Long Live Frida Kahlo!
Posted on 06 July 2017
Frida Kahlo is instantly recognisable. Her dark braids, flowing skirts and bright tropical flowers have become iconic, and her likeness has been increasingly used in popular culture since her death; from postcards to t-shirts.
The Mexican painter, who mostly painted self-portraits (see above), was inspired by Mexican popular culture, she employed a naïve folk art style to explore questions of identity in Mexican society. Nothing was taboo for Kahlo – infertility, abortion, illness, sexuality, gender equality, miscarriage, and heartbreak. All of female life can be found and explored in her work.
Kahlo didn’t care about the expected feminine beauty ideals, she is perhaps best known for her monobrow. Facial hair for women was as unusual in the 1920s and 30s as it is now, and her eyebrows and moustache caused a lot of controversy. Kahlo, of course, didn’t care, indeed it is said she occasionally darkened her monobrow to make it even more distinctive.
During her life Kahlo suffered from many physical impediments that would have darkened the spirit of anyone, but she refused to give up on herself. After suffering from polio as a child, she was then involved in a bus accident in 1925, aged 18, which saw her tragically break her spine, pelvis, collarbone, leg, foot and ribs. She spent months in a full body cast and doctors weren’t sure she would live. But live she did!
Whilst bedridden, her art was her creative outlet. She would paint her surgical corsets in bright colours and psychedelic patterns. When she had her lower right leg amputated in 1952, she created a prosthetic wearing a bright red boot with a bell on it.
The story of her clothing is rather incredible, given that after Kahlo’s death in 1954 the majority of her wardrobe lay untouched for fifty years. Her private dressing room was sealed shut on her partner Diego Rivera’s orders and only opened again in 2004.
Kahlo’s brightly coloured, Mexican folk-influenced garments seem impossibly bold, they reveal the creative heart of a woman with unlimited imagination.
Embroidered dresses in bold colours, bright pink boots, cat’s eye sunglasses; Kahlo adapted the traditional clothing of women from Mexico’s matriarchal society to fit her own needs. Her choices were in part reflective of her experience - she chose hide her surgical scars under long flowing skirts, corset-style tops and blouses.
Since her death Kahlo has become a cultural icon and has been a major point of inspiration for fashion designers. Her influence has rippled through the work of designers including Riccardo Tisci and Dolce & Gabbana. Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Spring/Summer 1998 collection is explicit in its admiration – full of layers, bright patterns, and boxy tailoring, with the models’ looks topped off with a pair of iconic, thick-set brows.
Throughout her life Kahlo used her wardrobe choices as a means to play with perception, helping to define how she occupied space as a woman, as well as an artist. Kahlo’s clothing archive speaks of the woman, not simply the wearer. The woman who rose above her pain; who was outspoken and brave in the face of tragedy; the seducer and the socialist.