Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up

Long before it was fashionable to take a selfie, before Annie Hall wore rumpled menswear and before Madonna made bushy eyebrows du jour…there was Frida. Frida Kahlo was an artistic, feminist fashion pioneer and the V&A’s current exhibition ‘Making Her Self Up’ explores how Frida used clothing, cosmetics and jewellery to create her iconic self-image.

Frida Kahlo with Olmec figurine, 1939. Photograph Nickolas Muray. © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives.jpg

This visually stunning and emotionally potent show brings together Frida’s wardrobe of brightly coloured and embroidered Tehuana traditional dresses, pre-Columbian necklaces in glittering gold, the eyebrow pencil ‘Ebony’ that Kahlo used to enhance her already amble brow and even her lipstick, ‘Everything’s Rosy’ by Revlon. After suffering a near-fatal bus collision at 18 years old, Kahlo began painting whilst bed-bound, and amongst the most moving items on display, are a selection of the intricately hand-painted medical corsets and casts that Frida customised. The show is a symbol of beauty, creativity and resilience in the face of adversity… something we can all take strength from.

You don’t need to don a floor-length ruffled skirt or braid flowers and ribbons into your hair to take some sartorial inspiration from Frida. She was a fizzing cocktail of ingredients: mixing costume, tradition, contemporary, high and low all together at once. With her strings of ancient, carved jade beads she wore a pair of earrings (shaped like hands) given to her by Picasso. She mixed traditional Mexican dress with Chinese silks and fabrics from Europe.

Injecting your wardrobe with a little of Kahlo’s eclectic spirit is easy. Keep your eyes peeled when on holiday for embroidered scarves, silk slippers and stackable bangles. A bolt of bold colour adds instant Frida-appeal, especially if you dress in mostly neutral shades. A Dahlia Bloom or Daisy in Red (great with warm, fleshy tones) or a Dahlia in Orange (beautiful against grey and navy) would be a timeless accent to your wardrobe and the Ivy Clutch in Cobalt is the same mesmerising blue as Frida and her husband Diego’s infamous house ‘Casa Azul.’ 

Antique markets can be a fabulous source of not only silverware for the table, but unexpected pieces of jewellery that are often far more reasonably priced than the high street. If rummaging around market stalls isn’t for you then check out the gallery and museum gift shops, where you can often pick up pieces inspired by the current exhibitions. The V&A currently has an amazing selection of Mexican folk art, accessories and jewellery on sale as part of the Frida exhibition.   

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up. On now until Sunday, 4 November 2018   www.vam.ac.uk

Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, 16 June –14 November 2018. Sponsored by Grosvenor Britain & Ireland.

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