“To Isabel, With Love”

It’s official. The fashion world is head over heels in love with Isabel Toledo. It’s been impossible not to notice all the love surrounding the talented creator, especially on the heels of FIT’s blockbuster ‘Mid Life Retrospective’, “Isabel Toledo, Fashion from the Inside Out”, which opened to the public on June18th. And just about a week later, on Wednesday, June 24th, Isabel and collaborator/ husband Ruben, were once again the center of attention at Barneys New York, where they made a personal appearance during an all day fall 2009 trunk show, the highlight of which was a Q &A spearheaded by Barneys always amusing and irreverent Simon Doonan.

Chicly and intelligently dressed (what else would you expect?) in a black top, eased up white cotton canvas painter’s pants rolled up at the hem (Isabel claims they are actually Ruben’s and they have a stockpile of the functional and great looking basics which serve as their uniform of choice), navy leather lace up gillies from her short lived but memorable Anne Klein Collection, and topped off with a weightless dove gray silk taffeta coat of her own design, the designer (who admits, “I never had a job in my life; I play for a living”) mingled with guests like Andre Leon Talley, Barneys’ Julie Gilhart (also dressed in Isabel’s design), and loyal customers (including social fixture Yaz Hernandez who was literally in fashion heaven as she quickly tried one dress on after another, exclaiming “this is mine”). Mrs. Hernandez has quite an extensive designer wardrobe and when I asked her how many Isabel Toledo’s she owns, she sheepishly answered “a lot”. Isabel concurred that her collection could “fill a room”.

At 2:45, Isabel and Simon took their places on stools set up in the middle of the second floor (which is home not only to the designs of Isabel Toledo, but Prada, YSL, and other similarly high end names), and Simon kicked things off by heaping praise on Isabel and congratulating her on the amazing exhibit, noting, “Those who have seen Isabel’s exhibit at FIT are probably still reeling from the majesty of it, and the incredible range of talent on display. Those of you who haven’t, should either kill yourselves, or get over there ASAP!”

Here are some of the highlights of what followed:

SD: I’m assuming that when you saw Michelle Obama in your Inaugural Design, you screamed something, probably in Spanish.
IT: I did it!
SD: What did you say at that moment?
IT: Thank God she looks good! (that got a laugh from the audience).
We (at the studio) were all taken with the moment. It seriously didn’t matter what she was wearing. To think I was part of that history is amazing. Michelle, Barack, Isabel. I’m thrilled, thrilled!

SD: Who would you want to be if you weren’t you?
IT: Frank Lloyd Wright (Actually, it was Ruben who quickly answered for her, and she thanked him and agreed)

SD: Who are your favorite designers, because I’ve heard you mention Claire McCardell?
IT: I love Claire! I love anybody that thinks of a design and can put it into a form. I don’t care what it is. You have a thought…you have an emotion…and it is really difficult to put that into a three dimensional form. Designers are all trying to dissect things, to bring meaning to them. If you’re wearing an Isabel Toledo, you’re wearing my thought; you’re wearing how I solve a problem.

SD: What designers do you admire?
IT: Geoffrey Beene, who was the master of his craft

SD: I don’t mean to be racist, but your work is intensely Latin in a certain way and yet not in a typical ‘Chi Chi’. Your sensibility is Latin but quirky and unique. I want to know where that comes from.
IT: I have no idea. I don’t know that I’m very Latin. (And then she asked her husband if she was ‘very Latin’ and he said yes, to which she replied, “I’m very Latin!”)

SD: You have a flirtatious modesty that is compelling yet alluring.
IT: It’s not revealing. Ever. I’m such a prude. It’s turtlenecks all the time. It’s all about modesty. What you don’t see.

SD: When you see something that’s very revealing and very obvious, what do you think of that?
IT: Well, if the woman is comfortable, it’s wonderful.

SD: Who’s more talented- you or your husband? (Everyone laughed)
IT: Ruben. He’s much more talented. I just make sense of it.
SD: Very diplomatic answer

At this point, Simon invited guests to ask questions.
Member of the audience: I heard that you refer to yourself as a seamstress. Is that true?
IT: Yes. That’s what I do. That’s what I love to do and that’s why I’m doing what I do. I used to make clothes. I can sew. It chose me. Fashion chose me.

One of the funniest moments was when a woman asked Isabel what inspires her as she begins a collection. She quickly retorted, “I’m going to kill you” but then joked, “I take a pill”. This had everyone in stitches. The same woman quickly asked, “Which one?” to which Isabel replied, “A pink one” (FYI, “I’ll have what she’s having”)
IT: That’s the easiest question to ask and the hardest to answer. I have no idea. I just react to life. I really enjoy the process of things. I’m probably the best, most dedicated worker. The working of fashion inspires me.

Member of the audience: How do you want to be remembered?
IT: Lover of Ruben

Member of the audience: What is the most important advice you can give to a young designer that you wish you had when you were starting out?
IT: Patience, patience, patience. If you get it easy, it goes easy. Where you’ve been is who you are.

At this point, Isabel called out for Andre Leon Talley to ask something.
ALT: What is your next big trip?
IT: I’m going to blow glass. Ruben and I are going to Pilchuck, Seattle. We’ll be artists in residence for a month and we’re really excited.
ALT: So, I suppose we can look for glass as inspiration for future collections? Glass ruffles, glass folds, perhaps? (He said this humorously and everyone laughed including Isabel, but don’t be surprised if this comes to pass, as Isabel takes her brilliant inspiration from everything around her)

-Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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