Flashback clothes are carefully crafted nuclear photobombs

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Flashback, menswear by Betabrand, uses a higly reflective material sure to make an impression in flash photos. Photo: Betabrand
Flashback menswear uses a highly reflective material that's sure to make an impression in flash photos. Photo: Betabrand

Most clothing designers like to see their clothes well photographed. Betabrand’s Steven B. Wheeler has menswear that just might ruin a photo — and that’s part of the cool factor.

Wheeler and DJ Chris Holmes teamed up to design five pieces called Flashback, clothing made of a highly reflective fabric that will bounce any iPhone flash right back through the lens.

In most cases, the result produces a nuclear look, with the silhouette of the clothes distractingly white hot. Surrounding details either get lost in the shadows or simply go unnoticed because the eyes zero in on the aura of the Flashback clothing.

To get the effect, microscopic glass beads are bonded to fabrics like polyester. The beads act like tiny mirrors when struck by light. This type of reflective material is commonly used in running and cycling gear as well safety vests for construction workers and police officers.

What makes the Flashback clothes especially bright is the shark-gray base color. It is stylish in normal light but definitely earns its name at night when camera flashes come out.

“It’s really more of just a fun thing for people to wear and photobomb other people taking pictures,” said Wheeler, Betabrand’s senior designer of menswear. “You’ll show up, even if you’re like a football field away.”

Betabrand is a crowd-funded clothing company launched in 2010. The San Francisco-based company produces fashion prototypes of pants, shirts, shoes, jackets, skirts and the like, and will mass-produce pieces that reach funding goals.

Betabrand's Halo Hat, $49.30. Photo: Betabrand
Betabrand’s Halo Hat, $49.30. Photo: Betabrand

In the opening days after Flashback clothing was posted to the Betabrand website, the Photobomber Hoodie ($205.20) and Silver-Screen Scarf ($70.20) surpassed funding goals. The Illuminati Suit Jacket ($406.30), Illuminati Suit Pants ($227.80) and Flashback Halo Hat ($49.30) have a ways to go with less than 25 days left. Betabrand will produce 500 to 700 units of designs that get fully funded, said company founder Chris Lindland.

The Flash back hat and scarf. Photo: Betabrand
The Flashback hat and scarf. Photo: Betabrand

The concept for Flashback clothes was on the minds of Wheeler and Holmes even before the two met.

Wheeler was working with The North Face and noticed how a 3M fabric he was using in a garment was so reflective it ruined flash photos he made with his iPhone. He “pinned” the idea in his mind for a later date to find a wider use for this kind of material.

Holmes, a DJ for singer Paul McCartney, often wondered whether clothing could be designed to render paparazzi photos useless. He and other DJs also found it irritating when fans would crowd around their booths, firing off flash photos with their phones.

Be the guy that sucks all the light out of the room and still be cool. Photo: Betabrand
Be the guy that sucks all the light out of the room and still be cool. Photo: Betabrand

Holmes approached Betabrand about his anti-paparazzi idea and Wheeler, remembering his experience with reflective materials at North Face, began working with the fabric.

“After wearing reflective clothing to several performances, I noticed that photos from those shows always looked odd, because the flash bounced off my clothing would obscure most everything else,” Holmes writes on Betabrand’s website. “It gave me an epiphany: Perhaps I could use this technology for a greater purpose — like making paparazzi photos worthless.”

Wheeler’s research revealed a major difference between the iPhone camera and the flashes used by professional photographers with their DSLRs. More sophisticated flash metering can adjust for the fabric, so Betabrand crafted a story focusing more on fun photobombing pranks with stylish clothing that leaves an impression in any light.

“The folks who’ve rushed to fund these aren’t famous,” Lindland said. “They come from the far larger show-off market. They tend to be festival-goers and EDM (electronic dance music) fans. What’s fun about the fabric is it (makes) you the focus of every photo. Brides, for instance, will ban you from weddings.”