Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up at the V&A

Frida Kahlo with Olmec figurine, 1939. © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

Oh womenfolk, this is GLORIOUS. Among us fashion folk, Frida has superstar status due to her artful style, use of colour and accessories and empowering feminist views on life. She was also a magnificent artist and her work sells for millions, not always the case with female artists.

Seriously disabled due to childhood polio and an horrific bus accident in her teens, Frida took to painting -particularly self portraiture – after becoming bed-bound. She also choreographed her appearance, through her clothes and accessories, to communicate her political views, taking pride in her mixed race identity and love of Mexican culture.

The exhibition is exciting because most of what’s on show has never been seen before, 200 items from Kahlo’s Mexican home, the Blue House, were only rediscovered in 2004, having been locked away by her husband Diego Rivera on her death in 1954. Clothes, medicines. cosmetics, jewellery and those terrifying corsets needed to keep her damaged spine straight all help to fill in a more detailed picture of Frida, and are shown alongside photography, artworks and film of her. Her father was a photographer and there are some wonderful images of her and her sisters as a child.

Her favourite lipstick was Revlon’s Everything’s Rosy and she wore Schiaparelli perfume but was also partial to a bit of Guerlain’s Shalimar. She kept her nail varnish remover in an old Chanel No. 5 bottle, carefully labelled ‘acetone’.

Her clothes and jewellery, although not hugely extensive here, are worth the entrance fee. Her love of densely embroidered huipiles tops, fringed rebozos scarves and long ruffled skirts – always worn maxi-length to hide her withered leg – is well represented and so inspiring to view. It makes you want to go home and chuck out all your beige and navy blue.

The curation is excellent, with jewellery and clothing positioned by relevant artworks for a glimpse at how she represented herself and her possessions. I suspect any visit will be packed with visitors though, so go prepared to take your time and edge to the front so as not to miss anything.

The store has a few good clothes and pieces of jewellery (below), I was taken by the rings and earrings, so be prepared to spend if this is your thing. And the excellent book will be a must for fans.

A joy from start to finish, Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up is on at the V&A from June 16 to November 4 2018.

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