Kahlo fiesta comes to town

Carnivalesque colour, cat-eye sunglasses, monobrows and traditional Mexican costume collide in a major V&A exhibition – and in celebratory collections that can be snapped up across the city

Frida Kahlo in a satin blouse, 1939
Frida Kahlo in a satin blouse, 1939 | Image: Photograph Nickolas Muray, © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

An exuberant bout of Kahlo-mania is set to sweep London this summer, as the late Mexicanartist becomes the subject of a major V&A exhibition running from Saturday June 16 to Sunday November 4 – and a number of venues around the city join the fiesta with celebratory collections. Kahlo’s cult following has as much to do with her striking image and colourful lifestyle as her artistry: the monobrow, the moustache, the crown of flowers and the big earrings – all featured in many self-portraits. The V&A’s showcase, Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, explores how she established this unique image through 200-plus personal objects discovered in 2004 in her former home, The Blue House, where they had been sealed after her death by her artist husband Diego Rivera. Most have never been seen outside Mexico before.

Sophie Simone’s cactus cluster ring, £145, from the V&A store
Sophie Simone’s cactus cluster ring, £145, from the V&A store
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These personal artefacts create an intimate snapshot of the artist’s life and include Kahlo’s indigenous clothes and jewellery, which she wore to foster a Mexican identity after the early-20th-century revolution. Her cosmetics include her signature red lipstick and eyebrow pencil, and there are more unusual finds in the form of medical corsets and braces that aided the artist after a near-fatal tram accident when she was 18 – these are hand painted. A series of photographs complement the collection and capture Kahlo alongside her circle of artistic and political friends, including Communist leader Leon Trotsky. 

Iris De La Torre butterfly headdress brooch, £35, from the V&A store
Iris De La Torre butterfly headdress brooch, £35, from the V&A store
A traditional-style Mexican Tehuana huipil top, £295, from the V&A store
A traditional-style Mexican Tehuana huipil top, £295, from the V&A store

To complement the vibrant showcase, Annabelle Dodds, the V&A’s senior buyer, has worked closely with Mexican artists and craftspeople to produce exclusive pieces such as traditional embroidered huipil tops (£295), decorated rebozo shawls (£75) and jewellery from contemporary designers like Sophie Simone and Daniel Espinosa. “They have created a collection full of vitality and originality featuring bold patterns and startling colour combinations,” she says. Items for the home include embroidered Otomi wall hangings (£225), ornately edged mirrors (£75) and hand-painted ceramic jugs (£60).

A double-eye necklace by Sophie Simone, £325, from the V&A store
A double-eye necklace by Sophie Simone, £325, from the V&A store
Retro Peepers has reproduced Kahlo’s gold cat-eye sunglasses in limited edition modern acetate (£150) at Anthropologie
Retro Peepers has reproduced Kahlo’s gold cat-eye sunglasses in limited edition modern acetate (£150) at Anthropologie

The Kahlo celebrations will continue across the city, most notably at Belgravia in Bloom (until Saturday May 26), where themed displays – taking their cue from the exhibition – pop up at several stores. Donna Ida has a Mexican-themed T-shirt (£45) designed by lettering artist Alison Carmichael and (until Friday May 25) a selection of Kahlo-inspired, pre-owned clothes from Vestiaire Collective – designers include Vita Kin and Saint Laurent.

Miami vintage boutique Polished Coconut will offer hand-loomed and embroidered traditional dresses (priced around £350) at Anthropologie
Miami vintage boutique Polished Coconut will offer hand-loomed and embroidered traditional dresses (priced around £350) at Anthropologie
Donna Ida has a Mexican-themed T-shirt (£45) designed by lettering artist Alison Carmichael
Donna Ida has a Mexican-themed T-shirt (£45) designed by lettering artist Alison Carmichael

Moving to the King’s Road, Anthropologie will feature two collaborations in store from Thursday June 7. The first, with Alicia Kossick, owner of Miamivintage boutique Polished Coconut, includes a collection of vintage hand-loomed and embroidered traditional dresses (priced around £350) sourced from Mexican regions such as Tehuantepec, plus bright woven bags (from £60) made by Mexican women. Eyewear firm Retro Peepers, meanwhile, has been licensed to reproduce Kahlo’s iconic gold cat-eye sunglasses – now in limited edition modern acetate (£150). Que vaya bien!

The Donna Ida store dressed for Belgravia in Bloom
The Donna Ida store dressed for Belgravia in Bloom
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