Not all the major ‘fashion moments’ over the next few weeks will take place on a runway or necessarily be in conjunction with Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. Approximately 380 celebrated ‘fans’ of Isabel Toledo (many wearing her creations) assembled yesterday at a glam benefit luncheon at the Rainbow Room. And I mean ‘fans’ literally, as some of the invited guests cooled down and paid homage to the talented designer with their black, white, red fans, (originally given out about a month ago at a cocktail party ‘chez’ Toledo in celebration of the upcoming award), which were hand painted with the likeness of Isabel by husband Ruben.
Hand painted fan by Ruben Toledo
The occasion? Ms.Toledo, whom Dr. Valerie Steele labeled as “a designer’s designer”, was the recipient of the Couture Council of The Museum at FIT’s 2008 Artistry of Fashion Award. (By the way, Dr. Steele also admitted that “the smartest thing” she ever did was to “start the Couture Council”). Talk about ‘three times is a charm’; certainly it is for Ms. Toledo. The Cuban born New Jersey native is not only the third recipient of the prestigious award (the first was given to Ralph Rucci and the second, to Alber Elbaz), but it took place on the third of September. And because in Isabel’s case, it seems as though good things come in threes, the culmination of this award will be a major retrospective of Ms. Toledo’s work at The Museum at FIT, entitled “Holy Toledo! Isabel Toledo and the Art of Fashion”, opening June 19, 2009 through September 26, 2009. According to the press release, “The exhibition will feature more than 75 looks dating from 1985 to the present, including fluid jersey dresses, seductive lace, and architectural denim. Illustrations by her husband, artist Ruben Toledo, will also be featured, as will films of Ms. Toledo’s fashion shows and other visuals that explore her creative process. A lavishly illustrated catalogue, written by co-curators Dr. Valerie Steele and Patricia Mears and published by Yale University Press, will accompany the exhibition.”
Simon Doonan, creative director for Barneys New York
Getting back to Wednesday’s event, once again, FIT’s highly anticipated annual gala luncheon (which was sold out and raised approximately $400,000) was hosted by its founding Couture Council chairs Liz Peek, Yaz Hernandez, and Sarah Wolfe, with Honorary Chairs: Harper’s Bazaar’s Editor-in-Chief Glenda Bailey and Nadja Swarovski. (FYI: all invited guests will be mailed a cameo necklace designed by Ruben Toledo with Isabel’s silhouette and signature etched onto an oval Swarovski crystal, specially created by Swarovski for the Couture council). Andre Leon Talley, American Editor-at-Large for Vogue, presented the award, and Simon Doonan, Creative Director for Barneys New York, served as the highly entertaining and irreverent emcee of the event.
FIT's Patricia Mears wearing a Isabel Toledo dress
Talk about fashion star power. Among the bold face fashion/social luminaries who turned out were Narciso Rodriguez, Cathy Hardwick, Kim Hastreiter, Fabiola Beracasa, FIT President Dr. Joyce Brown, FIT Museum Director Valerie Steele, Patricia Mears, Kelly Bensimon, Hamish Bowles, Cecilia Dean, Stephen Gan, Julie Gilhart, Linda Fargo, Cathy Horyn, Jeffrey Kalinsky, Derek Lam, Boaz Mazor, Paul Cavaco, Josie Natori, Candy Pratts Price, Arnold Scaasi, Peter Som, Dennis Basso, Howard Socol, Stephano Tonchi, Max Vadukul, Michael Vollbracht, Eleanor Ylvisaker, Iris Apfel, Joey Arias, Christine Suppes, Serena Boardman, Sandy Brant, Dawn Brown, and Dr. Patricia Wexler, among others.
Isabel Toledo with Narciso Rodriquez
Dr. Joyce Brown kicked things off with her welcoming address and enthused, “We are the only museum specializing in the art of fashion”. She also observed that there were “too many of fashion’s brightest lights” in attendance, for her to even begin to mention. Simon Doonan wasted no time in heaping praise on the talented designer, referring to her “magical creativity” and putting her in the same category as “the Balenciagas, Alaias, McCardells, and Charles Jameses of the world”. He couldn’t resist noting that while Isabel was born one year after the Cuban Revolution, “the luncheon we’re enjoying today is incredibly Un Communistic”. He narrated a video montage showing Isabel’s life from the time she was a little girl (she began sewing her own clothes at 9) and concluded, “this girl knows more about fashion than anyone, anywhere”. When he came upon an image of one of her earlier lace creations, he said “everyone is talking about lace but Isabel has been exploring lace forever!” He made mention of the “prescience of her clothes” which he labeled as “astounding” in that even decades old designs could easily "jump off fashion pages today”. “The great thing about working with Ruben and Isabel is that you get both of them”.
Right: Glenda Bailey, Editor-in-Chief of Harper's Bazaar
Andre Leon Talley took the stage and announced that “Isabel makes clothes women want to wear” and noted that a “childlike wonder defines both Isabel and Ruben”. He admitted telling Isabel, “I want to be like you when I grow up.” (Perhaps someone should tell ALT that he has indeed grown up!). Isabel was gracious and to the point when she accepted her award and said that the most rewarding aspect of being a designer is that “I make a difference; I’m affecting my time.”
Not only was this a glorious affair, which perfectly set the stage for New York Fashion Week, but it was filled with symbolic gestures. Sunflowers (Isabel’s favorite flower) decorated the tables and the menu, (yellow gazpacho followed by Cuban style sea bass with warm mango sauce, coconut rice, and black beans), was Cuban inspired and delicious at that. Joey Arias kicked things off with his rendition of the Billie Holiday song, “You’ve Changed,” dedicated to Isabel. I guess there’s no escaping the word ‘change’ these days, whether it relates to politics, fashion, or life.
Oh, and by the way, speaking of the connection between art and fashion (which is by definition, inherent in everything the Toledos do), the winner of a luncheon raffle will have his/her portrait painted by Ruben, and after the meal was over, all guests were invited to take home the laminated white, black, red placemats on the tables (boasting the face of Isabel) which were handpainted by Ruben.