This Cinco de Mayo, We Honor Frida Kahlo’s Floral Iconography
This Cinco de Mayo, we wanted to honor the origin of the flower crown in popular culture– Frida Kahlo– with a compendium of folklore surrounding the evolution of the iconic artists’ floral look. As we’ve previously reported, Frida Kahlo cherished the garden at her home in Coyoacán, Mexico, which was known as the Casa Azul. With its vivid blue exterior and native plants, Kahlo’s garden was both an inspiration and a private haven during her personal battles with chronic illnesses and disabilities. Her painting studio directly overlooked the garden, which was a constant source of intrigue for both her and her husband Diego Rivera.
For Kahlo, the flower crown became an evocative symbol of the naturalism of her native Mexico, which was in part inspired by this garden and traditional Mexican dress. Her signature floral look, moreover, served as a beautiful counterpoint to the often dark meditations that defined much of her artistic work– particularly her brutally-honest self-portraits.
Flower crowns, meanwhile, had become a romantic symbol of the simple “country” life during the industrial era that coincided with Kahlo’s oeuvre and a retrospective longing for the stylized version of what we can now refer to as “the Marie Antoinette look”. The decorative value of flowers and their ability to adorn and ornament not just a space, but a person transfixed in those worlds of art and fashion immeasurably.
As Vogue reports in a 2015 piece on the history of flower crowns:
“In agrarian societies, tied to the land and the seasons, flower crowns had great symbolic meaning. Worn for practical and ceremonial reasons, they could illustrate status and accomplishment (Olympic olive wreaths). The language of flowers and herbs was well-known, with each carrying its own meaning (“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembering. Please remember, love. And there are pansies, they’re for thoughts,” says Ophelia in Hamlet.) Full of significance, floral headdresses were woven into the social and dress traditions of places as distant as Russia and Hawaii.”
Some of Frida Kahlo’s most iconic works are her self-portraits– most notably in her “Self-Portrait with Monkey” (1938), in which the artist is depicted on a naturalistic background with a shoulder-dwelling monkey in tow. (The monkey is a symbol of lust in Mexican society, but Kahlo reinterpreted the motif to be tender while representing liveliness.) Kahlo often used her self-portraits to explore adversity and the psychological turbulence she experience following a near-fatal bus crash at the age of 18, which left her with a lifetime of pain. “I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone,” she once said, “because I am the person I know best.”
Following her marriage to Diego Riviera in 1929, Kahlo started incorporating traditional elements of Mexican dress into her wardrobe– typically wide-brimmed skirts and embroidery– along with flower-adorned braids that that sometimes gave her, Vogue points out, “the aspect of a religious icon”. This Cinco de Mayo, fashionistas take note: the Frida Kahlo look is an enduring symbol of Mexican heritage, feminine energy, and our cosmic connection to nature and that which grows in it. Flower crowns (and their beautiful legacy) are here to stay.