Puma’s latest collection boasts subtle floral patterns on a black background and is said to be inspired by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The crop tops, leggings, bags, baseball caps, windbreakers and trainers are topped with embroidered phrases by the artist that are timely, like, “It’s not a sin to be original.” The sportswear launched a week ago and for the influencers in social networks beat the drum, enjoys great popularity with the Mexican audience. But not with the family of the artist, who died in 1954.
Frida Kahlo’s great-niece, Mara Romeo Kahlo, now called in her lawyers and sent a letter to Puma. In it, the German company is asked to stop production and marketing of the product line within seven days. “We feel compelled to urge you to refrain from any commercial activity using the name and likeness of the painter Frida Kahlo,” the letter read, published by Mexican media on Wednesday. Otherwise legal steps and a process in Spain threatened.
Apart from the name, however, the collection hardly resembles Frida Kahlo. The floral patterns are more like indigenous handicrafts from southern Mexico, but are not as brightly colored as this one, but in muted shades of olive, pink, gold and brown. In particular, the disturbing aspects of the artist disabled by polio and an accident, her quarrels with her infertility and with the toxic masculinity of her husband Diego Rivera are consistently left out.
Puma has the approval of the Panamá-based Corporación Frida Kahlo, which manages the Frida Kahlo brand, for the collection. But this company has been internally at odds for over a decade between Venezuelan majority owner Carlos Dorado and the family, which holds 49 percent.
The grandniece accuses the other side of being in breach of contract. Dorado only has the rights to costume jewellery, paper, cardboard and print products, alcoholic beverages and certain cosmetic items, the family argues, according to a report in the newspaper El País. Any extensions would require family approval.
The Corporación Frida Kahlo, on the other hand, claims to have all the rights and briefly commented on the threat of legal action: The family resorts to media conflicts instead of constructively supporting the work of the company and arousing interest in the art and the legacy of the painter. In addition to the dispute over the brand’s reach, the Panamanian company – which has numerous shareholders and branches in offshore paradises – also appears to have some accounting problems, the report says.
In any case, the family’s lawyers complain that the balance sheets presented to them show losses – despite full order books and booming sales worldwide. The family is therefore trying to regain exclusivity via the brand name. The dispute dates back to 2004, when the artist’s sole heir, Isolda Pinedo, left 51 percent of the company to Venezuelan businessman Carlos Dorado for an undisclosed sum. He now makes the decisions about marketing. The heiresses of Pinedo, who died in 2007, Mara Romeo and her daughter Mara de Anda, do not agree.
The conflict escalated four years ago. At that time it was about a Barbie doll with the face of Frida Kahlo from the Mattel company. The heiresses argued that the doll was far too fair-skinned and slim. “Frida was not a Barbie, but a woman with many flaws,” said Mara de Anda at the time. In Mexico, the legal dispute initially led to a court order to stop the sale of the doll. In 2021, a Mexican court dismissed the main claim over who owns the majority stake, saying it has no jurisdiction over foreign-based companies. In Panama and Spain further proceedings for the rights to the trademark are ongoing.
Kahlo, daughter of a German emigrant and photographer from Pforzheim and a Mexican mother, was born in Mexico City in 1907. In 1925 she was the victim of a tram accident in which a steel rod pierced her pelvis. She survived, but from then on suffered constant pain and often had to spend weeks lying in a plaster or steel corset.
Painting saved her from the depression. She was a communist, bisexual and a passionate defender of indigenous cultures. She later married the muralist Diego Rivero. Her surrealistic work was long overshadowed by her husband’s creations. She only became famous around the world after feminists rediscovered her in the 1970s and made her one of their icons.