The evolution of Frida Kahlo, from girl of good family to young spouse of Diego Rivera to becoming the most famous female artist of all times, can be followed in her art and her fashion.
The Frida Kahlo collection shows, through vintage photographs, the evolution of Frida’s style, and over 30 dresses as Frida used to wear and paint starting in 1940 when she was 33 years old.
Photos of Frida Kahlo and her family, taken by her father Wilhelm Kahlo, show that Frida came from a conservative family where the girls wore dresses in sailor style, ribbons in the hair and patent leather shoes.
As a young 18 year old woman, she dresses in a conservative fashion with a silk garment and white socks.
Meeting Diego Rivera brought a change in her style, and Frida Kahlo started to wear simple traditional Mexican dresses combined with extraordinary Maya necklaces and elaborated earrings, which Diego gave her as a present.
Over the years, Frida selected the Tehuana blouses (huipils) and dresses of the strong women of the Tehuantepec region as her favourite attire.
Photographic documentation illustrates that, starting in 1940 with the second marriage to Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo wears more exclusive, elaborate Huipils originated in small villages in the regions around Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla.
These dresses are a testimony of how Frida style became richer, more colourful and decorated, as with these highly embroderied dresses she wanted to hide the increasing disintegration of her body.
The dresses in the Kunstmuseum Gehrke-Remund collection already a rarity in the 1940’s, are the result of months long research from the Museum-Curators. Each piece is an original made in the villages in South Mexico where they were hand-vowen, hand embroidered by the ethnic women who still live in these villages.
Each piece in the collection has a unique story, here below are some of my favourite, not only because of the story connected to Frida wearing the identical dress, but also because of the story of finding them and showing them for the first time in the Museum in Baden-Baden, Germany.
Huipil from Huautla de Jiménez with black skirt as Frida Kahlo wore for her second wedding in San Francisco, 1940. This is an extremely rare cotton Huipil, hand embroidered with wool, decorated with lace, coloured satin ribbons, usually pink and blue.
The garment is divided into three squares at the top and three at the bottom. On the chest and on the back flowers and real size birds are embroidered. The neckline is adorned with a large collar of tulle and satin ribbons alternating blue and pink. Ribbons and lace decorate the sleeves.
The original Huipil is worn with a white cotton skirt with embroidered birds at the end of the skirt hold tightly at the waist with a large red cotton belt. Frida Kahlo used to wear it with a long black skirt.
Huautla de Jiménez (the name means “eagle nest”) is a village at 1700 mt with 30’000 inhabitants in the Mazatec region. It is seven hours journey by bus from Oaxaca on winding mountain roads.
# 72: Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait with Cropped Hair, 1940, # 82: Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait with Braid, 1941; Licensed replica: ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008
Huipil from Jalapa de Diaz with red-ruby skirt as Frida wore in a photo session with Leo Matiz, famous VIP photographer, 1940.
This is a very sophisticated and richly decorated Huipil made of green silk material embroidered with flowers in red.
The embroideries not always represent stylized plants or birds, the style varies from family to family. A large white lace collar cut in a round shape adorns the neck.
The Huipil is made of three sections, each section always ends with a white lace, the sleeves are made of the same lace material.
Jalapa de Diaz (the name means “in the sand”) is a village with 26000 inhabitants in the Mazatec region. It is five hours drive from Oaxaca.
Antique Rebozo made in Tenancingo, provenience: Mexico City, 1827.
This is a rebozo as Frida Kahlo used to wear and paint.
It is a loom woven scarf in deep blue (indigo), white wool and cotton with a very long elaborate knotted fringe.
Tenancingo, South West of Mexico City, is best noted for the production of robozos, being documented as early as 1790.
Photo: # 83: Frida Kahlo, Portrait of Lucha Maria, A Girl from Tehuacan, 1942; Licensed replica © Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008
“Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress: The Fashion of Frida Kahlo” by Carlos Phillips Olmedo, Denise Rosenzweig, Magdalena Rosenzweig and Teresa del Conde (2008).
Author: Dr. Mariella Remund