CULTURE & ARTS
04/04/2016 11:04 am ET

Frida Kahlo, A Global Fashion Icon

A new book traces Mexican artist Frida Kahlo's influence on the world of fashion.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images/HPMG

There are many Frida KahlosThere is the popular Frida, hailed in Mexico as a national icon. Then there is Frida the artist, Frida the feminist, Frida the muse. But there is a lesser-known Frida: An icon and an inspiration in the world of fashion.

The artist’s influence has appeared in the works of designers and photographers in the 60 years since her death. Now, Frida Kahlo’s contribution to fashion has finally been documented in Frida Kahlo: Fashion as the Art of Being, a book by journalist and former director of the Spanish edition of Elle magazine, Susana Martínez Vidal.

In March 2013 -- shortly after Martínez Vidal had moved to Mexico -- she visited an exhibition of Frida's personal objects at La Casa Azul, The Frida Kahlo Museum. The experience set the project in motion. "After seeing that fantastic sample, I remembered all those images of Frida in the runways and decided that this subject deserved to be addressed in depth," Martínez Vidal told HuffPost Spain.

A skirt that belonged to iconic Mexican painter Frida Kahlo during a preview of the exhibition "Smoke and Mirrors: Frida Kahl
Edgard Garrido / Reuters
A skirt that belonged to iconic Mexican painter Frida Kahlo during a preview of the exhibition "Smoke and Mirrors: Frida Kahlo's dresses" in Mexico City, November 21, 2012.

In a blog post she wrote after attending the exhibit, Martínez Vidal said she wished there could one day be a book that captures the extent of Frida’s influence in fashion. Her book is “the realization of that dream,” she says. In it, she attempts to explain why the Mexican artist “still seems so modern in the 21st century," she says. Martínez Vidal found many clues in the photographs, letters, apparel and intimate belongings that Kahlo left behind.

"In the ‘70s, feminists brought her back and turned her into their intellectual bulwark," says Martínez Vidal. "In the ‘80s, the art world, hand in hand with Madonna, who bid madly for [Frida’s] paintings, raised the price of her works. And then the ‘90s turned her into a gay icon. Fashion has been the last part of this story, and what has definitely made her cross the new century's threshold with unusual force."

The book includes around 150 illustrations tracing Kahlo's personal style and her influence in the world of fashion. Scroll down for some of these photos, with commentary by the author, Susana Martínez Vidal. 

  • "I was attracted by the fact that a half-Indigenous woman, who didn't belong to a first world country, who wasn't in show bus
    COURTESY OF ASSOULINE/© BERNARD SILBERSTEIN, COURTESY THROCKMORTON FINE ART, NEW YORK
    "I was attracted by the fact that a half-Indigenous woman, who didn't belong to a first world country, who wasn't in show business (she wasn't an actress, singer or dancer) managed to become one of the most iconic women of the 20th century, next to Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy and María Callas."
  • "What made Frida immortal is her personality, her life, not just her work. Frida was a communist, but she could have also bel
    COURTESY OF ASSOULINE/ © PABLO AGUINACO
    "What made Frida immortal is her personality, her life, not just her work. Frida was a communist, but she could have also belonged to the beat generation, the punk culture or the hippie movement. What she championed was a struggle against the convictions and homogeneity of the system. Her message does not expire because it was a cry against oppression."
  • "She was a master in the art of blending a touch of the daring with a lot of self-esteem. Frida Kahlo Understood fashion as t
    COURTESY OF ASSOULINE/© PABLO AGUINACO
    "She was a master in the art of blending a touch of the daring with a lot of self-esteem. Frida Kahlo Understood fashion as the art of being, not simply a feature of outer appearance, HENCE the book's title."
  • "For her, it was fine for women to be striking, strong and ambitious, not only beautiful."
    COURTESY OF ASSOULINE/© GUILLERMO KAHLO
    "For her, it was fine for women to be striking, strong and ambitious, not only beautiful."
  • "Today, fashion and art coexist."
    COURTESY OF ASSOULINE/© BANK OF MEXICO, DIEGO RIVERA & FRIDA KAHLO MUSEUMS TRUST, MÉXICO
    "Today, fashion and art coexist."
  • "Frida understood that beauty stems from your character. As she said: 'Beauty and ugliness are a mirage. Everyone ends up see
    COURTESY OF ASSOULINE/© BANK OF MEXICO, DIEGO RIVERA & FRIDA KAHLO MUSEUMS TRUST, MÉXICO
    "Frida understood that beauty stems from your character. As she said: 'Beauty and ugliness are a mirage. Everyone ends up seeing how we are inside.'"
  • "Blue Wings," a work by Claudio Roncoli that shows Frida Kahlo's many faces.
    COURTESY OF ASSOULINE / © CLAUDIO RONCOLI
    "Blue Wings," a work by Claudio Roncoli that shows Frida Kahlo's many faces.
  • "For a recalcitrant communist, using the French perfume Shalimar and red nail lacquer was a visionary way of reconciling some
    COURTESY OF ASSOULINE/© CORINNE DALLE-ORE
    "For a recalcitrant communist, using the French perfume Shalimar and red nail lacquer was a visionary way of reconciling something that, until that moment, seemed impossible: Femininity and feminism."
  • A fashion production from L'Officiel Magazine that recreates Frida Kahlo's style. 
    COURTESY OF ASSOULINE/© IRIS BROCH: ÉDITIONS JALOU, L'OFFICIEL 1998
    A fashion production from L'Officiel Magazine that recreates Frida Kahlo's style. 
  • "John Galliano, Dolce & Gabbana, Christian Lacroix, Kenzo, McQueen, Viktor and Rolf, Karl Lagerfeld, Moschino ... They've
    COURTESY OF ASSOULINE/© IRIS BROCH: ÉDITIONS JALOU, L'OFFICIEL 1998
    "John Galliano, Dolce & Gabbana, Christian Lacroix, Kenzo, McQueen, Viktor and Rolf, Karl Lagerfeld, Moschino ... They've all brought her back to life. Claudia Schiffer, Salma Hayek, Laura Ponte, Nati Abascal, Milla Jovovich ... they've all embodied her."
  • "Frida Kahlo was a strong and attractive woman who perversely decided to appear ugly in her paintings. Her eyebrows, 'li
    COURTESY OF ASSOULINE
    "Frida Kahlo was a strong and attractive woman who perversely decided to appear ugly in her paintings. Her eyebrows, 'like a hummingbird's wings,' as Rivera said, highlighted her picturesque features in a single stroke. Despite them being dark and bushy, I was shocked to discover that she also painted them. Among her possessions, you can see the black Revlon pencil with which she dramatized them while, at the same time, highlighting that sort of brand image. She was a pioneer of branding."

This post originally appeared on HuffPost Spain and has been translated into English.

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