May 11th, 2015

Frida Kahlo: Fashion Icon

“Frida Kahlo used clothing as an integral part of her artwork and in turn created an iconic image that champions creativity, bravery and the colorful spirit of Mexico. She also used clothing to hide her physical imperfections. Sixty-one years after her death, she has become a fashion genre within her own right. Kahlo’s distinctive look – dark hair piled on top of her head, chunky earrings, a cluster of flowers, an unapologetic unibrow and a visible moustache – became part of her story. Added to that was a flair for style: she dressed in tweaked versions of traditional Mexican clothing. A kind of corset-style bodice and long flowing skirt, both in vibrant colors and covered with rich embroidery, was a signature silhouette. What she wore contrasted with the sleek [Ed: Paris] aesthetic of the dominant fashion of the 1930s and 40s and she stood out on purpose. As such, she has consistently inspired fashion designers – Jean Paul Gaultier, Marc Jacobs, Rei Kawakubo and Dolce & Gabbana included.

Kahlo’s deep connection to clothes was acknowledged by those closest to her. When she died in 1954, aged 47, her husband, Diego Rivera, locked up the room in which her clothes were stored, where they remained for 50 years. Now, a photographic record of more than 300 items can be seen at the Michael Hoppen gallery in London, from May 14th. Photographer Ishiuchi Miyako has documented these items in closeup shots.. [Ed: The photos are featured in Miyako’s new book, “Frida” published by Donlon Books]. Originally worn by women from the Tehuantepec area of Mexico, a matriarchal society, these traditional dresses were adopted by Kahlo as a symbol of strong women. She also wore intricately embroidered Huipil blouses, part of the Mayan tradition, where each pattern on a blouse, typically worn for 30 years, tells the story of the wearer.

Kahlo’s Fashion Codes

1. The Rebozo
This traditional Mexican scarf was made famous by Kahlo. She wore the long, rectangular scarf wrapped around her body or tied in her hair for the majority of her paintings. Traditionally, the scarf is said to make a woman appear more graceful, which is perhaps why Kahlo adopted the style.

2. Unibrow
It is an indisputable fact that Frida Kahlo immortalised the unibrow. Her daring black stripe represents her refusal to conform to the conventional norms of Hollywood beauty and has since inspired others. The unibrow took on various forms in her paintings, from the wing of a hummingbird to thick, exaggerated brush strokes.

3. Tehuana dress
The Tehuana style of dress emerged from the Tehuantepac region of South Mexico. Kahlo adopted this style, dressing in huipil tops and floor-length sweeping skirts, with bright floral prints, thick lace hems and ribbon trims. She mixed the authentic silhouette with fabrics imported from China and Europe, creating her own eclectic style. According to legend, Tehuana women were figures of authority within their society; perhaps, by taking on their traditional dress, Kahlo was displaying her own strength and will.

4. Jewellery
Kahlo completed her look with quantities of elaborate jewellery, from lariat necklaces and mismatched earrings to skull pendants and strung shells. She favoured pre-Christopher Columbus handcrafted pieces by native American Indians, the majority of which are now kept at the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacan, Mexico, located inside Frida’s family home, La Casa Azul.

5. Hair braids
Kahlo often wore her black hair in thick braids piled over the top of her head. She teamed this with floral headpieces: finely wrought crowns of wild flowers and ribbon. For a series of 1940’s self-portraits, she wears an elaborate wreath, with tears dripping from her eyes. The hairstyle, which has been repeatedly revived over the years, has been used on the models contemporary designers.”

The Guardian:
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