Isabel Toledo, the Cuban-American fashion designer best known as the creator of the dress Michelle Obama wore at the 2009 inaugural— died today at a hospital in Manhattan.
Her husband, the artist Ruben Toledo, said the cause was breast cancer.
Mrs. Obama wrote in an email,
“I knew that what I wore to my husband’s first inauguration would go down in history, so I wanted something that would not only live up to the moment, but would also stand up to the freezing cold of that January day.
With her incredible creativity and masterful talent, Isabel designed a beautiful lemongrass outfit that I just loved. She more than met the moment — for that day and for all of history.”
Toledo was a rarity in the modern fashion world, not interested in the glitz and glam, she was devoted to her craft of fashion as an expression of the self. Part of the Downtown New York art scene, along with Ruben Toledo, her partner since high school, everyone downtown knew the Toledos. And to know them was to love them and recognize their deep love of art, creatives and each other.
In 2009, the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology staged a solo retrospective of her work. Valerie Steele, the curator of the museum at F.I.T. , called her “a genius”, Toledo has been compared to the designers Charles James and Geoffrey Beene because of her obsession with construction. She described her own work as
She told CNN in 2012.
“I’m not supposed to say I’m not a fashion person, but I’m not. I just, I love design. Design is so different than fashion. That’s why design lasts forever. It’s like an engineer. I love to engineer a garment.”
Toledo won the National Design Award from Cooper Hewitt in 2005, was nominated for a Tony for the costumes for the musical After Midnight in 2014. She appeared on the International Best-Dressed List. Twice.
She was creative director of Anne Klein from 2006 to 2007 and her collections for Lane Bryant, were created at a time when the fashion world still largely ignored the plus-size consumer.
In 2012 she published her autobiography, Roots of Style: Weaving Together Life, Love, and Fashion. The illustrations were by husband Ruben, of course.
Alber Elbaz, the former creative director of Lanvin said,
“As Picasso said, good designers don’t copy — they steal. Everybody sort of stole from Isabel. Her work was about volume, cut, experiments, a laboratory of fabric — and that was not an Instagram moment. It was fashion.”
Actress and singer Ann Magnuson posted,
“I’m sobbing. Isabel was such a kind, gentle, loving soul as well as a brilliant designer. We shared so many happy times together in the clubs and restaurants and parties and galas and galleries and all the magical creative spaces in NYC back in the day. My heart is breaking for Ruben. Indeed, for all her friends and family. For all of us. Every day is a gift.”
Kim Hastreiter, co-founder of Paper magazine wrote in an email,
“She was often marginalized by the trend-loving fashion business, but she never looked sideways… her rare gift of combining great design for all women (no matter economic class, shape and size) with flawless craft and astounding original creative beauty” meant that “Isabel Toledo will be in the history books.”
Isabel Toledo was 59.
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The moment we saw this dress and coat… #wonderment #delight #fascination Isabel Toledo was the poet of fashion. Her clothes transcended time and trend. She was an original who inspired us to keep pushing our vision. What a huge talent and a huge loss. #isabeltoledo #artist #poet #designer #inspiration #original #nofilter
(Photos, Avalon; via NY Times)