A new clothing exhibition set in Mexico City of the surrealist painter Frida Kahlo reveals her life spent in pain. The late artist was known for her unusual and eclectic wardrobe style, but curators at the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City say that this is probably due to the fact that she was trying to disguise a life of pain. Women on the cocktail circuit in the late 1930s wore figure hugging dresses but not Frida. She preferred full skirts and loose peasant blouses which had embroidered flowers on them. Frida would also personalise her wardrobe by adding ribbons and lace to accessorise her outfits. And the restorers in charge of the exhibition say that many of Frida’s blouses were custom made. She liked to buy the fabrics and take them to Indian seamstresses to make them up especially. One such fabric she loved was velvet cherry, a material often used for traditional elegant dresses in Oaxaca region known as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
The show, Appearances Can Be Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo, will go on display from November 22, and the exhibit’s curator, Circe Henestrosa told The Associated Press, “She described how she used her clothes to cover her body imperfections.” Frida had polio as a child, she was involved in a bus accident at age 18 that disabled her, she suffered from several miscarriages, and as for emotional hardship, she had to endure the many affairs of her husband, the renowned muralist Diego Rivera. To hide what she saw as her imperfections, she wore long, full skirts to cover her tiny, thin right leg, and in order to camouflage the stiff corsets she wore for back pain, she preferred to wear loose blouses.
On display will be some of Frida’s most iconic pieces of clothing, including a black velvet short cape with lace border, a worn silk blouse with square neckline of embroidered red, yellow and lavender flowers; and a purple cotton blouse with patterns of red and yellow squares. Also featuring will be a long purple skirt with white flowers that look like poppies, a yellow long-sleeved ruffle shirt with a pattern of fall leaves and a muslin skirt of sangria colour. The exhibition will show the white corset that Kahlo painted in her self-portrait The Broken Column. Frida’s iconic Tehuana dress, which was named after Indian women of that region, and her signature piece of clothing, is also featured in the exhibition. Frida often wore this dress with large gold earrings and flowers in her braided hair and Henestrosa says, “It is not a dress she chose by accident. The women run that society. The women symbolize power,” with the museum director Trujillo adding, “The dress became her signature look in her many self-portraits – copied by women worldwide. This is going to amplify her influence much more.”
Despite Frida’s ill health, she was a very confident women for her times, as the art restorer for her home, Alejandra Lopez describes, “She had a tremendous self-confidence. She was convinced that what she wore displayed who she was inside.” As well as items of Frida’s clothing are her paintings which include Las dos Fridas and her self portrait. Frida died in 1954 and her clothes were not seen for 15 years after her husband ordered them to be locked away. However, when he died, he left his and Frida’s houses to art collector Dolores Olmedo and even she refused to give the public access to the huge amount of letters, clothes, jewelry and photographs. When Olmedo died in 2004 they were finally released and shown in 2007, where they created an enormous frenzy. Her story was told in a film starring Mexican actress Salma Hayek and the world became aware of Frida’s story further with a biography by Hayden Herrera.
The exhibit, which launches at the Frida Kahlo Museum on November 22, has been sponsored by Vogue Mexico
Photo Credits: Associated Press