Curator's Corner, 5/2/2017
Ms. Min for MAC

Friday with Frida: more Kahlo-inspired makeup

Happy Cinco de Mayo!  In honor of this festive day I thought I'd do a quick follow-up to Republic Nail's Frida Kahlo-themed polishes.  Turns out, another beauty brand beat them to the punch in early 2016 with a line of lipsticks featuring packaging inspired by the artist.  You might remember how enamored I was of Mexican company Pai Pai back in 2015, when I was positively drooling over their concept of collaborating with a different Mexican artist each season to create limited edition packaging.  Anyway, I spotted their summer 2017 collection on Instagram and was once again smitten, so I decided to catch up and see what else they had been up to since I posted about them.  That's when I found these lipsticks.

Paipai - Talia Cu

The fashion illustrator/journalist behind these, Talia Cu (Castellanos)1 had a less literal interpretation of Kahlo's work than Republic Nail.  Cu was interested in expressing the essence of Kahlo herself rather than reproducing her work, wanting to explore Kahlo's personality and fashion sense more than her art.  To accomplish this, Cu looked to both Kahlo's general surroundings and the pictures of her personal belongings photographed by Ishiuchi Miyako.  As I noted in the Republic Nail post, Kahlo's clothing, accessories and other items weren't discovered in her home until 50 years after her death.  In 2011 Miyako embarked on a breathtaking series that captured Kahlo's spirit through her personal effects (over 300 were photographed!).  It was these photos, along with other meaningful items from Kahlo's day-to-day life, that Cu used as a jumping off point for her designs.  I tried translating Cu's explanation as best I could (my Spanish is incredibly rusty) from this Vogue Mexico article.2  "I wanted to give a unique perspective and not necessarily focus on her art.  Mainly, I took inspiration from the photographs Ishiuchi Miyako took of Frida Kahlo's things, and I also wanted to revisit certain iconic motifs in her art (watermelon, monkeys, the phrase 'viva la vida') to create this small universe that built her personality."  If any illustrator is suited to take on this task, it's Cu - one look at her Instagram, which is chock full of vibrant street fashion sketches and animations, told me she could breathe new life into Kahlo's style as expressed through various items.

Paipai - Talia Cu
(images from

Ishiuchi Miyako, "Frida by Ishiuchi #2" and "#11"

Ishiuchi Miyako, "Frida by Ishiuchi #50"
(images from and

Cu imagined what Kahlo would look like wearing those cat-eye sunglasses, borrowing (I suspect, given the shape of the flowers atop her head) a portrait by Nickolas Muray.  The green and white polka dot print on the lipstick may also have been a nod to the green floral background from one of Kahlo's most famous photos.

Paipai - Talia Cu

Frida Kahlo
(image from

As noted previously, Kahlo kept several monkeys, along with a host of other animals, as surrogate children. (One thing I didn't know before was that monkeys were also a symbol of lust in traditional Mexican folklore.)  Cu created a charming monkey print to represent Kahlo's attachment to these animals.

Paipai - Talia Cu

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Monkeys, 1943(image from

Frida Kahlo, 1943(image from

I thought a cactus print was kind of strange since I don't remember these plants appearing in any Kahlo paintings, until I did a little more digging - I spotted many cacti in the garden as well as a cactus wall surrounding Kahlo's beloved home, La Casa Azul (it's now a museum and I want to go!), so I'm assuming that's where it came from.

Paipai - Talia Cu

Frida Kahlo - Casa Azul(image from

Watermelons were a popular motif in Kahlo's still-life paintings.  Once again Cu gives them a fun, playful twist - they seem much less heavy than the fruits that appear in Kahlo's work.   Knowing that Kahlo added the inscription on Viva La Vida, Sandias just a few days before her death, for example, is rather bleak.  Cu's color choice of bright blue and peach, as well as the exuberant, lightweight lines of the fruit, transforms the phrase into an upbeat slogan of sorts.  (Oddly enough, you can actually buy a ceramic watermelon with the inscription from La Casa Azul's gift shop.)

Paipai - Talia Cu

Frida Kahlo, Viva La Vida, 1954

Frida Kahlo, Still Life with Watermelons, 1953

Frida Kahlo, The Bride Frightened at Seeing Life Opened, 1943

Frida Kahlo, Coconuts, 1951(images from

By the way, if you're wondering why I'm using stock photos of the lipsticks instead of my own, there's a simple reason:  Pai Pai's shipping cost was completely prohibitive.  I was finally ready to pull the trigger on some items from this collection as well as the summer 2017 collection, but when I saw the shipping cost my heart dropped.  I thought the prices were mistakenly listed in Mexican pesos, but no, they were clearly U.S. dollars.  I was going to do a screenshot of the cost, but in prepping the photos for this post it seems PaiPai's check out isn't working (I keep getting an "internal server error" message) so I can't show you.  I do remember the cost though: I had 3 lipsticks in my cart for $66 and shipping was $184.  I have no idea why shipping to the U.S. from Mexico is so steep.  I order from sellers all over the world and have never seen anything like this!  But I simply can't justify more than double the price of the lipsticks themselves.  It's not the total amount that's an issue - I've spent $200-$300 in one go before - but it's a waste to pay that much for shipping alone.  It's very sad for me and a little for the company, as they could have gained quite a loyal customer.  If shipping wasn't ridiculous I'd probably snatch up every collection in full.  As a last-ditch effort, I repeatedly called the one salon in the U.S. that carries Pai Pai and never had anyone pick up, and also DM'ed them on Instagram with no reply.  Hmmph.  Unless Pai Pai comes to their senses and reduces their shipping to a reasonably affordable price, or starts carrying the line in more locations within the U.S., I'm afraid I won't be acquiring any for the Museum.  :(

I don't want to leave on a negative note, as it's both Friday and Cinco de Mayo, so I will say that I think Cu's interpretation of Kahlo is both more inspired and uplifting than Republic Nails.  The illustrations are lighter and speak to the less tortured side of the artist - the objects chosen by Cu were ones that I imagine brought Kahlo happiness, fleeting though it was.  The idea of telling her story through her personal items and other things that had meaning for her, especially when combined with the emphasis on her fashion sense, is a unique way to represent Kahlo.  By consciously choosing not to focus solely on Kahlo's art, Cu gives us a fuller impression of her personality with these illustrations.

What do you think?  And are you doing anything for Cinco de Mayo?


1Normally with these sorts of collabs I'd show more of the artist's work but I think these lipsticks really encapsulate Cu's I had no idea how to work it in with all of the Kahlo stuff!

2The full quote is as follows: “Por mi antecedente en el campo de la moda, me interesé en Frida Kahlo no solo por su trabajo como artista, sino por la personalidad que lograba capturar en su vestuario, y su estilo icónico...Quería darle una perspectiva distinta y no necesariamente enfocarme en su arte. Principalmente, tomé inspiración de las fotografías que Ishiuchi Miyako tomó de los objetos de Frida Kahlo, y a la par retomé también ciertas figuras icónicas en su obra (la sandía, los monos, la frase "viva la vida") todo para crear este pequeño universo que la construye como personaje. Los colores por supuesto, tenían que representar esa alegría en su vestuario.”


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