchemical terms, dubbing it the "ethereal fire," the "quintessential fire," or the "desideratum," the long-sought universal panacea.” (from “Techgnosis” by Erik Davis)

One aspect of fashion that can also be further elaborated is how authenticity is a ludic quality in a field largely proposed as superficial. In ancient Egypt the process of creating glass stimulated special and priceless magical powers, and was in this sense as prideful and authentic as the jewels they were mimicking. The transmutation of materials released magical powers… (as the glass necklaces of Tutankhamen)




Organized by Studio 5050 & Self-Passage