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Frida, Rivera and the Wardrobe. The Victoria and Albert Museum is exhibiting the nonconformist paintress’s personal belongings

The secret room has been locked for half a century. Following Frida’s death in 1954, Diego Rivera confined all her personal belongings in the bathroom in their far-famed Casa Azul (‘Blue House') to keep them away from the public until fifteen years after his death. He died three years later, but the rooms were only unlocked in 2004 when the Frida Kahlo Museum started making an illustrated catalogue. Now, after fourteen years, it is for the first time that Frida’s personal effects are to be presented to so many people.

The secret room

In the very heart of Coyoacán (a district in Mexico City), in Kahlo and Rivera’s legendary house, which is now a museum, Frida lived all her life except for her American period. Even after her death she stayed in her house: her ashes rest there. When she died, Diego had the doors of her wardrobe and bathroom, with all her belongings, sealed up.
The Casa Azul. Photo from:

The museum officials did not trouble the calm of the locked rooms until 2004. This is how Frida’s bathroom looked when unlocked.

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Among the treasures found, there were about 300 articles of clothing, accessories, letters, household items. To have pictures taken of every object found, the museum turned to Ishiuchi Miyako, a famous Japanese photographer. Her photos from the holy of holies were then published on the portal
Traditional Mexican tunics, embroidered flowy skirts, cat-eye glasses, a faded bathing suit, shoes and stockings — they can now be only seen in the photos, but as early as next year, the public will have a chance to look at the artist’s personal items in a large-scale display which is now being prepared by the Victoria and Albert Museum.

A second skin

Pain was a keynote of Frida’s whole art, of her very life. She often portrayed herself pierced with nails, or wearing thorn necklaces, or with a broken column in place of her spine. She is commonly called an icon of style, but the exhibition will be far from glamorous: among the objects displayed, there will be very private ones, like orthopaedic devices and medications.

Frida Kahlo’s gloves.

Above:, Left: Ishiuchi Miyako, www.

  • The spacesuit-like corset Frida was wearing for the first three months after her injury. From:
  • Her knit bathing suit. From:
All her fanciful hairstyles and layers of clothing were to camouflage her body, which, since her childhood, had been a battlefield where she fought physical ailments. Her outfits were her armour: plaster casts and leather corsets with loose straight tunics, shawls, and stoles worn over them, long skirts that concealed the effects from her childhood polio (her right leg was thinner than left). Her liking for unconventional, eclectic garments was due to her remarkable stoicism: the more pain she felt, the more brightly she was dressed. At times, getting out of bed was a challenging task for her, and Frida would ask her sister to weave fresh flowers and colourful ribbons into her ebony hair.
Photo by Nickolas Muray. From:

To make up for the different length of her legs, one heel on her boots was higher than the other.

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  • A traditional Mexican dress from Frida’s wardrobe. Photo:
  • A skirt of green silk and lace attached to a body corset. Photo:
She was bedridden after a horrific bus accident at the age of eighteen. To paint self-portraits in the lying position, she used a mirror hung up above her bed. Frida’s hand-painted plaster corset reminds of the torturous period when her body was immobilised, while her spirit stayed free.
  • From:
  • From:
Photo from:
Frida started her fashion experiments wearing formal male suits and hair drawn back into a bun, an image referring to her political likings. But Diego preferred the womanly Kahlo, and it was only when they were having tiffs that she put on what she used to wear in her green years. Interestingly, for her wedding ceremony, Frida borrowed her maid’s ethnic costume — just for fun, but Diego was delighted.
One of the artist’s outfits. Photo:
In 1953, when she had her leg amputated to stop gangrene, Kahlo designed a prosthetic leg, with a boot covered in lacing and embroidery and a little bell attached.

Photo: Ishiuchi Miyako. From:

Frida Kahlo’s lacy Mexican headdress. Left: Below:

Though her nationality was a hell of a cocktail (a German father and a mother of Mexican Indian descent),
Frida identified herself as Mexican. She took her attire and accessories from the Tehuantepec matriarchal culture.
Frida believed that heavy decorations conveyed the spirit of a strong, independent woman, who could hold her fate in her hands.
Frida Kahlo’s earrings. Photo:
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Frida and Diego collected pre-Columbian artworks, so plenty of Frida’s decorations were real curiosities. She looked lovely in chunky necklaces of seashells, corals, or pebbles, in large bracelets and earrings.

Among her many ethnic accessories, the earrings in the form of two hands are especially curious. She cherished them for they were Picasso’s present made in Paris. The painter first saw Kahlo’s works in the exhibition of Mexican art in 1939 and found them marvellous. We can see the hand earrings in some of her self-portraits.
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Frida’s hands were themselves an artwork: the left one with perpetual blood-red nail polish and loaded with rings,
the right one with no decorations so that it could freely hold a paintbrush.

  • Frida’s famous red nail polish.
  • A portable ashtray. From:

To the public eye

It was not until six years after the secret rooms were opened that the Frida Kahlo Corporation made the first presentation of the artefacts in the exhibition ‘Appearances Can Be Deceiving. The Dresses of Frida Kahlo'. But the European public is going to see the treasures for the first time.
Photo of the exhibition 'Appearances Can Be Deceiving' in the Frida Kahlo Museum (Mexico City, November, 2012).
Photo from:
Frida Kahlo’s numerous self-portraits painted long before the invention of selfie cameras help us view her in detail. Besides her personal effects, visitors will have a chance to see her paintings My Dress Hangs There (1933) and The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego, and Señor Xolotl (1949).
Frida’s originality, her unmistakably recognisable style, have always inspired decorative artists and fashion designers. In 1939, her photo by Nickolas Muray became a cover image of the Paris version of Vogue. About the same time, Elsa Schiaparelli designed her famous robe Mme. Rivera. After the 1980s, fashion designers have been doing their best to make the Frida Kahlo style a popular trend (Gautier's collection for Givenchy, 1998, is a notable example).
Frida’s photo for the cover image of Vogue
For over sixty years, Frida Kahlo has remained an icon of style. The artefacts that made up her personal environment will be on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, from June 16, 2018.
Frida Kahlo’s outfits. Photo from:
Information taken from: www.,,,,,
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