Frida Kahlo is known for her striking portraits and the mark she left on art. Appropriated by feminists, artists and designers alike, her face, braided hair and monobrow are some of the most recognisable in the world - you can literally find her face on museum mugs or notebooks, posters and placemats.

But to reduce her to these singularities do not do her justice. In a new book published by Hardie Grant Books, fashion veteran Charlie Collins takes a closer look at Frida’s second favourite canvas – her own body.  The book follows Frida’s life chronologically, from having to spend nine months in bed due to her polio, to meeting (what she teasingly called one of the two great accidents of her life) her husband Diego Rivera. “Born to a German father and a Spanish and indigenous Indian mother, Frida’s life was full of interesting dualities from whose complexities she wove the fabric of her creative existence,” Collins writes.

But one can’t tell Frida Kahlo’s story without naming the second biggest accident that happened to her: When she was 18, a school bus collided with a tram, leaving her body pierced through the pelvic bone and in pain for the rest of her life.  From then on, the corset was a piece of clothing that became as integral to her life as did the pain. While European women in the 18th century would wear them to create the illusion of a smaller waist, the corset was an essential support to Frida's spine. She decorated her corsets, painting on them a hammer and sickle in scarlet red paint, alongside that of an unborn child in a woman’s body- symbols important to her on the item of clothing that literally supported her. 

When we ask Charlie to pick one piece of clothing that describes Frida best, she replies: “It has to be a pair of red boots that Frida wore in later life and customised to bold perfection. She sourced and then sewed vibrant Chinese panels featuring embroidered dragons, onto the body of her boots and fixed blue velvet ribbons with bells on to her laces. Following the amputation of her gangrenous right leg in 1953, Frida attached one of these boots to her prosthetic leg, enjoying the chiming entrance she made to any room.”

Political activism extended to her dress, when she started wearing traditional Mexican garments in her 20’s that represented post-revolutionary Mexico, most specifically the tehuana dress her mother had and the revolutionary rebozo wrapped around her shoulders. In 1939, Frida stunned New York City in a floor length lilac silk skirt, embroidered with dark red florals, the magenta coloured rebozo shawl around her shoulders, a picture of tradition with rebelliousness infused.

For anyone who wants to delve deeper into Frida’s artistic world, there's a new immersive experience in London that will satiate any Kahlo obsession.  The Mexican Geniuses Exhibition uses new video-mapping technology to translate the paintings of Frida and Diego on huge electronic canvases.

"Frida Kahlo dressed as she felt," the author shares. "Her style, in the same manner as her art, drew its emotional force from her lived experiences. She transferred her personal, political and ideological perspectives directly into her unforgettable outfits," Charlie concludes.  Frida dressed as boldly as she lived and the book portrays her seemingly contradictory way of living and creating: sensible yet lonely, bold yet introspective, full of suffering yet hopeful – in both her art and her fashion.

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Tags: Frida Kahlo , book