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Frida Kahlo, her real look, on display in Mexico

Associated Press Modified: October 3, 2012 at 7:48 pm •  Published: October 3, 2012

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The women on the cocktail circuit of the late 1930s were all curve-hugging dresses and gelled curls. Not Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo. She graced dinner parties and theaters from Paris to New York in ribbons, full skirts and loose peasant blouses embroidered with vividly colored flowers, and her uni-brow was a bold contrast to the pencil-line eyebrows of the time.

Over the years, Kahlo's look has become as influential as her art, capturing the fancy of trendsetters from Madonna to singer Gwen Stefani and French designer Jean Paul Gaultier. There are YouTube tutorials on how to braid hair like she wore hers, and Vogue Italy lets readers know where to shop for Kahloesque skirts and jewelry.

"She has made stylistically a lasting impression on fashion and style in general because it had both: use of color and she was definitely an icon of the feminist movement," said Misha Nonoo, a British designer who last month showcased her Spring 2013 collection with the concept of a fictional Kahlo visit to Havana.

Now, a full collection from her wardrobe is going on display in Mexico City after being locked away for nearly 50 years in her armoires and dressers: jewelry, shoes and clothes that still carry the scent of the late artist's perfume and cigarette smoke or stains from painting.

"She had a tremendous self-confidence. She was convinced that what she wore displayed who she was inside," said Alejandra Lopez, art restorer for the painter's home, now the Frida Kahlo Museum, where the collection will be shown starting Nov. 22 in an exhibit sponsored by Vogue Mexico.

Yet Kahlo's clothing was also an armor of sorts. It was her ally in disguising a life of pain, both physical and emotional. She had polio as a child, a bus accident maimed her at age 18, there were miscarriages, and she endured the countless affairs of her husband, renowned muralist Diego Rivera.

Her long, full skirts hid a tiny, thin right leg, and loose blouses covered the stiff corsets she wore for back pain.

"She described how she used her clothes to cover her body imperfections," the exhibit's curator, Circe Henestrosa, said during a sneak peek offered to The Associated Press.

After Kahlo died in 1954, her husband ordered her clothes to be locked up for 15 years. He died three years later, leaving art collector Dolores Olmedo as the manager of his and Kahlo's houses and she refused to give access to Kahlo's archives of letters, clothes, jewelry and photographs. They were not unlocked until 2004, after Olmedo died.

Museum director Hilda Trujillo said three of Kahlo's dresses created a frenzy when they were shown in 2007, featured in fashion stories across the world.

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