When a wealth of possessions was unearthed from the house of Frida Kahlo in 2004, it shone a light-weight not simply on her inventive life, however her magnificence regime, too. For among the many huge rainbow of Mexican costume, letters, medicines and hundreds of images by Man Ray and others, have been the contents of the Mexican painter’s make-up bag. All completely preserved by her artist husband Diego Rivera, collectively, these objects kind the central narrative of Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, a monumental exhibition opening on the V&A this week, exploring the numerous layers of her wealthy, advanced identification.
On show, alongside the self-portraits that made up near a 3rd of her inventive output, will probably be Kahlo’s jar of Pond’s cream; her Revlon “crimson” blush and lipstick; and an intensive assortment of perfumes and nail polishes. What’s absent is equally poignant: the powder compact despatched to her by the sweetness magnate Helena Rubinstein, a eager collector of Kahlo’s work who deemed the artist simpatico, is just not right here. And moreover the merchandise that accentuated her famously winged brows, no eye make-up was discovered. There’s no basis or concealer both, suggesting that she saved her pores and skin clear and minimal.
That Kahlo favoured an undone magnificence look is borne out each within the merchandise she used and descriptions of her from the time. Seen collectively along with her physique of labor, they paint a vivid image of the artist’s each day magnificence rituals: “She possessed – and even radiated – a wierd and alluring magnificence,” wrote Olga Campos, a psychology pupil who befriended Kahlo later in life. “She had a particular talent for making use of make-up and attaining a pure look, and spent loads of time on this impact. She was all the time made-up and effectively dressed, even when she didn’t anticipate guests. She knew learn how to rework herself right into a sensational magnificence, irresistible and distinctive.”
Kahlo’s look impressed awe: “Individuals cease of their tracks to look in marvel,” stated Edward Weston, who photographed her throughout a go to to San Francisco in 1930. She styled herself in Tehuana gown to mark her Mexican heritage, piling on the jewelry. Her each day routine concerned tightly pulling again, plaiting and pinning up her hair, adorning it with vibrant woven yarns and floral corsages (at evening, every pin was eliminated, one-by-one, and the hair unwoven in a precise reverse order). She would then add a rigorously drawn lip, powder blush and nail polish in matching reds and oranges – or generally magenta to match her signature scarf. “Make-up was merely one other software within the development of her identification. Every part she did, she did exactly,” says the V&A present’s curator, Claire Wilcox, of her course of. “I don’t assume she ever dressed for anybody however herself.”
It’s maybe no shock that cosmetics, like garments, grew to become one thing of a masks for Kahlo. Her life was etched by bodily wrestle after polio left her disabled at aged six, and a bus accident fractured a number of bones, together with her spinal column, at 18. “Kahlo got here to depend on make-up,” says Wilcox, who sees her lipsticks and powders as a robust transformative software. “When her physique let her down, her face grew to become her canvas.” A lady who knew learn how to wield a brush may simply switch her painterly abilities from artist’s palette to make-up palette. As a painter, Kahlo spent a lot of her life surrounded by mirrors, surveying her personal visage; they have been scattered all through The Blue Home, which bookended her life; mirrors have been even positioned above the mattress through which she was so typically confined.
The stark actuality is that, regardless of her flamboyance, Kahlo typically lacked confidence in her appears to be like. She titles a self-portrait from 1933, which captures the younger artist along with her face unadorned, Very Ugly. “Of my face, I just like the eyebrows and the eyes,” she wrote, matter-of-factly. “Other than that, I like nothing. I’ve the moustache and usually the face of the other intercourse.”
About these celebrated brows: Kahlo’s magnificence package contained each an “Ebony”-hued Revlon eyebrow pencil and a product named Talika, which was first developed in Paris after the conflict to deal with troopers with burns, but in addition inspired hair progress. It means that not solely did Kahlo refuse to tweeze; she actively enhanced these daring brows, which Rivera poetically in comparison with “the wings of a blackbird.”
It’s her eyebrows that posed one of many best challenges to Judy Chin, the make-up artist behind Salma Hayek’s portrayal of Kahlo within the 2002 biopic, Frida. (The movie has since garnered controversy after Hayek’s admission of her ailing therapy by producer Harvey Weinstein.) To recreate their energy, Chin utilized a small swatch of lace, hand-spun with angora, between Hayek’s brows, generally including the occasional single hair. For excessive close-ups, she would painstakingly hand-build the brows, hair-by-hair, with glue and tweezers, layering them with forehead pens from Stila and Kat Von D.
“Kahlo liked a daring crimson lip and a powerful wholesome blush. Her smile appears assured, however there’s a vulnerability to it too,” says Chin, whose moodboard was plastered with Kahlo’s work and household images. “I attempted to imitate the depth I discovered in Frida’s eyes with gentle and shadow. I sculpted Hayek’s extra spherical and youthful face to convey out her bone construction to symbolize Frida in her later years, utilizing rosy and peachy tones by Tarte and Paula Dorf to create a pure flush in her cheeks and her lips.”
As Kahlo aged, and her well being deteriorated, her make-up grew to become markedly extra vibrant and ornamental. This magnificence evolution is finest seen within the work of Nickolas Muray, a Vogue photographer who pioneered using duotone color imagery, and with whom Kahlo launched into a decade-long affair. When he captured her in opposition to a lush inexperienced backdrop, her hair flush with roses, her face was lit up by ruddy cheeks and vibrant burnished orange lipstick and nails.
In actual fact, she wore a completely painted face for each certainly one of her sittings with Muray, whose photos are included within the V&A present. “The make-up actually jumps out in Muray’s images,” says Wilcox – she is satisfied it was the photographer, who shot campaigns for Revlon, who inspired Kahlo to put on extra make-up.
“To my thoughts, make-up was part of a sensual awakening for Kahlo,” she continues, including that the artist typically sealed her most intimate correspondence with a lipstick kiss. “The psychology behind cosmetics is rather more advanced and revealing than it first appears. Kahlo should have recognized their energy as a morale booster. It’s very poignant. Nothing might be extra private than the lipstick that touched her lips.”
Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, sponsored by Grosvenor Britain & Eire, is on the V&A from 16 June to four November 2018.