To fashion curator Circe Henestrosa, co-orchestrating the Victoria & Albert Museum’s 2018 exhibition, Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, was both a colossal and intimate affair. The 44-year-old had first heard of the revered Mexican artist from her great-aunt Alfa and great-uncle Andres. “I grew up hearing stories of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. My family on my father’s side came from Tehuantepec Isthmus, located in the south-east of Mexico. My great-uncle and great-aunt were part of the circle of intellectuals of the famed couple in the thirties and forties in Mexico,” she shares. Beyond the exhibition, decoding Kahlo continues to be an undertaking that spills over into Henestrosa’s life – one that she still speaks of with a scrupulous sense of knowing and ardour. To most, Kahlo was a figurehead of the Mexican Revolution: a brewing artist who grappled with disability, gender politics and identity. To Mexican-born Henestrosa, however, Kahlo would also hold up a mirror of sorts: “Kahlo’s voice was that of a fearless, queer, disabled, woman of colour; this is the voice we need to hear today and it is definitely the voice I champion.”
And champion she has, beyond pulse and border. Henestrosa would first deeply delve into the world of Kahlo with Appearances Can Be Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo (2012), an exhibition devised as part of her Masters thesis. And though her homes over the years have included both Mexico City and London – a move to Singapore with her husband Dave would unintentionally prop Henestrosa’s curatorial finesse on Southeast Asian shores and bring with it a lifetime of “Kahlo-isms”. Today, she is the Head of Fashion at LASALLE College of the Arts. The gravitase of Henestrosa’s body of work doesn’t steal from her own brand of flair, either. In her personal arsenal of style is a cleverly curated selection of Sacai and Dries Van Noten, peppered with traditional Mexican rabona skirts. “All my Sacai pieces are like my second skin,” she adds. As for whether art – and in Henestrosa’s case, her curatorial pursuits – imitates her life in particular? If her intrinsic savoir faire for fashion, history and culture are anything to go by – it’s a resounding yes.
Tell us about curating Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up. Now that you look back on the experience, what was it like?
It’s been an amazing journey. I feel very blessed. This project has allowed me to work with many creative international teams, some of the best experts in the worlds of fashion curation, conservation, stage design, film, music and academia. My approach to teaching and curating is very collaborative and I am grateful to all the people who trusted my research and my project.
Clothing is undoubtedly integral to one’s identity and self, as seen with Kahlo. How do you personally feel your work has played a part in helping you understand yourself?
This project has definitely made me understand myself better. Kahlo has been a great inspiration, as she was able to break a lot of taboos surrounding womens’ experiences. She has had to overcome illness and physical injury and work through them in creative ways.
What does a woman’s wardrobe represent to you?
I love working with surviving garments and objects, especially with female wardrobes. I think it’s a very interesting way of contextualising the wearer, because a woman’s wardrobe helps you understand that specific woman in a very intimate way. You place the person at the centre, and then through her personal objects you start decoding and understanding how those objects or surviving garments informed her identity. How did she relate to her personal belongings? What kind of personality did she have? It’s a different manner of presenting fashion, in a very intricate way.
Who are some of your favourite designers?
I personally like Sacai very much. I think Chitose Abe is a very creative designer. Her approach to pattern making allows her to create amazing silhouettes that are very unique. I think Grace Wales Bonner works with very powerful diversity narratives related to her own black heritage which is amazing. I love the work of Mexican designer Carla Fernandez and here, I think Priscila Ong Shunmugan is doing a great job. I also like the work of image makers such as Katerina Jebb, Arielle Bobb Willis and Harley Weir.
Any style icons you particularly admire?
Of course, Kahlo. Madonna had a big impact on our generation as well.
I hope to continue creating spaces to articulate more fashion dialogues through education and fashion curation.
Photography Joel Low
Styling Gregory Woo
Hair Junz Loke using Kevin Murphy Singapore
Makeup Wee Ming using Laura Mercier
Photography Assistant Alfie Pan
Subject Circe Henestrosa in Tiffany & Co. and Max Mara
This article first appeared in the March 2021 issue of L'Officiel Singapore.