Frida Kahlo as a style icon is funny to me. I’ve never thought of her as fashionable. She was, however, known for being unapologetic about her heritage at a time when Mexicans were unpopular in America. In fact, it is not much different now than it was then. Ever since Donald Trump suggested building a wall, anti-Mexican sentiment that was often hushed has once again being exposed. The issue of race is so complicated in America, something that has become increasingly apparent in recent years with the abundance of murders and attacks on, basically, anyone who isn’t white.
Frida Kahlo, besides being a talented artist, was known for not liking white people. Despite this, she speaks to a lot of women, including white women, for her uncompromising nature. She painted herself in natural dress when women were shunning that look. She let her eyebrows grow into a monobrow, even though that is thought of extremely unfeminine. Was she a feminist because she did what she wanted or have we painted her as a feminist hero without her making any true statements? This is something I’ve wanted to explore.
I have always been drawn to her artwork because I find it visually appealing. On top of that, everyone knows Frida Kahlo as her image is iconic. I can understand why she is hailed as a style icon because her look is unique. However, there is more to the woman than that. For example, a famous painting of hers at the MoMA in New York explores her familial background. It has two sets of grandparents on each side, one white and German and the others Mexican, then her parents, then her. It is important that she chose to identify with her Mexican roots instead of the white side of her family. There is another self portrait that she did with her two selves, connected by veins. It shows the duality of her, as like many women she had an image that she presented to the public and an image of her true self. The painting is believed to represent two sides of her after her break-up from her husband who cheated on her. One side is broken-hearted and rejected whilst the other side is well-presented and still appealing to her husband.
Maybe it’s Kahlo’s spirit that makes her an icon. It’s nothing to do with clothes or appearance. It’s about attitude. A nonchalant way of living that many people strive to achieve, and often never quite manage to reach. One thing is for certain, Frida Kahlo stayed true to who she was and didn’t change herself to suit the male gaze or the typical white beauty standards. That is a true skill that all women should learn. Be yourself, not who someone else may want you to be.
Further reading on the artist & the cultural appropriation of her work (and her as a person)
“Quit Appropriating Frida Kahlo” – Resistance Always, WordPress (lots of good photos on this post too)
“Stop Bastardising Frida Kahlo” – a popular post that went around Tumblr
“Frida Kahlo would hate your Frida Kahlo shirt” – Golden Gate Xpress
I was on the Village Voice website earlier today and I came across an article in their fashion section from 2015. In it the writer chronicles her trip on the train in New York where she seen a whole bunch of people wearing the same items (Herschel backpack, flannel shirts, Shrimps fur coats etc.). The article ended up being an exploration into personal style and whether we, as New Yorkers, still have it.
There used to be a perception of a big city style. New York was black, polished, and streamlined. Now it’s a mix of everything. Furthermore, the big city style has reached the suburbs. I remember watching Working Girl for the first time and being hit by the makeover that Tess had in order to work her way up the corporate ladder – and she was already a New Yorker. Nowadays that kind of thing doesn’t need to happen. You don’t need to spend a small fortune to look professional. You don’t need to go to fashion shows to know what’s cool. The internet has democratised fashion to a level never before reached. It’s for the masses now. Fast fashion helps too, knowing that a look on the Gucci runway will be replicated in Zara often before the original hits the stores. We can all be a part of it.
This then made me think of quotes from Raf Simons’ recent interview in GQ:
I was actually someone who was very often saying that fashion keeps thinking that it can serve everybody, that it can be there for everybody, high fashion. I’m sorry, but high fashion was always for a small environment. High fashion by nature used to be extreme. Right now we define a lot of things as high fashion, but they’re not high fashion. They’re clothes. They’re clothes on the runway with a nice little twist of styling and coloration. Everybody thinks it’s high fashion. Bullshit. There is very little high fashion.
He thinks that fashion isn’t elite anymore, which is definitely true. Anyone can be a designer. Anyone can make it big, whether that be as a creator or an influencer. Your clothes are merely clothes, and put them on the right people and they can become a trend and you can solidify yourself a place on the must-see fashion show list on every fashion news outlet out there. Look at Vetements and the constant stream of coverage the brand gets. Raf’s interview is actually a good read in terms of gauging his opinion on the current state of fashion and the brands that are at the top. He is unafraid to share his views because he knows he is in an almost untouchable position and that without him and his archive, many brands would struggle to produce collections. He is arguably one of the most influential designers of the century thus far.
But going back to the point of the original article, the writer was saying that in the pursuit of personal style, we all end up dressing the same. Maybe it’s because we are all exposed to similar influencers or maybe it’s an attempt to be different and just ending up the same, accidentally. Either way, there is little truly original personal style left out there. The conclusion that the writer came to, after interviewing various subjects, was that although we all wear the same items, we wear them in different ways or with different things, hence making them individual once again.
Honestly, I’d argue otherwise. Sometimes I will buy something then six months later when I encounter a lot of other people wearing it, I’m put off. I feel like something is less my style, more just mass acceptance fashion once it becomes a trendy item. Trends have the ability to ruin an item, to make it unwearable. I’m not someone who is super out-there with my dress sense or someone who cares too much about being totally individual, but sometimes it bothers me when I end up having something that turns into a trend. In a way its embarrassing as you feel a little bit like a clone, or like you can’t make decisions for yourself so you copy others. Conversely, that’s just fashion. If it doesn’t hit the masses, was it ever fashion in its true definition? Or was it just clothes?
Another aspect of personal style that actually upsets me is seeing celebrities being lauded for their style and originality and trend setting abilities when their looks have all been picked for them by stylists. Literally nothing that many of the bigger influencers wear (Kardashians, Hadids, Selena Gomez etc.) has been picked by them. They pay a stylist to curate a wardrobe for them to wear. It’s very strange to me to see these people being called style icons and entire websites and Instagram accounts dedicated to chronicling their sartorial choices. I’ve touched on this before previously but it is something that is truly baffling to me. Then on top of that, said influencers undertake collaborations with brands to “design” collections. It’s odd. But it’s fashion. As Raf said, fashion thinks it can cater to the masses and this is exactly what that phenomenon demonstrates. Fashion is pop culture. 100%.
“Is Personal Style Dead?” – Village Voice, November 2015
“Personal Style/Celebrity Stylists” – from my website, June 2016
“What the Hell Happened to Personal Style?” – Vogue.com, April 2016
I want to showcase my outfits somewhere. I think it’d be fun. However, I know that I’d never have the confidence to do anything like that. For one, I hate getting my photo taken. I am not in the least bit photogenic. How come bloggers and vloggers always are?
For now I think I’ll stick to Polyvore but in the future maybe I’ll branch out. We shall see what happens.