In difference, there is strength. “I used to think I was the strangest person in the world,” once said Frida Kahlo, the Mexican painter who has become an inspiration to outsiders as well as those on fashion’s inside track.
Debilitated by polio and a life-changing bus accident, this courageous woman was independent, brave, and boundary breaking, both sexually and sartorially.
She took lovers of both genders, and sometimes ventued out in menswear—both taboos at the time.
Frida Kahlo, Vogue (1937-10-01) by Toni FrissellCondé Nast Archive
When Kahlo’s portrait appeared in the October 1937 issue of Vogue, however, she was wearing more traditional attire. “Señoras of Mexico” documented the social lives of the elite.
Toni Frissell, best known for her active, outdoor photographs of women in society, took the image. In it, Kahlo wears a polka-dot ruffled yoke blouse, long, ruffled-hem skirt, and drop earrings. Her center-parted hair is pulled back into two braids and she holds a beautiful magenta fringed scarf over her head.
This shawl resembles the one Frida Kahlo wears in Vogue in 1937.
As journalist Claire Cohen notes, Kahlo often incorporated the native garb of “Mexico’s matriarchal Tehuantepec” people into her wardrobe. She used it as a political statement and one of style.
Kahlo was her own muse, and these clothes became part of her narratives of love, pain, transformation, and fantasy.
Many fashion designers have adopted the painter as their muse, inspired by Kahlo’s style as documented in photographs and in her paintings.
Alberta Ferretti, Spring
The floral embroidery and drop earrings here are elements Frida Kahlo often incorporated into her wardrobe.
Creatures of Comfort,
The harness references Kahlo's 1944 painting, “The Broken Column.”
Naeem Khan, Spring 2016
The designer namechecked Frida Kahlo as an inspiration for this show.
Jean Paul Gaultier, Spring 1998
Surreal or magic realist touches often appear in Frida Kahlo’s paintings and seem to have inspired these eye earrings.
Creatures of Comfort,
The Frida and Diego jacket
Separate from her personal style and her art, fashion borrows Kahloisms to express an arty bohemianism.
Variants of the painter’s floral headdresses, which are pure romance, have (in)famously been adopted by the so-called festival girls.
Having been introduced to Kahlo’s paintings by Madonna, and felt the painter’s spirit in her La Casa Azul home in Mexico City, Jean Paul Gaultier presented a collection that was a beautiful homage of Kahlo in Paris for the Spring 1998 season.
“The beauty, the strength, and the pain that emanated from her works touched me very deeply,” the designer tells Vogue.
“Frida represents someone fearless and also timeless. I always loved difference, and Frida was not afraid to be different.”
Even the beauty look at this show paid homage to Frida Kahlo; note the “unibrow.”
This message of inclusiveness, of being proud, and unafraid to be oneself is an empowering one, suits all sizes and types, and never goes out of style.