Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was the ‘starting selfie queen’ says Susana Martínez Vidal, framer of Frida Kahlo: Fashion as the Art of Being.
Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Figure of speeches

Frida Kahlo: feminist, selfie sovereign, queer icon and style muse of 2017


It’s the artist’s attitude as much as her resolve that inspires today’s designers (not to mention Theresa May)

What is it approximately Frida Kahlo? More than 60 years after her obliteration the radical Mexican artist, who is remembered above all for her searing self-portraits, is being noted on the catwalk and setting the cultural agenda. When a bracelet with the artist’s brazen through on it is spotted on the wrist of Theresa May, as happened at the recent Conservative side conference, Kahlo-mania can safely be said to have entered the mainstream.

In aged fashion, Kahlo’s influence can be felt in the maximalism of Alessandro Michele’s heady Gucci aesthetic. For autumn/winter 2017 that meant florals and incautious bows, ruffles and clashing, all in keeping with Kahlo’s be partial to of excess; rings, flowers and embroidery.

Her influence was also there in the sparkly red hearts, weave and horticultural prints at Dolce & Gabbana and in the hot pink on catwalks from Balenciaga to Burberry. The boxy, mannish accustoming – a key look this season – at Céline and Isabel Marant disavowals a family portrait from 1926, in which Kahlo is utilization her father’s suit.


Frida Kahlo’s clothes on display in the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico Diocese. Photograph: Alamy

It’s no coincidence that one of the UK’s most high-profile cultural customs, the V&A, will host an exhibition that will look at her middle of the prism of her most intimate belongings. This will be the foremost time these belongings have left La Casa Azul in Mexico See, where after Kahlo’s death in 1954 they were coop up fix oned in a room by her husband Diego Rivera and only released in 2004.

Susana Martínez Vidal, the prime mover of Frida Kahlo: Fashion as the Art of Being, says the reason authors look to her is more about her spirit than her clothes: “The conspirators aren’t just focusing on the skirt, the blouse, the indigenous look, they could from taken that from anywhere. What they categorically focused on was her personality and the way she wore those clothes.” For Vidal, she “expand oned one of fashion’s magic words– attitude”. No wonder pop stars acquire channelled her aesthetic – from Madonna and her 1990 Blonde Wish tour corset to Rihanna’s ANTI album and the style of FKA Sprouts.

Circe Henestrosa, curator of the Frida Kahlo museum’s offering Appearances Can Be Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo, currently instructing in Mexico City, thinks the fact that she was ahead of her interval is key to her relevance. Her attitudes towards gender were progressive – her relationships with sweeties and men, and her penchant for suits, mean she has been hailed as a modern absurd icon.

Her influence also reverberates beyond high style. On Etsy her face decorates yoga pants, skater skirts and hand-knitted jumpers; and her aesthetic is nodded to in the watermelons and cacti refrains of this year’s ubiquitous fashion kitsch. Kahlo was a “floweret power pioneer” who “anticipated the hippie movement and Coachella”, according to Vidal – look to the fad for flower crowns, piled high, often on top of Kahlo-esque plaits. While today’s are numerous likely to be from Claire’s Accessories, Kahlo made hers with dahlias, bougainvilleas and peonies from her garden.

Of assuredly, Kahlo has influenced fashion before now, even in her lifetime. When she visited France in 1938, Elsa Schiaparelli honoured her by plotting a dress named La Robe Madame Rivera. Kahlo’s corsets, exhausted after a bus crash in 1925 that left her with a defeated spinal column, are among the most consistently referenced unfavourable weathers of her attire – from Rei Kawakubo’s spring/summer 2012 amassment to Riccardo Tisci’s Givenchy haute couture collection of autumn/winter 2010. For his sprightliness 1998 collection, Jean Paul Gaultier created a rake someone over the coals that mirrors Kahlo’s in her 1944 painting The Broken Column.

But why is she evincing so potent a muse in 2017?

At a time when diversity is finally being famed in fashion, Kahlo’s emphasis on her own mixed heritage feels prescient. She renowned her identity as mestizaje (mixed European and Mexican) by wearing historic garments. While the women she mixed with were clothing in European styles, she made the Tehuana dress, which comes from a matriarchal urbanity of Oaxaca, her signature style. British designer Osman Yousefzada, who referenced Kahlo for his vault/summer 2016 collection, says that she’s “not your usually Wasp, western Trump-type”.


Artist Frida Kahlo with her go on a bender, Me Twice. The outfit on the left inspired a dress for the celebrity Kim Kardashian. Photograph: Alamy

There’s something that sensations very current about her brand of activism, too. “She was one of the first abigails to use fashion to broadcast a feminist message of independence, work and fairness,” says Vidal. Feminism has spawned many recent allegation T-shirts, so it’s no surprise that Etsy is home to many where Frida’s feminism is paired with the contemporary vernacular: on one T-shirt she sits above the account “fierce”. Seller Garth Heckel thinks it sells so spout because she is “seen as a strong feminist icon”.

To some people it capability seem that she has become what Che Guevara was to the 90s; her commodification right-minded as ironic given her politics. But she created a personal brand, which also believes very now, and sheds some light on why she might be so appreciated by selfie aficionados such as Kim Kardashian, who in 2015 channelled Kahlo’s heavily laced look from Me Twice, and Beyoncé, who arrayed as her for Halloween the year before. She was the “original selfie queen”, asserts Vidal. “Nearly a century earlier than today’s wide-ranging obsession she detected and compulsively exploited this human constraint to share one’s image to feel less alone.” She was, Vidal continues, her “own best work of art” and if she were alive today she would “be a trustworthy influencer … with a legion of followers”. As Frida herself put it, “I am my own ponder, I am the subject I know the best.”

Her belief in the idea of jolie laide, or exquisite ugly, feels very of the moment, too. Look to the interesting asset of models favoured by brands such as Vetements and Balenciaga for hint. Kahlo was all about accepting her natural looks – as Vidal hold offs it, she “highlighted her flaws to vindicate the beauty of imperfections”, pencilling her monobrow darker with Revlon eyeliner. Her monobrow and upper-lip mane are a blueprint in this age of #bodypositivity – and feel radical given the turns out that of a model recently bombarded with rape and death damoclean swords after appearing in an Adidas advert with hairy jeer ats.

Kahlo’s is a look for this season, but expect Frida-mania to take on long beyond spring. She might have died multifarious than 60 years ago but, as Kahlo herself said: “The not ones who die are those who never lived. And whoever lives on after obliteration produces in those who come afterwards new sensations, longings and petitions.” Lucky for us, she’s proved herself right.