Glen Ellyn, Ill., May 21, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Students learning bridal couture techniques in College of DuPage Fashion Studies classes are using Frida Kahlo’s medical braces as the inspiration behind a semester-long design project. Students’ work started on campus and has continued at home after the College transitioned to distance learning. 

Fashion studies Program Coordinator Eva Stevens said she chose the semester’s theme to complement “Frida Kahlo Timeless,” a three-month exhibit of the largest private collection of Kahlo’s works, coming next summer to COD’s McAninch Arts Center.

While many focus on Frida’s exterior, Stevens said she wanted her students to take a deeper look into who Frida was and what she represented.

“Everyone talks about the beauty of Frida’s layered garments, but many people don’t realize that she was hiding medical garments underneath,” she said. “Her layers were purposeful—she didn’t want people to see them. Frida had a habit of painting her body braces along with decorating her lift shoe to match the regular one. She even painted her prosthetic leg. I want my students to strip away the layers and showcase the ‘ugly’ that Frida tried to keep to herself and turn it into something beautiful.”

Stevens gave each student a medical brace donated by Scheck and Siress, a Chicago-based prosthetic company, and told them to incorporate the brace into their garments, but the end product was up to them.

“I encouraged my students to think about Frida and who she was before they started storyboarding,” she said. “My idea was that the finished works would embody Frida’s spirit but not necessarily look like anything Frida would wear. I want it to be subtle.”

For student Megan Cole, the project was personal due to her own disability. 

“Frida was intentional with what she wore, and when you look at old photographs of her, you can’t tell she had a disability,” she said. “She felt like she had to hide that and I get that pain, especially since I experience that pain at times with my own disability. I really wish she would have known that it’s ok to bring that side of her out. While I sometimes struggle with that idea, the older I get, the less self-conscious I am about it. It’s just a part of who I am.”

Student Abaco Peters, meanwhile, is designing over an old wedding dress and incorporating black, red and white throughout the piece to highlight the tumultuous journey of Frida’s life.

“Frida started off with no pain, but throughout her life her struggles took over,” she said. “The top of my garment will be white, symbolizing innocence and peace, but will slowly transition to red and then to black. I want to show the journey of Frida’s life and am using color to signify the struggles that shifted the course of her life.”

Peters’ other garment focuses on Frida’s ability to overcome in the face of adversity.

“I’m using a really colorful flowered pattern but will place black lace over it to represent the dulling of her sparkle after her injury and relationship turmoil,” she said. “I don’t want to completely eliminate the bold colors because, despite everything she still had a fight left in her, it just wasn’t as strong as it used to be. Despite all of it, she still had courage and tried to overcome her limitations as best as she could.”

Josh Yung, a Fashion Studies graduate who has returned to COD to continue mastering his technique, said he’s intrigued by Frida and her legacy. 

“I had no idea we would be designing garments using Frida as an inspiration, but the more I learn about her, the more I wonder what she would be like today,” he said. “She was a widely known feminist in her era, and in today’s world, I believe she would be leading the fight for women’s equality. My design focuses on that, so instead of a dress I’m designing a pantsuit.”

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Jennifer Duda
College of DuPage
(630) 942-3097
dudajen@cod.edu