Behind the Seams: Crafting Couture for IIDA Unravel 2024

Shelby Barker By: Shelby Barker

On May 31st, the Interior Design community of St. Louis came together for a night of high fashion, creativity, and design skills at the IIDA Unravel 2024 event. This biannual showcase, hosted by the International Interior Design Association, transforms design firms into fashion houses, each presenting a unique couture piece inspired by a specific theme, this year being iconic works of art. With close to 20 firm entries, the fierce competition and the anticipation were palpable. So, how did we at Mackey Mitchell Architects bring our vision to life?

IIDA Gateway chapter

The Two Fridas: Our Muse

Our journey began with Frida Kahlo’s hauntingly beautiful painting, “The Two Fridas.” This artwork, rich with symbolism, served as the perfect muse for our design. “The Two Fridas” portrays two versions of Frida sitting side by side, connected by a vein running between their hearts. One Frida is dressed in traditional Tehuana attire, symbolizing her Mexican heritage, while the other is clad in a Victorian dress, representing her European ancestry. This duality of identity is a recurring theme in Frida’s work, and we aimed to capture this complexity in our design.

To fully exhibit Frida’s multifaceted identity, we explored various aspects of her life and art. Her mixed heritage was reflected through her use of vibrant, embroidered fabrics and floral motifs, paying homage to her Mexican roots. Her exploration of gender expression inspired us to create an ensemble that blended traditional feminine and modern elements, showcasing her bold defiance of societal norms. We also wanted to incorporate elements that symbolized her personal values and physical struggles.

Frida’s ability to weave her personal experiences into her fashion and persona was a guiding principle for our design. By embracing the dichotomies that defined her—her cultural background, gender identity, and resilience in the face of adversity—we aimed to create a piece that not only honored her legacy but also resonated with the contemporary themes of identity and self-expression. Our design sought to reflect the essence of Frida Kahlo, celebrating her enduring legacy and the timeless relevance of her art and life.

Frida’s art often explored the theme of duality, so we envisioned a look that captures her different identities. We also imagined what a 2024 version of Frida might wear. Might she still express herself through elaborate adornments? Could modern medical advancements have altered her appearance, perhaps allowing her to showcase her legs or update her spinal casts? Perhaps she would embrace new ways to explore and present her gender expression. And, finally, what would this modern Frida wear on the runway?

New York Times: London exhibition of  Frida’s wardrobe

Design and Concept

Our design concept unfolded through three distinct looks, each representing a different aspect of Frida’s evolution. The team meticulously crafted each element, from initial sketches to final fittings, ensuring that every detail honored Frida’s legacy and our creative vision.

The first look drew directly from her traditional attire, grounding our design in her historical roots by incorporating elements such as vibrant, fabrics, and floral accessories typical of her iconic style. We meticulously replicated the intricate patterns and rich textures found in her traditional dresses in a long skirt and shawl, ensuring that every detail paid homage to Frida’s cultural heritage and personal aesthetics. This foundational look set the stage for the subsequent transformations, highlighting the timeless beauty of her authentic fashion choices.

The second look introduced a heart-themed, highly feminized corset over a long-sleeved blouse, symbolizing her personal struggles and strength. The heart motif was replicated as a mosaic made of sharp metal laminate to represent both the physical and emotional pain Frida endured throughout her life. It reflects her deep passion and resilience, capturing the essence of her enduring spirit and the way she wore her heart on her sleeve, both literally and metaphorically, in her art and life.

The final look transformed the ensemble by opening the skirt to reveal pants, merging traditional and modern styles to reflect Frida’s forward-thinking spirit. This transformation symbolizes her ability to exist within multiple cultures and her embrace of both femininity and strength. By incorporating pants, we highlight her progressive stance on gender expression and her ability to blend different aspects of her identity seamlessly.

A particularly significant element of this design is the interior of the skirt, which is covered in hand-crafted flowers. These flowers, only visible once the skirt is opened, represent the hidden layers of Frida’s personality and talent as an artist beyond her fashion legacy. The flowers are a nod to Frida’s love for vibrant, natural elements often depicted in her artwork and personal style. This hidden floral detail again underscores the theme of duality, revealing the intricate, colorful essence of Frida that existed beyond her paintings symbolizing her inner resilience, passion, and self-love.

The Execution

Bringing our design to life was both a challenge and a joy. We meticulously handcrafted over a hundred flowers to create a vibrant, textured skirt, which weighed over 40 pounds once all the flowers were installed. Another labor of love was the mosaic heart made from metal laminates, each piece hand-cut and glued to the corset with precision. Experimentation was essential as we developed attachments to support the skirt’s structure and considerable weight. We intricately braided ribbons into the wig, paying homage to Frida’s traditional roots. To bridge the past and present, we modernized Frida’s makeup with a playful, bedazzled unibrow, creating a look that is both timeless and contemporary.

Every step of the process was a testament to our team’s dedication and creativity, resulting in an ensemble that captured the essence of Frida Kahlo both then and now. We received support from our team partners, Wolf Gordon and Laminart, and enjoyed finding new ways to use their products.

Participating in IIDA Unravel 2024 was an exhilarating experience, filled with creativity and camaraderie. Our final piece not only honored Frida Kahlo but also celebrated the power of design to tell stories and inspire. We invite you to see our creation, along with other stunning pieces, at Hotel 21c in St. Louis this September. Join us in celebrating art, fashion, and the enduring legacy of one of the world’s most iconic artists.

Team Photo
Pictured: Baili Null, Christy Phelps, Caitlin Seim (model), Emily Senjan, Javier Diaz, Tom Peterson
Not Pictured: Shelby Barker, Jen Wilkins, Gwynn Zivic, Ivon Tjandra