Claire McCardell and The American Look

One reason why the typical Mexican attire Frida so loved such as huipiles, rebozos, and ponchos continue to be used is because the designs are simple, practical and elegant.

Claire McCardell (1905-1958) was a designer who also took the Occam’s Razor approach to creating clothes in large part because of  the WWII imposed parsimony. Using limitation as a source of inspiration, Claire created designs meant to make the most out of a little. She used “alternative” fabrics such as denim and wool jersey and surplus government weather balloon cotton for her creations.  And the shortage of leather led to Claire’s making ballerina flats popular.

With the war, women had to assume a chores generally done by men as the men were busy being soldiers.   No longer objects but, instead, sheer animation, women needed clothing that was practical and easy to move in.  Claire may have been influenced, when studying in Paris, by Coco Channel’s desire to liberate women shackled by fashion.

Claire, often referred to as the High Priestess of the Understatement, said she designed things that she needed for herself but, it seemed, others needed, too.  She strove for simplicity and created mix ‘n match garments that could extend a wardrobe with the leitmotif of  functional and affordable.


Claire revolutionized American fashion via some of the following designs:


Monastic dress, a toga like gown with a belted waist (1938)


Diaper Bathing Suit (1942)

Claire McCardell's Diaper Bathingsuit


Popover Dress (1942) which was a wrap-around dress including an attached pot holder for those women who had guests for dinner and thus had to run back and forth from the kitchen.

Claire Mccardell, every hostess needs an oven mitt


A wrap dress was versatile in that it could be used as a house dress, party dress, dressing gown and even as a bathing suit cover up.

Claire McCardell, Popover Dress

For the Mayans, a huipil created a sacred enclosure for a woman’s body. And, when she entered her garment by pulling it over her head, the woman became the axis of her universe. Popover dresses also permit the woman to be the axis.


The Future Dress made from triangular pieces of fabric.

Claire McCardell, she cut a triangle and wore it


Shoulder Shrugs are easy to fold and easy to wear (1947)

Claire McCardell, shoulder shrug


Georgia O’Keefe owned a number of McCardell dresses.

claire 7 b


Claire collaborated with artists such as Picasso, Chagall, Milo, Leger using fabrics designed by them for her creations. For her  “Fish Dress”, she used Picasso’s ‘Fish Print’ fabric (1955).  Thus something designed by Picasso could be bought by the yard. The artist didn’t mind commercializing his art.  However, Picasso refused to have his designs used for upholstery fabric.  It was one thing to be worn but something totally unacceptable to have his art used for sofas thus be sat upon.

Claire McCardell and Picasso's Fish Print


Huipil dresses to make inspired by Claire include the halter top dress and the Grecian tunic dress.

Claire McCardell Style

Mal Oo

Bibliography:   McCardell, Claire. What Shall I Wear? . The Overlook Press.New York. 2012



Last November, my daughter and I went to see the “Mexique” exhibition at the Gran Palais. Here is the long overdue publication of my related notes:

Pont Alexandre III  is the most ornate and grandiose bridge in Paris. Named after Tsar Alexander III, the bridge commemorates the alliance established between Russia and the Third Republic in 1892. And, with its view of the Eiffel Tower, it’s an often used location for wedding picture and tourists’ selfies.  Crossing the bridge is like taking a stroll in an en plein air museum as the bridge is full of sculptures—cherubs, lions, seashells, monsters and much more. Built for the city’s World Fair in 1900, the bridge links the Hôtel des Invalides  with the Petit and the Grand Palais.

Pont Alexandre III

The Gran Palais hosts a number of exhibitions every year such as “Mexique” dedicated to Mexican art from 1900-1050. Naturally, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were the main attractors but there were, aside from Orozco and Siqueiros,  many “minor” artists of interests such as José Guadalupe Posada, Julio Ruelas, Roberto Montenegro, Ángel Zárraga and Carlos Mérida.

Some of the women included in the exhibition:

Tina Modotti photographed Frida and mujeres indigentes

Lola Alvarez Bravo photographed Frida and Mexican culture

Maria Izquierdo painted self-portraits and Sueño y presentimien

Lola Cueto made puppets and papel picado embroidery

Olga Costa painted fruit and people

Nahui Olin was a model, painter, and poet

Rosa Rolanda was a neo-figurative painter

English-Mexican Leonora Carrington was a surrealist painter

Alice Rahon was fascinated by Frida

Bibliography: The Human Tradition in Mexico  byi Jeffrey M. Pilcher

Mal Oo

Freshness is Not Eternal Huipil

Freshness Is Not Eternal

One morning while sitting in the kitchen searching for meaning in life, I noticed that the oranges in the fruit bowl were getting mushy. The firm plumpness they had when I bought them had disappeared. With this realization, I had an epiphany —life is ephemeral so I needed to get up and get with the program before it was too late.

This huipil was made from pieces of white cotton stitched together to be used as a canvas for a drawing made with water-resistant markers. Hand-painting, appliqué, and hand-stitching are used to further embellish the huipil. The back of the hupil is a patchwork of colorful fabrics.

The model, Chiara Pilar, is also wearing a paper bead necklace and a bracelet made from  pen caps.

Mal Oo

Δώρο/gift Huipil dress

In Greek, “Δώρο” means “gift” and what better gift can nature give us than that of spring? And to celebrate spring, I made this huipil dress using a tulip filled  secondhand t-shirt for the bodice. The body of the dress is made from a piece of white cotton covered with drawings of a woman holding a flower.  She is just waiting for someone she can give it to.

Δώρο huipil dress

Δώρο huipil dress

Δώρο huipil dress

Δώρο huipil dress

Mal Oo

Frida Kahlo & Miyako Ishiuchi

Japanese artist Miyako Ishiuchi takes photographs of clothes.  She began doing so after her mother died. Miyako’s mother had a strong personality and lived in a time that went through numerous metamorphoses. By photographing her mother’s intimate effects such as lingerie, shoes and cosmetics, Miyako examined the memory she had of her mother. Because clothes give us an identity.

Frida Kahlo's Clothes by Ishiuchi Miyako

A few years after photographing her mother’s belongings, Miyako began a new project: Yokosuka Story.  She started photographing the personal objects of those who’d lost their lives in the American bombing of Hiroshima treating the objects just like a saint’s relics. Thus the victims are seen as martyrs. Objects like combs, watches, and shoes are the only things left of a life obliterated by a bomb.

Frida Kahlo's Clothes by Ishiuchi Miyako

After Frida’s death, Diego Rivera had her wardrobe with all her personal belongings locked up. It was kept this way for 15 years after his death.  But it wasn’t until 2011 that the contents of the wardrobe were photographed. And it was Miyako Ishiuchi who was selected as photographer photographing the clothes was like photographing a person.

Frida Kahlo's Clothes by Ishiuchi Miyako


“If I met her, I wouldn’t ask any questions. I would only want to stare at her and touch her body.” Japanese photographer Ishiuchi Miyakois talking about Frida Kahlo.

Miyako Ishiuchi and Frida Kahlo

Miyako Ishiuchi and Frida Kahlo

Frida by Ishiuchi. Ishiuchi, Miyako; Trujillo, Hilda; Ankori, Gannit; Henestrosa, Circe. Museo Frida Kahlo. Mexico City. 2014.

Mal Oo