When Frida Kahlo died in 1954, Diego Rivera (her husband) established that the room with her wardrobe should remain locked for 50 years.
In April 2004 this room was opened and many pieces of her wardrobe were found, this allowed the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico to recreate and partly to repair Frida Kahlo dresses and underwear.
The opening of the room and the process of identifying her clothes was described in a book: “Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress. The Fashion of Frida Kahlo”. 2008.
The famous blouses of Frida are called “Huipile” (= blouse). The Huipile is a garment worn by the Maya women in southern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Western Honduras. Today it is still worn in the area of the isthmus of Tehuantapec, Southern Mexico
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec provides the shortest route over land between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.
Before the construction of the Panama Canal this was the main traffic artery, and it was known as the Tehuantepec route. Geographically, the isthmus separates North - from Central America.
The Huipile is a garment with great personal and communication power. The pattern of the Huipile reveals the location, the social and family status, the religious background of the woman who wears it. It also makes statements about faith and prosperity. The Huipile is a testimony of the highest Mayan weaving art.
Huipiles are usually made of two or three layers of fabric connected with decorative embroidery. They are then folded and sewn together, with an opening left in the middle for the head. Each Huipile (blouse) and Falta (skirt) is unique. Flower motifs are embroidered by hand. The geometric patterns are hand-woven.
If a woman is lucky, she owns one or two Huipiles to wear daily. Often she owns another Huipile for special occasions such as weddings, festivals and religious ceremonies.
A woman has only a very limited number of Huipiles throughout her life. A well woven Huipile can be worn for 20 to 30 years. Then, when the Huipile can no longer be worn, it is divided into small pieces of cloth and used as a carpet or sown into a quilt.
The Maya art of weaving went almost lost in recent years. Today, however, weaving cooperatives have been founded to revive the Mayan art again. Moreover studies are conducted to preserve the knowledge of the old methods of weaving and colouring the textiles. The use of specific patterns is sacred, as they are related to the "holy dreams of the girls”. For the Mayas, dreams were of great importance, they believed that dreams conveyed messages from the spiritual world.
The Huipiles (blouses) in the exhibition of the Kunstmuseum Gehrke-Remund are original from Mexico. They are exactly in the style as Frida Kahlo used to wear and to paint.
The black and gold Huipile in the exhibition is original from Oaxaca, a rare piece from the period 1920-1930.
Source: from the lecture: "The Dresses of Frida: Meaning, History and Secrets."
Dr. M.C. Remund, Kunstmuseum Gehrke-Remund, Baden-Baden, 2009.