Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up

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It’s a miserable November morning & I find myself queuing outside the V & A, huddled under a crumpled umbrella with a grumpy two year old. Why? It’s the final days of the Frida Kahlo exhibition & I’ve been meaning to go since it opened months previous. Parenthood brings innumerable joys but with a toddler those little self-indulgent pastimes (reading, working-out, visiting a gallery, drinking a warm coffee) are….compromised. In retaliation, I’ve dragged us here through wind & rain although so far it’s proving more hassle than it’s worth!

Stepping into ‘Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up’ is an instant reality check; my mornings “inconveniences” are put into stark perspective. Besides her talent, Frida’s life was marked by two extraordinary things: an almighty sense of self & daily crippling pain as a result of childhood polio & a near-fatal bus accident. Dying at 47, she spent her short life as a young woman in a decaying body held together by orthopaedic corsets & prosthetic limbs.

Alongside Frida’s art & photography, the show exhibits her intimate possessions which had been locked away since her death. Rigid body braces are contrasted with her exuberant wardrobe. Full skirts, billowing tunics & vibrant shawls in the style of Mexican National Dress serving to hide the constrictions she wore beneath. Yet the way Frida styled herself went way beyond mere functionality.

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Her self & her art were one in the same.

Artists often turn to autobiographical material in their work but with Frida it’s hard to decipher where the self stops & the art starts. Throughout her life she spent time restricted to bed rest & whilst most would find this physical isolation an artistic restriction too, Frida had a mirror attached to the ceiling & used her own reflection as inspiration for her work. Perhaps this intense time with her reflection is where she unlocked her power of self expression. From the photographs in the exhibition, she was captivating & more beautiful than her self portraits would suggest. Often emphasising her statement monobrow & facial hair in her art, Frida used her image to play with gender, sexuality & perceived ideas of womanhood. In our current “perfect selfie” culture, this still has the power to shock.

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Like Grayson Perry today, Frida looked like a walking art installation standing out wherever she went with her vibrant brocades & elaborate headdresses. Her love of indigenous clothing reflected her admiration for artisanship, her commitment to Mexico & her cultural identity. Here was a woman with very little power over her health, but the utmost control over the way the world perceived her. 60 years on from her death & her image is recognised the world over. As the exhibition title suggests, she made her self up & in doing so she created an icon.

I’ve thought about Frida most days since that rainy morning in November. Park her genius with a paintbrush for a minute (something I’ve barely touched upon here but if you are interested, check out Tracey Emin’s article ‘Frida On My Mind’) & just look at her relationship with clothing. Style for her was a communicator; like her art it told the world who she was & where she came from. It’s mind-blowing that despite her unrelenting pain & premature death, she was able to create a self image that, half a century on, is engrained in our everyday; replicated on cushions, tea towels, socks! Obviously, not many of us are as bold in our fashion choices as Frida. Style is a personal journey of experimentation & self expression; it’s exhilarating to push boundaries & it is reassuring to have trusty friends in our wardrobe which anchor part of our identity. Frida is testament to the fact that what we wear can be our armour, our comforter & everything in between. It is not frivolous, it is a visual language that tells the world a little bit about who we are & what is important to us.

Although the V & A exhibition has finished, if you happen to find yourself in New York this Spring then the Brooklyn Museum is hosting a version of the London show.

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Beazley Designs of the Year; The Top 3

Space Boot. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Space Boot. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

What sets us humans apart from animals is our inherent curiosity.

Add this to our primal desire to make things & what started out a million years ago as a stone handaxe, today culminates in the Beazley Designs of the Year at the Design Museum.


Now in its 11th year, this annual extravaganza of ideas is like looking through a window into the future. A future of social consciousness, where supermarket aisles are plastic-free & you can grow a pair of space boots out of mushrooms using human sweat. Seriously!

Of the 87 nominees, here’s my Top 3:


Photograph: Burberry, Instagram

Photograph: Burberry, Instagram

Name: Burberry Rainbow tartan

Designer: Christopher Bailey for Burberry

Taking the classic Burberry tartan and reinventing it for our time, Christopher Bailey’s rainbow-hued stripes support & celebrate LGBTQ+ communities. Speaking about his final collection before leaving Burberry in early 2018, Christopher wrote “in our diversity lies our strength, and our creativity.” Borne from this, the rainbow tartan symbolises Burberry’s commitment to donate to three LGBTQ+ charities.

At NIXEY we love tartan. We create many bespoke tartan bags & know from how our customers respond that it is more than just a fabric. Cultural identities are woven through its fibres. Bailey has recognised this power & transformed Burberry’s traditional tartan into a emblem of inclusiveness for a modern & diverse clan. He has created something visually iconic to represent the social responsibilities of a big corporation & for that we salute him.

Name: Choose Love shop

Designer: Help Refugees in partnership with Glimpse

Choose Love is the Soho pop-up where you can shop til you drop & leave empty handed, but full hearted. Every penny you spend in there is not for you or your loved ones, but for a complete stranger who you will never meet. Set up by the charity Help Refugees, it is the world’s first shop where you can buy real products for those in need. From medical supplies to a child’s winter coat, the charity sends the items you buy straight to refugees across Europe & the Middle East.

In terms of donating, we are a very charitable nation in the U.K. with November being our peak giving month from Children in Need to the Poppy Appeal. Through the Choose Love store, Help Refugees have upped the human-to-human element of donating which goes beyond money. It reminds me of Harvest Festival as a child; carefully selecting non-perishables from the supermarket aisles for someone unknown & hoping that these small offerings would make life a little easier for those receiving them.

With the season of goodwill just around the corner, Choose Love’s current pop-up is in Covent Garden & the online store is coming soon.

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Name: Bad News game

Designer: Gusmanson and DROG

What’s the cure for the Fake News pandemic? The Cambridge researchers behind the online game Bad News believe in prevention rather than cure. The game’s aim is to ”immunise” players against the spread of untruths in the real world, by encouraging them to replicate the tactics used by “fake news tycoons”.

Through a simulated Twitter-esque platform, players compete to amass as many followers as possible. Trolling, discrediting, conspiracy theories, invoking emotion & polarisation will all get you far in the world of Bad News.

The concept of ‘real’ & ‘fake’ is becoming more & more blurred. The internet is a tool of global & social empowerment, a resource we all use to better understand the world we live in & the people we share it with. But, as with so many things us humans put our hand tom there’s a dark side. Propaganda is not something new to humankind but it was once a sphere occupied by corrupt governments & media. Now anyone can become a fake news overlord, reaching thousands if not millions of us with every tweet & post. From Donald J Trump to this entertaining but shady story hitting music news reports this week.

The guys behind Bad News are equipping us with a vital tool; the power to detect disinformation. Could this be the 21st century answer to the handaxe?

This year’s winner will be an announced on the 15th November and the exhibition runs until 6th January 2019. Head along if you get the chance, it’s a great excuse to check out the new Kensington home of the Design Museum too!