Artists of the 21st century don’t paint with watercolours. Their tools are dazzling lustres and PET-free glitters, vibrant colours from the deepest metallics to the softest pastels. No easel or sketch pad for a canvas, but a freshly drawn bath, still as glass, in anticipation of a sodium bicarbonate explosion.
In case you hadn’t noticed, #BathArt has taken off in a big way. “The rise of photo-led, social channels like Instagram mean we can engage with a community of people who enjoy bath bombs and want to share photographs of their experience,” explains Lush chief digital director and product inventor, Jack Constantine. “When we noticed that people were using the hashtag #BathArt, we wanted to join the conversation and challenge ourselves to make even more spectacular visual displays for people to enjoy.”
The bath bomb, a ball of perfume, bicarb and essential oils, was first created by co-founder and product inventor Mo Constantine back in 1989. In subsequent years the bath bomb has evolved significantly, taking many dramatic shapes and forms.
The rise of #BathArt has led inventors to push new boundaries inspired by the stories told through perfume. Jack explains, “The range we brought out for the Creative Showcase was about how we can tell stories through bath art. They explored unusual topics - Metamorphosis, for example, was inspired by journeys and change. You start with one fragrance and a layer of black, and then another layer of visuals and perfume comes through. The perfume inside is called Dawn and it emerges with this burst of colour - pinks, oranges, yellows - which represent a new era.”
Complex fragrance narratives were envisioned in unfurling hues and fragrance. “They were more like pieces that live in an experiential gallery,” says Jack, “Metropolis, for example, had a light in the centre that changed colour as it touched the water - it was very much an art piece, while Over And Over was half coated in bath melt so it rolls over in an explosion of pink and neroli. Chuck that in the water and move on with your life. It was all about combining benefits on the skin and mood with visual displays to tell stories.
“Bath bombs have always been made with ingredients which have great benefits but we keep trying to up the element of spectacle which means every single experience is unique,” explains Jack. “We’ve experimented with a multi-layered technique - putting two colours together and seeing what we would get out of it - and also developed a new, secret formula, which allows us to create lasting, coloured foam.”
The development of the latter, in particular, was a big breakthrough. “The layer of foam creates a canvas on the bathwater,” Jack explains, “and that means that you can visually display a set of colours. My background is in graphic design and so I work in a very visual way, looking at introducing colour combinations, lustres and glitter. The surface of the water became a new canvas: a layer of foam you could visually display a set of colours coming out. It felt like creating a firework display.”
Stepping up the game once more with Jelly Bombs in 2017, the inventors combined beautifully vivid colours with ingredients like sodium alginate to satisfy all skin needs and bring further texture to your soak. These quirky Jelly Bombs also added an extra tactile layer to your #BathArt canvas, meaning customers were able to explore the syrupy quality of sodium alginate in obsidian Secret Arts, dreamy The Big Sleep and zingy Marmalade, and enjoy added benefits to the skin. Jack explains: “Sodium alginate is from algae, it’s softening because it’s a seaweed. You put it in the water and it creates a layer of jelly; it actually softens the water so you end up with super soft skin.”
Come 2018, and they're handing control fully over to customers with a #BathArt themed Lush Labs launch. The invention of Bubble Brushes - reusable bubble bars that can actually be used to colour and draw on the bubbles in your bath - has taken three years of development, and the result has been worth every minute. Three different fragrances in three different colours ("Roughly the primary colours", says product inventor Gary Shears, "But I say roughly because one of them is neon pink") mean collectors of the full set can create the most dazzling displays yet and sign their name on their bath too. “If you want the ultimate bath art experience," says Gary, "I’d recommend you use another one of our bubble bars for the bubbles and use this one for drawing with.” Flick, dot, draw and colour your foam canvas like never before.
With today's Instagram-worthy bathtubs, filled with dazzling patterns and peaks of coloured foam, it's clear that customers increasingly want a shareable experience - one which is both satisfying and visual - and smartphones give bath lovers the chance to capture their favourite moments. Everyone has the opportunity to be a photographer, and every space has the potential to be a gallery. It’s fitting then that while years of scientific experimentation have led to the development of today’s immersive bathing experiences, Jack maintains that art is at the forefront of what Lush does. “Any creative act is an act of self-expression", he explains, “you have to put your heart and soul into it and always challenge yourself to do better.”