The artist was known for being a “designers’ designer.”
There was sad news in the fashion industry this week. Isabel Toledo, most famous for designing for Michelle Obama, passed away on Monday at the age of 59. Although the First Lady’s inauguration ensemble is what she is most remembered for, Toledo’s career was actually much more expansive and prolific than many realized.
Below, a few of Toledo’s ready-to-wear looks on the runway. She was one of the first designers to create fashionable clothing for plus-size women. On the right, a look she designed for Lane Bryant.
Toledo was born in 1960 in Camajuani, Cuba. Political refugees, her family settled in New York when she was eight years old. As a young adult, she studied at FIT and Parsons before she interned with Diana Vreeland at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1984 she launched her own label, which she continued for roughly another decade. In the 1990s, however, she decided to leave the runway behind (at least for a time) and designed mainly for museums instead. To Toledo fashion was art.
Some of Toledo’s creations designed especially for museum viewing:
More looks Isabel created for First Lady Michelle Obama:
In the 2000s Toledo’s career took another turn when she began costuming for musical theater and dance productions. In 2014 she was nominated for a Tony Award for her costuming of the Broadway musical After Midnight. She also designed for Twyla Tharp’s company and later re-vamped the somewhat musty The Nutcracker for Miami City Ballet.
Toledo’s vibrant and playful The Nutcracker was anything but traditional.
In 2012, Toledo published her autobiography, Roots of Style: Weaving Together Life, Love, and Fashion. In it she reflects, “Cuba’s diverse environment prepared me to develop a global palette well suited to creativity.”
Isabel Toledo’s unique take on fashion, art and costuming will continue to impact all three worlds long into the future.