(All photos: Randy Brooke)
"Tonight is about the creative side of fashion" - Bill Cunningham
I know I know…this phrase has been worked to death at this point, but there is no other heading that best describes how blown away I was by FIT’s brand new blockbuster exhibit, “Isabel Toledo, Fashion from the Inside Out”, (‘a Mid-Career Retrospective’, June 17 – September 26.) To say that Tuesday morning’s press preview “made my day”, is an understatement. ‘Made my year’ is more like it. The fact that it was preceded the night before by the CFDA Awards, (about which The New York Times’ Eric Wilson observed, "It would have been disingenuous to declare anyone a real winner this year, though awards were handed out for best designers in several categories during what felt, at times, more like a pep rally than a glamorous event"), made the 100+ items on display, look even more brilliant and served as a reminder of what true creative genius is, what well thought out and intelligent design looks like, how special and unique Isabel (and Ruben) are, and just how lucky we are to have them as part of our fashion universe. Oh, and I forgot to mention….how nice they are…yes, ‘nice’ as in, warm, open, and decidedly attitude free. How refreshing is that?
The exhibition is a must see for anybody who is interested in fashion, and for anyone who has become disillusioned and disenchanted with the overhyped, run of the mill, rather ordinary (if not positively demeaning and insulting) ‘stuff’ being pawned off as ‘great’. The name, “Fashion from the Inside Out” was born out of the fact that Isabel works so closely with her husband, all she has to do is “describe an idea or even a feeling to Ruben, and he’ll sketch it.” (Sounds like your husband, right?! No, not mine either).
I was happy I decided to attend the morning event, even though I knew I was going back to FIT for what would undoubtedly and unsurprisingly be a high spirited, festive, packed to the gills cocktail party later on that evening. The press preview on the other hand, was small, intimate, and low keyed (much like the Toledo’s themselves), and I had a chance to study images, sketches, illustrations, read press clips, and it provided a wonderful opportunity to speak with the unduly modest designer (who claims she never “thinks of herself as a designer” but rather a “seamstress”). When I asked about her design philosophy, she explained that her beginning “was very elementary, which was very modern for the times” (the 80’s) and it was and still is “all about 3 dimensional, amorphic shapes, circling around the body”. When I suggested that was her defining signature, she noted, “The work process of what it takes to make a garment- that is definitely what I have to offer”. “Many times I don’t know what it’s going to look like but I know that by working with the garment it becomes what it’s going to be because I work so closely with the fabric, and that speaks to me. It’s not as simple as just sketching a nice look; it’s how do I express this fabric emotionally.”
Isabel with the ensemble she created for Michele Obama
And of course, it’s always great to have an opportunity to speak with the Museum at FIT’s deputy director Patricia Mears and director and chief curator, Valerie Steele, the latter of whom was busy fielding questions from the press, especially with regards to the by now famous yellow ensemble (which Michelle Obama chose to wear on Inauguration Day and which has a special place in the exhibit- it’s literally the first item on display).
Everything about the exhibit is perfect, conceptual and informative: its location the vast high ceilinged space down in the lower level); Ruben’s utterly magical illustrations and drawings which decorate the ceilings and appear to ‘speak’ to the dress forms below; the corresponding patterns showing the thought process behind the designs; the way it’s divided and organized into groups representing the major themes that define Isabel’s body of work ‘Origami’, ‘Sculptural’, ‘Suspension’, ‘Liquid Architecture’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Shape’, ‘Manipulated Surfaces’).
I spent only a little over an hour yesterday morning, but when I left, I felt newly energized, and surprisingly upbeat and positive about the future of fashion, (especially the future of American fashion). I was so inspired, I found myself wanting to really get dressed up and celebrate at the party later on that night.