Over time, the personal style of Mexican Surrealist painter Frida Kahlo has become as influential as her art. Embroidered peasant blouse, long skirt, shawl, braids piled high and festooned with flowers…this look is as iconically hers as her distinctive painting style. (Anna herself is such a fan of Kahlo that she named her beloved dog, Frida, after her!)
At the end of November, a stunning collection of Kahlo’s clothing and accessories will be on display in Mexico City at the painter’s home, now the Frida Kahlo Museum. Sponsored by Vogue Mexico, the show, entitled “Appearances Can Be Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo,” will exhibit numerous pieces that had been locked away in the artist’s armoires and dressers for almost 50 years.
Kahlo often wore traditional Mexican garments, but these outfits were quite an unusual statement in the sophisticated artistic circles of the 1930s, where woman favoured sleek gowns and gelled-down curls. However, Frida Kahlo wore her clothes very consciously as a badge of individuality and self-empowerment.
Her colourful garb helped her to disguise physical flaws that caused her pain. Long skirts hid a leg withered by childhood polio. Loose peasant blouses covered the stiff braces she often wore for back pain after being maimed in a bus accident. But these clothes also displayed an undeniable inner vibrance. “She was convinced that what she wore displayed who she was inside,” says Alejandra Lopez, art restorer at the museum.
Many of Kahlo’s blouses were custom made. She bought the fabrics and took them to Indian seamstresses. Some were made of velvet cherry, an elegant traditional fabric from the Oaxaca region known as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
The Tehuana dress, Kahlo’s signature piece, was named after the Indian woman of that region, says the show’s curator, Henestrosa. “It is not a dress she chose by accident. The women run that society. The women symbolize power.”