Isabel Toledo was born in Cuba in 1961 and learned to sew as a child. She held her first fashion show in 1985 and was immediately heralded as a great new talent. Yet she remained unknown to the general public until Michelle Obama chose to wear an Isabel Toledo ensemble at her husband’s Inauguration.
"I never thought of myself as a designer," says Isabel. "I’m a seamstress. I really love the technique of sewing more than anything else. The seamstress is the one who views fashion from the inside! That’s the art form, really—the technique of how it’s done." She begins with "a feeling." Then she "sees" a garment in three-dimensions in her mind’s eye. Her ideas evolve as she manipulates fabric and cuts patterns. Isabel also works closely with her husband—the illustrator Ruben Toledo—to realize her visions. "I can describe an idea or even a feeling to Ruben, and he'll sketch it," she says. "I think of it as fashion from the inside out."
This exhibition is organized in sections according to several themes that characterize Isabel’s body of work. Organic Geometry, for example, refers to Toledo’s ability to combine the intuitive with geometric forms, while Shadow examines the interplay of the transparent and the opaque. Other sections include Suspension, Liquid Architecture, Shape, Manipulated Surfaces, and Origami, where designs that began as simple shapes have become three-dimensional "sculptural" garments.
Isabel Toledo has been described as "a designer's designer" and "a cult figure in fashion." Francisco Costa fo Calvin Klein calls her "an incredible talent," while Narciso Rodriguez praises the "unique beauty" of her creations, adding that "she is, by far, the designer I admire most today." Toledo has been the recipient of numerous honors, including the 2008 Couture Council Award for Artistry of fashion.
~Valerie Steele / Patricia Mears