For many of us Latinas, Frida Kahlo’s art, rebellious spirit, and iconic style have always had a large impact on our lives even before she hit mainstream stardom. The Mexican painter’s work and being proved she was far ahead of her time. Her resistance to give into society’s Eurocentric beauty standards and the domestic pressures that were often placed on women during her time alive can be perceived today as Kahlo’s way of dismantling the patriarchy. Her colorful personality, her passion for life, and her insistence on enjoying life’s pleasures despite the chronic pain she suffered for years as a result of her traumatic bus accident and the depression that later followed spoke to her tremendous strength. Kahlo was a survivor, a feminist, and a revolutionist at her core. But she was also a style icon who whether consciously or not, was highly successful at branding herself and there’s evidence of that at the Brooklyn Museum’s new exhibition Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving, which officially opens today and runs until May 12, 2019.
The exhibition is the largest exhibition in 10 years dedicated to Kahlo. It is also the first in the United States to display a collection of her personal items from the Casa Azul (Blue House), Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera’s home in Mexico City.
It explores Kahlo’s art, creative vision, and her “self-crafted identity” and personal brand through 11 of Kahlo’s paintings, photographs, film, as well as her personal items: clothing, accessories, and beauty products that were saved by Rivera and held in Casa Azul. What a lot of folks who are new to the artist may not realize is that beauty and style played a huge role in Kahlo’s life. She just refused to follow any rules. She was a big fan of makeup — more so than many of us initially thought — but she was also big on preserving her natural beauty by not touching her famous uni-brow or facial hair. She kept her hair long but often had it worn up with weaved in fresh flowers and Kahlo was embracing the concept of body positivity long before the term existed by embracing her body along with its disabilities. Kahlo’s work along with her image has largely contributed to her becoming a cult figure. Here’s a look at the complexity of her style.
Kahlo followed her own beauty standards.
Part of what made the Mexican artist’s beauty so distinct was her unconventional and revolutionary approach to embrace some of her strongest features (which she described as her “masculine features”) — her unibrow and her light upper lip hair. Kahlo wasn’t a fan of shaving or waxing and fully embraced body hair in all its forms at a time when most women — if not all — were not.
Her confidence was part of her beauty.
Despite the unibrow and the wispy mustache, Kahlo was in fact, beautiful and perceived by many as beautiful. Her tan complexion always had a glow to it and remained smooth even in her older age. Her raven black hair was long and shiny and her sculpted cheekbones and big dark eyes were the kind of features women would kill for today. But Kahlo’s fearless and unapologetic attitude also played into her beauty. Her refusal to conform to societal norms of beauty spoke to her mental strength and independent spirit.
She was very into skincare and fragrance.
She may not have had a 10-step skincare routine like many of us do today, but Kahlo did take good care of her skin by smoothing over Pond’s Dry Skin Cream across her face every day. She also took pride in smelling good, creating a collection of fragrances, which included everything from Schiaparelli and Guerlain’s Shalimar.
Kahlo was a HUGE fan of Revlon cosmetics.
Revlon was one of the sponsors at the Brooklyn Museum exhibition, in large part due to that fact that Kahlo used so many Revlon products herself. One of her favorites included Revlon’s bright pink blush compact in Ravishing Rose.
She lived for red lipstick.
Any fan of Kahlo knows that red lips were a big part of her signature look but before the exhibition, I had no idea that her favorite lipstick was specifically Revlon’s Lipstick in “Everything’s Rosy.”
She painted her nails often.
Kahlo had quite a collection of nail polishes and often wore Revlon’s Nail Polish in “Frosted Pink Snow.”
She’d occasionally fill in her brows.
Kahlo may have tossed away her tweezers but she would occasionally pencil in her brows a bit — not that she needed to — with a Revlon eyebrow pencil in an ebony-hued shade.
She had a very colorful dress collection.
Kahlo’s dress collection was extensive and spoke a lot to her Mexican pride. The artist was born on July 6, 1907, in Coyoacán (which was originally a small village in Mexico City), Mexico to her German-born father Guillermo Kahlo and her mother Matilde Calderon, a Mexican woman from Oaxaca, Mexico who was of Spanish and Indigenous descent. Kahlo was incredibly proud of her Mexican roots and displayed that by wearing huipil dresses that were very typical of Tehuanas.
She was a savvy thrift shopper.
Kahlo bought a lot of her dresses and garments at Mexican flea markets and second-hand shops.
She was big on jewelry.
A jade necklace she often wore, became part of her signature style.
She was big on accessories.
There may not be a ton of pictures out there with Kahlo sporting sunnies, but apparently, these sunglasses once belonged to her. She also enjoyed dressing up her hair with decorative combs, ribbons, and fresh flowers.
Americans considered her a style icon.
Frida Kahlo traveled outside of Mexico for the first time after marrying the artist Diego Rivera who brought her with him to the states between 1930 and 1933. Rivera had become a famous artist-celebrity and would bring Kahlo with him on trips to San Francisco, Detroit, and New York, where people became obsessed with her beauty and appearance. “The Gringos really like me a lot and take notice of all the dresses and rebozos that I brought with me. Their jaws drop at the sight of my jade necklaces and all the painters want me to pose for them,” she was quoted saying.
She dressed up her prosthetic leg.
Chronic pain and illness was something Kahlo struggled with for most of her life. In addition to wearing a corset back brace for her injured spine, Kahlo also occasionally used a wheelchair and had a prosthetic leg because of polio she developed at age six that left her right leg thinner than her left. Instead of giving up (though she did endure episodes of depression), Kahlo made her disabilities part of her identity and would often decorate her tools with designs, bows, and Chinese silk.
“In spite of my long illness, I feel immense joy in LIVING,” Kahlo once said.
She incorporated her corset back braces as part of her style.
She often painted them as a form of self-expression.
She was comfortable with nudity.
Despite her physical limitations and disabilities, Kahlo was still very comfortable with her body and with her sexuality. Sexual expression was a big part of her work and she occasionally posed nude. This collection of photographs is called Frida Kahlo Half Nude Holding Braids, 1938.
She was embracing gender fluidity before it was a thing.
Kahlo loved played with gender norms and often channeled her masculine alter ego by dressing in men’s fashion. One of her most famous pieces is a self-portrait of her with cropped hair wearing a men’s suit.