Frida made them famous. Huipiles—traditional woven cotton tops worn by women native to the land she loved—became her chosen uniform in forging an identity, both political and personal. Frida Kahlo married huipiles (pronounced wee-peels), woven by indigenous groups across Mexico, with long lace-rimmed skirts to cover her polio-tortured leg. Serious black braids crowned her signature style, so original that she ended up on the cover of Vogue—not for her art but her artful fashion.
Robert went up the mountain to the end of the road where the women of Yo'o Ita cooperative live on the Costa Chica, the small coast of Oaxaca. There, wild pre-Columbian cotton is harvested and spun; it steeps in indigo until a rich darkness takes over. The weaver's swift hands count each thread on the ancient backstrap loom, plying designs into the warp, then sew the two vertical panels together by hand. What you have is a rectangle, and each weaver, not wanting to waste any more of her hard work than necessary, cuts and finishes an opening for her neck only, then sews up the sides so that it can be worn loose in the summer's heat, or belted for ceremony, creating a stately silhouette.
When we receive the samples at Ibu, I go directly to slip them on, crazy happy. This is what I hoped for, exactly! The real thing, saturated with the soul of the earth and the women who tended them—reeking of honesty, simplicity, goodness, past, and thankfully, future. Okay, so I don't look like Frida. But I feel, in these honest threads, just a fraction of the pride she must have felt, celebrating in the art of fashion, the women who made her clothes, and the wealth of the story they are weaving forward.
Writes the leader of the cooperative, Ruth Mendoza, (translated, thank you, by essential He-bu, Robert): Wearing a YO'O ITA huipil is a true luxury, as it represents the living identity of a people and the strength of a group of weavers who insist on continuing their traditions in the present and with their eyes set on the future.
Do you feel the spine in those words? That's a woman to celebrate; a dress to wear, a story to love. Frida would be proud.
All the Best,