Frida Fever: How to give your home some Kahlo cool

Claire Cohen
Frida Kahlo museum - Casa Azul, her former home, in Mexico City - www.alamy.com

Speak to anyone who has visited Casa Azul, the Mexico City home of Frida Kahlo, and they will rhapsodise about colour. Painted in brilliant blue, mustard, green and orange, it is a bold and enchanting place. Every surface is decorated - down to the kitchen table.

It is partly this vibrancy that has contributed to the fashion world’s love affair with Kahlo, with her image used on everything from shoes, tote bags and t-shirts. And nowhere was that ‘Frida Fever’ more in evidence than at this week’s opening of the V&A’s new exhibition Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up. Guests - including Salma Hayek, who played the artist in a 2002 biopic - wore heavily patterned dresses, statement earrings and, of course, the flower crowns which have adorned every festival-goers head in recent times.

It might not open until tomorrow, but the exhibition has already become the museum’s biggest seller yet - with 41,000 pre-booked tickets, compared to 33,000 for David Bowie in 2013.

“The public’s appetite for all things Frida appears limitless,” says Lauretta Dives, director of Retro peepers, which has worked with the Frida Kahlo Corporation to create a limited edition reproduction of her iconic cat’s-eye sunglasses. “Her perceived qualities epitomise strong, contemporary, independent womanhood, all very topical in today’s climate. Who wouldn’t want a splash of bohemian, flamboyant colour and passion in their lives?”

With the exhibition showcasing exquisite photographs of Kahlo in Casa Azul , it seems certain that this Frida Fever is set to cast its spell over our interiors, too with the Frida design aesthetic making its way to homeware, too.

Annie Lennox and Salma Hayek attend a private view of Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up Credit: David M. Benett 

In some ways, it has already entered our homes by stealth. Take the trend for all things cactus, with the succulents having migrated from our terrariums to vases, cushions and lamp bases (replacing the ubiquitous pineapple). Mexican colour, too, has snuck into our living rooms with sofas in pink, cobalt blue and vibrant orange proving bestsellers. While Ikat rugs in geometric patterns are feature heavily on the chicest Instagram interior feeds.

Wallet-friendly versions can be found at French Connection, which has a striking black and white Aztec rug, in heavy frayed fabric, in its SS18 collection. While Anthropologie’s flat-weave Dawson rug starts at just £68 and will add colour to any room. A pop-up by brand Polished Coconut, at Anthropologie’s Kings Road shop, features pieces from Mexico’s famous matriarchal Isthmus of Tehuantepec region, plus hand-loomed kaftans and bags made using the ancestral methods of indigenous cultures.

Its head of creative, Luella Lane, says we are seeing a renewed bout of Frida Fever: “I think the exhibition is very much responsible for bringing her unique approach to the attention of the masses and as a result a lot of businesses are celebrating her which I think is a great thing,” she says.

It’s all in stark contrast to the monochrame Scandi style that has dominated our homes over the last decade.

“When you see photographs of Frida in the Blue House, she is surrounded by amazing craft, folk art, pattern and colour,” says Annabelle Dodds, senior buyer for the V&A shop.

Kahlo in the garden at Casa Azul Credit: Nickolas Muray /V&A 

But, she adds, bringing a touch of Frida into your home doesn’t mean ditching the Marie Kondo minimalism. “Perhaps your decor is quite minimal but you can add a pop of one vibrantly decorated object,” she says.

Handily, the museum has curated a collection of homewares that will fit seamlessly into any room. There are cushions, embroidered with Kahlo’s image; hand-painted ceramics, chunky glassware with bold washes of colour, quirky prints, wooden animals and tinware to sit on your mantelpiece,  and a ‘Tree of Life’ wall hanging made by the Otomi people of central Mexico.

The emphasis is on family businesses, says Dodds: “There will be a grandmother with skills who has passed them down the generations.” She attributes our fascination with artisan techniques to Britain’s own recent craft boom, which has given us “a new appreciation for craft from other places.”

You could start small - with, say, the V&As handmade storage baskets in bright stripes - or go for a statement piece, like Ian Snow’s ethically made Mexican embroidered sofa with carved wooden feet. For a subtler seating option, Graham & Greene’s new collection (due in early July) features two chairs upholstered with Frida fabric, which depicts the artist surrounded by foliage.

Alexander Henry is the man if you’d prefer to source your own. His ‘Folklorico’ collection includes the popular Frida’s garden design, available from Fabric Yard, and which the V&A has used for its fitting rooms curtains. Or for a ready-made option, choose Okla’s bamboo curtain, beautifully hand painted with a picture of the artist.

Retropeepers have reproduced Kahlo's iconic gold cat-eye sunglasses Credit: ilya Krylov Photography 

Tiles are an effective way to minic Blue House style, with London-based Milagros selling decorative and inexpensive options that wouldn’t look out of place in Mexico City. “There is a big enthusiasm for all things Mexican at the moment,” says Tom Bloom, who started the business in 1990. “It goes in cycles, but with the Frida exhibition we’re definitely seeing a peak.” Handmade tiles, he adds, “are becoming scarcer from European sources or prohibitively expensive”, turning the spotlight on Mexican designs.

But it is possible to introduce a Frida into your home in truly an understated way. Tableware is a good place to start. Houzz’s Frida Talavera four-piece set, handmade using materials from Puebla, would look good on a dark dining table or outside, by the barbecue.

Then all you have to do is sit back, pop on a pair of cat-eye sunglasses, and hope for some Mexican sun.

Kahlo style: What to buy

V&A storage basket, £85, vam.ac.uk/shop

Credit: V&A

Anthropologie Dawson rug, £68-£798, anthropologie.com

Credit: Anthropologie

Frida Talavera tableware set, £132, houzz.co.uk

Credit: Houzz

Alpana Mexicana chair, £395, grahamandgreen.co.uk (coming soon)

Credit: Graham & Green

Frida Kahlo bamboo curtain, £85, okla.co.uk

Credit: Okla

Mexican embroidered sofa, £1,799, iansnow.com

Credit: Ian Snow

Aztec patterned rug, £250, frenchconnection.com

Credit: French Connection

Alexander Henry Frida’s garden fabric, £14 per 100m, fabric-yard.co.uk

Credit: Fabric Yard

V&A Otomi wall hanging, £225, vam.ac.uk/shop

Credit: V&A

Mexican tiles, from 75 pence each, milagros.co.uk

Credit: Milagros