Isabel Toledo has never been a designer who ornaments her work merely for the sake of decoration. Instead, she manipulates the ground fabric, either to enhance the garment’s structure or to solve a technical construction challenge. Ornamentation emerges organically from this process.
Toledo’s "patchwork" technique for ruching lightweight jersey involves pleating or fluting small pieces of fabric, then sewing them together to create a highly elaborate and nearly invisible "patchwork." Toledo attains shape by creating her own deeply dimensional fabrics. For example, the Waterfall dresses and the Rattan Armor jackets and matching dresses are painstakingly sculpted from densely pleated fabrics that acquire an almost rigid quality vastly different from their original state. The resulting garments are akin to Renaissance ceremonial armor.
Toledo’s Broomstick Librarian shirtwaist dress, a standard Toledo silhouette, was designed during her tenure at Anne Klein. Undyed silk pongee was thoroughly soaked in water, tightly twisted around a pole, and allowed to dry before being unraveled. When Isabel’s husband, Ruben, accidentally spilled paint on one dress, Isabel decided that he should go ahead and hand-paint designs on all the Broomstick dresses.