Viva la Frida - The smells of Frida

Posted by Stephaney Oberon on

For 58 years the intimate details of artist Frida Kahlo's life were kept hidden behind a locked door. After she died in 1954, a bereaved Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican muralist, and husband to Frida locked the doors to her closet and denied entry to anyone. 3 years later, after the death of Diego, the keys went to patron and friend Dolores Olmedo who promised to keep the closet locked for another 15 years after Diego's death. True to her words, and beyond, she decided to keep the doors locked until her own death, which happened nearly 44 years later, in 2002. 

I often find myself wondering what it would have been like to be present that day at the opening of Frida's closet. To be among the first to see her elaborate Tehauna dresses, bottles of old nail polish, her jewelry, and her shoes. Yet mostly I wonder What would it have smelled like? At that moment of entry, when everything was an untouched capsule of time. Would there have been a whiff of the staleness of smoked cigarettes? Perspiration? Well worn leather? The scent of her perfume or old glass bottles of medicine? 

Dusty perfume bottles were among some of the treasures discovered in the two rooms closed off by Diego. They were part of the Brooklyn Museums exhibit, Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving, which was the first occasion any of these treasures were shown together in the U.S. In this article, Beyond the Canvas: 5 Fragrances Worn by Frida Kahlo Brooklyn Museum's Jessica Murphy shares those discovered bottles of perfume: 

Schiaparelli’s “Shocking”; Released: 1936

Dana “Emir”; Released: 1936 

Roger & Gallet’s “Jean-Marie Farina”; Released: 1806

Guerlain’s “Shalimar”; Released: 1925  (said to be her favorite, initially purchased while she was in New York)

Chanel No. 5; Released: 1921 (a glimpse inside of Frida's life, the bottle that appears in the exhibit has been re-labeled ACETONE)

nstallation view of Kahlo’s perfume bottles in the exhibition “Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving,” at the Brooklyn Museum. Photo: Jonathan Dorado.

Installation view of Kahlo’s perfume bottles in the exhibition “Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving,” at the Brooklyn Museum. Photo: Jonathan Dorado.

I was fascinated by Frida's life and planted a namesake Frida Kahlo rosebush in her honor. I was not expecting any blooms the first year as I put a bare root into the ground, yet Imagine my delight when a beautiful rose appeared, on July 6th, Frida's birthday. 

I have seen 3 of Frida's exhibits, Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics, and Painting, in Atlanta, GA. Mirror, Mirror, Photographs of Frida Kahlo, in Santa Fe, NM, and I was fortunate enough to see the Brooklyn exhibit held in 2019. I was deeply moved by the art and visuals of Frida's life at each exhibit. 

Someday I will visit her home, Casa Azul, near Mexico City, and Diego's vision of the Anahuacalli Museum. For me, it is a dream to create a scent that is dedicated to Frida. Perhaps something leathery, smokey, with just a hint of  Frida's Rose. 


Photo credit: Frida; Nickolas Muray. Frida Kahlo Rose: Stephaney Oberon




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  • Glorious wonder, to ponder the scent of the Frida closet time capsule! If anyone could capture that magic, it will be you.

    Heather on

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