Frida Kahlo may be modern artu2019s most enduringly fashionable figure. In recent years, her likeness has appeared on nail polish and tequila bottles, espresso machines and pursesu2014and even in the form of a controversial Barbie doll released this spring. But for all the apparent overexposure, one part of her life always remained off-limits: her clothing. After Kahlou2019s death in 1954, Diego Rivera locked her wardrobe inside a bathroom at La Casa Azul in Mexico City, where it remained sealed and unseen for half a century.u00a0 u00a0
This month, Londonu2019s Victoria and Albert Museum debuts Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, the first time this long-hidden collection will be seen outside Mexico. Through displays of clothing, jewelry, hand-painted corsets, and other personal effects, the exhibit shows how one of the 20th centuryu2019s most recognized artists constructed her identityu2014and why her style-icon status endures today.
u201cKahlo was ahead of her time,u201d says cocurator Circe Henestrosa, u201ca cult figure that has been appropriated by feminists, artists, and fashion designers.u201d Henestrosa identifies Jean-Paul Gaultieru2019s spring/summer 1998 collection (which featured models in tiered skirts and flower crowns) and Riccardo Tisciu2019s fall 2010 haute couture collection for Givenchy (which highlighted religious and anatomical motifs) as key examples of her impact on the fashion world.
Henestrosa notes that Kahlo used her u201cstriking appearance as a political statement,u201d crafting her image to reflect her mestizo identity at a time when much of Mexican society was wearing European designers. Examples on view include her traditional Tehuana garmentsu2014rebozos (shawls), huipiles (embroidered square-cut tops), and long, ruffled skirtsu2014as well as items from her personal makeup bag, including the ebony Revlon eyebrow pencil she used to emphasize her famous unibrow.
Henestrosau2019s favorite item, however, is Kahlou2019s prosthetic leg, which wears a red leather boot decorated with bells and appliquu00e9d silk embroidered with Chinese dragons. u201cShe turned her prosthetic leg into an avant-garde object,u201d Henestrosa says.