Introducing Mexican jewellery designer Iris De La Torre



July 12, 2018
Butterfly brooch by Iris De La Torre © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

When it comes to jewellery design, Iris De La Torre has something of a Midas touch: her work is peppered with an irrepressible playfulness that seamlessly merges Mexican folklore with the aesthetic language of 1960s graphic design. Her small arsenal of materials – namely plastic, Perspex and rubber – bring her vibrant creations to life. Her confident lines and bright colours recall the work of Pop artist Rosalyn Drexler (whose suited male figures have been swapped out for Mexico’s Isthus of Tehuantepec women – the fabled matriarchy of southwest Oaxaca).

Following the recent launch of Iris De La Torre’s exclusive range for the V&A shop (created to accompany our exhibition Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up), we couldn’t resist picking her brains about all things Frida. What’s more, we weren’t disappointed; Iris’s enthusiasm is infectious!

Hard at work: Iris De La Torre in the studio
Each piece is assembled by hand and takes up to two hours

Hello Iris. Can you tell us how you make your jewellery?

All my jewellery is laser cut in London and I assemble it by hand in my Surrey studio. On average, each piece takes around two hours to assemble (however, the design process takes much longer), and my materials are all sourced from the UK. These materials – mainly plastic, rubber and Perspex – bring my ideas to life. They allow for a broad spectrum of colour and brightness, not to mention a variety of work processes.

Up close: Iris De La Torre both designs and makes her jewellery
Portrait of Iris De La Torre in her studio

And when did you first learn about Frida Kahlo?

As a child growing up in Guadalajara in Mexico, Frida was part of our culture. My mother introduced me to Frida when I was probably eight-years-old. She told me Frida was a unique Mexican artist and a free spirit, who followed her own path in a man’s world. In spite of her difficult life and husband, Frida remained true to herself. It’s through her talent and determination that her voice – not the voice of her male peers who have faded over time – is still heard today. She overcame sexism and transcended barriers. Even today, Frida Kahlo is hugely relevant to designers and in many ways, we’re still catching up with her.

What kind of research did you undertake to make your exclusive range for Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up?

I’ve visited the Frida’s Blue House in Mexico City several times and have always found it to be a place of inspiration. Oddly though, most of my research was conducted in Helsinki, Finland. Last January, I took a short break to visit Finland’s design district and the combination of the cold weather and the wonderful simplicity of the architecture (not to mention being in a place where design is very important and daylight is restricted to one hour a day), made Frida’s colours and textures very vivid to me.

I also bought books about Frida and her wardrobe and watched some interesting programs about the history of Mexican art (including the Muralist movement which included Frida Kahlo). On top of this, my sister visited from Mexico and brought photographs of Frida’s wardrobe that she’d seen at La Casa Azul Museum. These were very useful.

Detail of Iris De La Torre's Tehuana earrings and charm necklace © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Can you tell us about Mexican dress and the clothes worn by Frida Kahlo?

I love traditional Mexican dress and particularly Frida’s Tehuana dresses. She valued the meaning and symbolism of these dresses and appreciated their use of embroidery, texture and colour. These garments mean so much to the women who make them: they put their soul, personality and love into every single stitch and to wear one is to feel like a queen. I bet that’s how Frida felt.

In spite of Frida’s hard life, I view her as “la Reina de la Primavera” (the Queen of Spring) because of her thoughtful, exuberant use of colour. The way she dressed exuded life and joy (however, Frida stopped wearing these colourful outfits as a form of protest during the turbulent moments in her marriage). I also admire the fact that she valued Mestizo culture and was authentic and proud of her roots. Overall, I found her possessions very interesting. Her style was so feminine and thoughtful and it has definitely inspired me to think more about my dress and style sense.

Tehuana earrings by Iris De La Torre
Mexican parrot brooch by Iris De La Torre

What’s your favourite item in the new range?

I loved designing all the pieces in the range, in particular the Tehuana earrings and necklaces. I really enjoyed trying to tell the story of Frida’s life through my designs but my favourite piece is probably the parrot. This was the hardest piece to make and it took sometime before I was happy with it. I’ve tried to create a colourful parrot that represents Frida as a beautiful free spirit.

Is there an outfit or object in the exhibition that interested or inspired you?

I enjoyed learning that she had a pair of sophisticated yellow translucent celluloid sunglasses with gold details. Through my research, I also discovered a gorgeous jade green bathing suit, which she probably wore with the sunglasses when she went to the beach. In contrast, I like to imagine her with her traditional Tehuana outfit and very modern sunglasses. I really think she was ahead of her time.

Sunglasses brooch by Iris De La Torre
Sunglasses pendant necklace by Iris De La Torre

Do you think Frida would have enjoyed the V&A?

If Frida visited London, I am sure her first port of call would be the V&A. It was the first place in London where my spirit felt at home. She would find inspiration there as well, I’m sure. 

If you met Frida Kahlo today, what would you like to ask her or say to her?

I would say to her: thank you for being who you are, for being brave enough to bare your soul for your art and your nation, for empowering women, and the marginalised, to be themselves rather than being the pale reflections of themselves that some men or society would want them to be. 

I would ask her if she would be willing to give me painting lessons!

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