“Appearances Can Be Deceiving : Frida Kahlo’s Wardrobe,” Revealed After 60 Years

 An unlocking of the iconic wardrobe of the Mexican artist after 60 years

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Frida Khalo was one of the most memorable artists of the twentieth century, and her personal style was a deep part of her artistic identity. Her self portraits and personal mythology became an icon of inspiration for feminists, political activists, and artists to the present day.

Forgoing the slinky dresses and gelled curls of the 1930’s, Khalo instead wore traditional Mexican Tehuana costuming, which consisted of a long, full, skirt; a short, square blouse covered with necklaces; and flowered headpiece, which she usually wore over tautly parted and braided hair. The Tehuana was an indigenous, Mexican, matriarchal society, and her choice to wear their garments asserted her feminist stance. He identity was so deeply linked to her wardrobe that when she died in 1954, her husband Diego Rivera decided that all of her clothing, jewelry, corsets, and accessories were to be locked up in a closet for fifteen years. But he died three years later, and friend of the couple (who was also an art collector) named Dolores Olmedo became their estate manager, and the inaccessible closet remained a locked mystery space at Casa Azul, Khalo and Rivera’s home. According to Mexican costume and fashion curator Circe Henestrosa, a series of misunderstandings led to all of the garments to be kept under lock and key until Olmedo died in 2002 (some accounts say 2004).

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Now, Frida’s iconic clothing is on display at Museo Frida Khalo in Mexico City (AKA Casa Azul). In addition to the flamboyant and radical garments that she made so irrevocably hers, the intimate show also exhibits an aspect of the artist that was just as emblematic of her as the clothes: her ongoing physical pain. During her childhood, she suffered from polio, leaving her health fragile and with a small, stunted right leg. As a teenager, she also suffered a terribly violent bus accident, which led to many surgeries to correct her spine; as a married woman, she also suffered a number of miscarriages. To make matters worse, her husband, muralist Rivera, had numerous infidelities during their dramatic marriage. Khalo was in chronic pain—both physical and emotional—her whole life, giving great depth and rawness to her self-portraits.

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On display along with the brightly colored, indiginous-inspired Tehuana ensembles are also the leather and plaster medical corsets that Khalo had to wear for years after the bus accident and subsequent numerous spinal surgeries, as well as prosthetics to aid with her polio-disabled leg which she had amputated a year before her death at 53.   The Tehuana costumes are certainly all of what she intended as a political and feminist statement, but the loose layers of the long skirts were also a comfortable way to conceal her handicapped leg, and the boxy shirt a way to conceal her plaster corsets.

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The exhibition also shows contemporary fashion inspired by Frida:  including three Givenchy Haute Couture by Riccardo Tisci dresses of the Fall Winter 2010 Collection, and a corset gown by Jean Paul Gaultier. The exhibition runs through January 2014.