It tweaked the classic “woman” emoji by adding a crown of flowers, made from the “hibiscus” and “cherry blossom” icons, the “monkey” emoji, and a unibrow. It was unmistakably Kahlo, and likes streamed in. So did emails from top-tier museums, artist foundations, and Japanese and Korean emoji companies asking to partner with Cantor on the project—and expand it.
One conversation, with the Frida Kahlo Corporation (the entity which “owns the rights to the brand name Frida Kahlo World Wide,” according to its website), began to develop more quickly than the rest. In talking with Cantor, Beatriz Alvarado of the Frida Kahlo Corporation realized they shared the same vision for Kahlo’s legacy: “We both wanted to channel her voice into everyday life—and, in particular, to connect millennials and centennials to her work,” she explains. “Working with new technologies, like emoji, felt like a powerful way to do that.”
It was an ambitious goal, and not without challenges. First and foremost, Cantor and Alvarado faced a design problem: How do you communicate the complexity of such a multifaceted life and body of work into the regimented, graphic language of emoji? Or, as Cantor put it, “How do we express that Frida is more than just a unibrow and a flower crown?” First, Alvarado suggested iconic paintings that could be used as inspiration. Then Cantor began to pour the majority of his time into studying the intricacies of Kahlo’s aesthetic and artistic animus.
His research culminated in a trip to Mexico City, where he spent two weeks studying Kahlo’s paintings in person. The first canvas Cantor saw was Las Dos Fridas
(1939), Kahlo’s famed double portrait that she painted after her divorce from
, the behemoth Mexican muralist with whom she had a tumultuous relationship
. “The intensity of the emotions on their faces, and how many ways they could be read or stretched to tell different stories, really struck me,” Cantor says. “That was a turning point.”