Frida and Fragrance


“I am my own muse. I am the subject I know best.”

I’m currently reading Frida Kahlo: Making Myself Up, edited by Claire Wilcox and Circe Henstrosa and published by the Victoria & Albert in 2018. It’s the companion publication for the exhibition of the same name, open at the V&A through November 4, 2018.

This exhibition includes art by Kahlo and photographs of Kahlo taken by an international roster of photographers, some of whom were personal friends of the artist.  Its main theme is Kahlo’s keen sense of self-presentation and her symbolically (and literally) layered self-fashioning, exemplified by rarely seen objects from Kahlo’s home in Mexico City—intimate possessions like clothing, accessories, jewelry, and cosmetics.


The book is gorgeously illustrated with new color photography of these objects (now in the collections of the Museo Frida Kahlo). We can gaze upon images of Kahlo’s makeup (she bought lots of Revlon) and, yes, two perfume-related items. Kahlo apparently repurposed the bottle pictured above, which originally held Chanel No. 5 lotion, as a container for nail polish remover (“acetona“).

(I love the way these smaller booklets of images are inserted between two-page spreads of textiles from Kahlo’s wardrobe.)


And there’s a Guerlain Shalimar bottle — now emptied of its parfum, but still beautiful, and looking at home against some Chinese-style embroidery from one of Kahlo’s skirts.

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The V&A online shop is selling Kahlo-inspired jewelry by contemporary Mexican designers, like this necklace from Iris De La Torre (£125). Its charms include flowers and hearts, sunglasses, crimson nail polish, and a wee Shalimar bottle.

I’m hoping to write more on this topic soon. In the meantime, enjoy knowing that you can wear Kahlo’s favorite perfume, since Shalimar is still available — not smelling quite the same as it did in the 1930s-40s, perhaps, but it’s still a must-try.

Cover image: detail of a portrait by Nickolas Murray, 1939 (Nickolas Muray Photo Archives). Images of Chanel and Guerlain products: Javier Hinojosa. All from Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up. Necklace photo from V&A website.



  1. Nice post and a beautiful book (that gift shop necklace…not so much). So Frida may have used Chanel No. 5 and Shalimar, while elsewhere I’ve read that she also had bottles of Shocking and Emir. Can we ever know which one was her favorite? Emir is an unusual composition, not especially feminine, and I’ve sometimes wondered if that bottle was used up by Diego.


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