August 27, 2019
Isabel Toledo, the Cuban-American designer responsible for creating Michelle Obama’s exceptional 2009 inauguration outfit, has died. She was 59.
Isabel’s husband and longtime collaborator Ruben Toledo confirmed to the New York Times that his wife died of breast cancer at a Manhattan hospital on Monday, August 26.
Isabel was a one-of-a-kind designer who shunned the limelight and frills that came with the modern fashion world, preferring to focus on her craft of “garment engineering.”
She once told CNN in a 2012 interview:
"I'm not supposed to say I'm not a fashion person, but I'm not... 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. To make this thing work, to make it stand, to make this sculpture work."
As an independent designer, Isabel would later take museum exhibitions over runways in the late 1990s and served briefly as creative director for Anne Klein, from 2006 to 2007. Isabel also had collections for the plus-size-focused clothing store chain Lane Bryant.
"She [Isabel Toledo] more than met the moment — for that day and for all of history" ~ Michelle Obama
“Fashion is every woman’s language, every woman’s tool,” she told Interview magazine in 2014. “My ideal happens to be diversity. I love difference. I love change. I love experimentation and eccentricities.”
Born on April 9, 1960, in Cuba, Isabel moved with her family to the United States where they settled in West New York, New Jersey in 1968. It was there in high school that she met her husband, Ruben, the artist/illustrator who would, many years later, be responsible for Isabel’s design sketches, including Michelle’s.
Isabel, who learned to sew when she was eight, would later attend the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design. In 1979, she interned for Diana Vreeland at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
According to the Times, Isabel introduced her first collection in the 1980s and was always respected as an authentic designer, but Michelle Obama’s iconic lemongrass Inauguration outfit in 2009 secured her place in history.
In an email published by the outlet, Michelle said of Isabel:
“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.”
Elle magazine editor and “Project Runway” judge Nina Garcia, joined others in paying tribute to Isabel’s life and talent in a tweet on Monday.
“RIP my friend Isabel Toledo. You and your husband Ruben inspired of all us,” Nina wrote. “You created magic and showed us how love is the most powerful tool to create fantasy. Today is a sad day.”
Isabel is survived by her husband Ruben and sisters Mary Santos and Anna Bertha Izquierdo.